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An Intergenerational TelePals Story

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Chelsea Hammerton, a psychology student at USF St. Petersburg has it all planned out. She will pursue her ambition to earn a Masters degree in Psychology at USF as soon she earns her BA in 2021. It’s the next step in her life goal to become a licensed clinical psychologist. Then COVID-19 hits, suddenly leaving her and millions of other students in limbo. Now there’s a new kind of stress. The stress of the unknown. Chelsea knows all about the devastating effects that isolation can have on someone who feels scared and alone. Her studies have trained her well. Still, she’s intrigued at how social distancing has impacted her and her classmates, as they now are all missing friends, professors and their routines. She has family, but still. She feels surprisingly isolated. She sees a post about TelePals on the USF St. Petersburg website and seizes the opportunity to become a TelePal.

TelePals is a service offered by Seniors in Service of Tampa Bay to reduce isolation for lonely elders. For some, it’s the only conversation they’ll have all day. Friendly conversation and wellness checks tell them, “You have someone who cares”. Signing up is quick and easy on www.TelePalNow.org.

Chelsea signs up as a TelePals volunteer and watches the orientation video to get helpful hints, like conversation starters, ‘Do’s and Don’ts’, and the confidentiality agreement. Meanwhile the TelePals team identifies a match. Chelsea receives a match notification email about her TeleClient, Rebecca, who is expecting her call. Chelsea calls the very next day. But Rebecca doesn’t answer right away and accidentally deletes Chelsea’s voicemail. Fortunately, Chelsea is persistent and calls again. Rebecca feels very grateful when Chelsea called back. They speak for over an hour! Chelsea is nervous at first, wondering what they are going to talk about. But the time literally flies by. They slowly but surely begin to bond.

Chelsea, who has lived in the Miami area, notices that she and Rebecca have the same (954) exchange. An easy segue to a conversation about their Miami connection! Chelsea enjoys hearing Rebecca reminisce about her Miami Adventure. How one day she went on what was supposed to be a short trip from her hometown of Tampa to visit Miami with a bunch of friends. But she loved it so much that she put a deposit down on an apartment, bought furniture and never returned to Tampa until 21 years later! Chelsea thinks that was such a bold move! She can’t wait to hear more! They agree to call each other every Wednesday at 3 PM.

Rebecca shares stories of her life, her family and living in Florida. They spend a lot of time talking about the Coronavirus. It’s therapeutic for both of them. Chelsea asks good open-ended questions to make sure Rebecca stays diligent about social distancing. She also wants to be sure that Rebecca has everything she needs to stay healthy and safe. She’s poised to share information about resources or even to alert the TelePals staff if there are any concerns. But Rebecca seems more concerned about family members than she is for herself. Chelsea feels comforted knowing that she’s helping someone feel more connected during this difficult time. She knows that their chats help both of them, as they navigate this new friendship in this new reality, together.