For the 80 or so Green Valley residents who start each morning with a TeleCare call, last week brought a special surprise – cake, ice cream and a chance to meet the voice on the other end of the line.
TeleCare – a free service provided by the Green Valley Sheriff’s Auxiliary Volunteers – offers a daily phone call, 365 days a year, to Green Valley residents who live alone or are in ailing health, just to make sure they’re OK.
Beginning at 7:30 a.m. and continuing until all clients have been reached, SAV volunteers make the 15-second calls each day of the week. They might share a quick joke or talk about the weather, but hearing that voice, in good health, on the other end of the line is the main goal.
And for the first time at a celebration at the GVR East Center last week, the SAV brought both its TeleCare program participants and volunteer callers together, said Janie Perkins, who manages the TeleCare program.
“I’ve always wanted to do something like this, and we’ve even had clients who said, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if we could meet each other?’ So, I took the idea to the SAV Commander (Doug Kenyon), and we just went from there,” she said.
While many in attendance had been involved in the TeleCare program for years, Thursday’s event was the first time they were able to put faces to the names.
“It’s really so wonderful for all these volunteers to be able to meet the people, really whose whole days and lives they’re changing,” Perkins said.
“I know they appreciate having that camaraderie of the same callers and volunteers each day of the week. They know who works which days, and can answer the phone like they’re talking to a friend, because they really are,” she said.
'Help is on the way'
Fil Ficks, who usually makes TeleCare calls on Saturday mornings, said the program has been one of the best parts of his week over the past few years he’s been with SAV. He said he loves that it gives him an opportunity to connect with members of the community, and make others feel less alone.
“They’re all such happy voices when I hear them in the morning. I happened to call right before Easter Sunday this year, and on all my calls I said, ‘Oh, it’s the Easter Bunny calling you,’ just to give somebody a laugh because I think that’s so important,” Ficks said.
“So many of these people have nobody here – their kids are dispersed all across the country, and some truly have no family or anything around. For some, we’re their only contact with the outside world. And when you talk to them, these people are just so grateful for someone to be calling and checking in on them,” he said.
“And that’s really the payment you get. That’s what keeps me going. There’s really no better feeling than when you finish that whole list of phone calls, and every one of them was answered.”
On the other hand, Ficks said, is the feeling you get when a TeleCare participant does not answer the phone.
After three or four tries without an answer, volunteers will alert a supervisor, who dispatches an SAV patrol unit to the home.
If the volunteer believes someone is inside, the Pima County Sheriff’s Department is contacted to make the determination to call the Green Valley Fire District, who can gain access to the residence through their lockbox.
Rosemarie Scheuer, a Tuesday morning TeleCare caller, said she’s motivated to make the calls by a desire to ensure that no one in this community suffers in silence.
“I really hate the thought of anyone dying alone, and it’s a sad fact that that does happen sometimes in this community,” Scheuer said.
“But thanks to TeleCare’s services, I know several cases where people have been rescued in their homes, and that’s a real comfort to a lot of people. Knowing that if something bad happens, help is on the way,” she said.
Though TeleCare has been around in the Green Valley community since 1978, and brought into the fold of SAV in 2015, Perkins said she still encounters obstacles to growing the program the way she’d like.
“I think sometimes people live in blinders around here, and a lot of it is people just don’t think this program might be for them, or they don’t think they need it. But they know they need it when we go out on a welfare check and find them on the floor because they fell and can’t get up,” Perkins said.
“You hear these awful stories sometimes of people who are lying on the floor, passed out or dead for days. Well, that doesn’t happen with TeleCare because we’re out there the next morning. I really think it’s just one of the best services we provide to the community, and there’s so many people who don’t know about it that could benefit from it,” she said.
But the overall sense of safety, comfort and community the TeleCare program provides isn’t just for the recipients.
Far-away family members often feel comforted knowing someone else is checking-in on their loved one, and those who place the calls also express gratitude for being able to simply connect with someone in their community.
“These are just the sweetest people. They call us ‘angels’ for what we do, but really, none of us would be here doing it if it wasn’t for them, if we didn’t love doing this,” said Christel Widera, who typically makes TeleCare calls on Mondays.
“I’m really just so grateful for all of them, and to be able to put a face to the name now and know even more about who I’m talking to, that’s really nice.”