03 Feb 2021
Making Connection with LGBTQ+ Elders during COVID-19
SAGEConnect is a phone support program for LGBTQ+ older people. SAGEConnect started making matches between volunteers and elders in April 2020, as the number of COVID-19 cases , as well as fear and anxiety, were steadily rising. More than 500 volunteers signed up in that first month. Amidst the fear and uncertainty of the moment, it was a clear display that the LGBTQ+ community and its allies support our elders.
Especially in these winter months, LGBTQ+ older people are particularly at risk for social isolation, and a friendly call can make a real difference. Each SAGEConnect pair is unique—they speak about subjects as diverse as zombie movies, geology, and slow cooker recipes—while also sharing the common goal of reducing isolation and increasing social connectivity.
Jeremy, a volunteer, and Ruby, his match, started speaking in mid-July. Their experiences underscore the importance of phone support programs, particularly for members of the LGBTQ+ community. Jeremy was interested in finding a “real life role model,” having grown up without many positive representations of the LGBTQ+ community. Ruby’s SAGE social worker suggested she try SAGEConnect as an opportunity to meet someone new,. Ruby remembers thinking, “What have I got to lose? It’s only a phone call.” Their first conversation got off to a slow start, each having their concerns about connecting with a stranger. Ruby broke the ice with a joke and a laugh, and says that from there it was an “instant connection.” The pair was shocked to find that they’d been speaking for an hour, and wanted to keep going. Ruby told Jeremy to call her the following week, and that’s what he did.
Jeremy has called Ruby each Wednesday since that summer day. Ruby reflects that Jeremy is always “right on the button,” and she appreciates his promptness. Their relationship has continued to grow and deepen, and Jeremy and Ruby have become close buddies. Jeremy shares that they “collectively ruminate about our pasts, talk through our plans for the present, and share our dreams for the future.” Each reflects that this kind of connection is particularly important now, seeing the value of talking to someone with different life experiences. This is something Ruby believes the world could use more of. Likewise, in times that can feel isolating and dark, Jeremy finds hope and light in Ruby’s sassy jokes, guidance, and friendship.
Jeremy and Ruby are just one of the many SAGEConnect matches who have created a special bond during this time and the program continues to make new matches each week. If you know an LGBTQ+ elder who is coping with isolation or could use someone to talk to, whether they live in the community or a long-term care setting, please let them know about SAGEConnect. A weekly phone call can make a world of difference. To sign up, visit sageusa.org/connect, or call 914-650-2548.
by Julie Ugoretz, LMSW, Program Coordinator, Friendly Visitors and SAGEConnect