A few local high school students aren’t spending their Monday afternoons on Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram. Instead, they’re making old-fashioned phone calls to senior citizens throughout the Santa Clara County.
East Bay high school students share tech skills with senior citizens
Every Monday after school, Notre Dame High School senior Anika Kumar, and her peers make phone calls to seniors who are homebound or may not get social interaction with others.
“I think it’s wonderful they don’t forget about us,” said Sunnyvale resident Mary Baldonado, 78.
Baldonado said she’s been a participant in Anika’s phone call service, Forget Me Not, for about a month. Anika began the organization after she volunteered at an assisted living home in her sophomore year.
“I wasn’t sure if I was going to enjoy the experience, but after one day of volunteering at the assisted living facility, I found that I absolutely love working with the older adult population,” Anika said. “What I learned during my time there was a lot of older adults suffer from social isolation, which is when they have very little social interaction, which can lead to loneliness and depression.”
Baldonado said she likes speaking with her weekly caller so she can interact with others.
“I only really go outside of my house when I have to go to the store or to the doctor,” Baldonado said. “I get bored at home.”
Since the formation of Forget Me Not, Anika says she has seen the program expand. Most recently Forget Me Not has partnered with Friends From Meals on Wheels, a visitor program for homebound meal recipients through Meals on Wheels.
That partnership has lead to more phone numbers of senior citizens who would like a friendly phone call.
Forget Me Not also partners with Episcopal Senior Communities, a nonprofit providing resources to senior citizens.
Anika says the organization has eight core volunteers making phone calls to 30 senior citizens residing in the county.
“The whole purpose of the program was for the older adults,” Anika said. “That was my intent, but what I’m continuing to find that the program is very meaningful to teenage volunteers also.”
San Jose resident Aroon Herleker, 73, has received a call almost every Monday from Forget Me Not.
“We don’t miss a call unless something has come up with my health or the caller is sick or out of town,” Herleker said, adding he is visually impaired so he doesn’t travel outside of his home too often. “I like speaking with someone every week. It keeps my spirits up and we have good conversations.”
Anika said some of the teenage callers often find themselves receiving advice from the seniors.
“A lot of us are choosing our career paths and our colleges and things like that, so they all have really great advice too since they’ve gone through similar situations,” Anika said. “It’s really surprising how much I have in common with an 86-year-old man.”
Herleker said he asked his teen caller what she would do if she ever lost her cell phone or if it wasn’t charged and she couldn’t use GPS to find a location or call someone to let them know they were lost.
“I suggested she write down important numbers and directions in a small notepad because you never know what might happen,” he said.
When Anika graduates in the spring, she’s prepared the other members of the organization to take over the program next year. She hopes the program continues even longer or even expands to other high schools with more volunteers.
Anika said seniors can always sign up to participate, and volunteers from other schools are always welcome to join. Volunteers participate in a mandatory training that teaches them how to speak with a senior who may be hearing impaired, or have Alzheimer’s or dementia. They are also trained to report any signs of elder abuse, she said.
“Older adults are going to talk to someone who really cares about them and wants to talk to them,” Anika said. “A lot of people have told us that this makes their day or that they are excited to hear from one of us.”
For more information about Forget Me Not and to sign up or volunteer, visit: