Senior Touchlines Offers Reassurance


Senior TouchlinesOn the road to 100-years-old, Rowena Smith is a sharp-minded senior citizen quick to warn people to not quote her.

“You never know what I might say,” Smith quipped. “Being 93 isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.”

One of about 250 Broward residents who receive daily calls as part of the 2-1-1 Broward Senior Touchline program, Smith doesn’t have to say much more than “I am ok, thank you” when she receives her personal daily “wellbeing call” from 2-1-1 Broward. The service is free and the calls last only a few minutes. The calls can be a lifeline, however, if a senior citizen is incapacitated in their home and unable to call for help.

“Sometimes seniors are embarrassed to call 911 themselves, and they have confidence in us to call for them,” said Rafael Vasquez, who coordinates the 2-1-1 Broward Senior Touchline program, overseeing the five volunteers who call seniors daily between 8 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. from the 2-1-1 Broward offices in Oakland Park. So far this year Rafael had to send paramedics to the homes of two clients who had fallen during the night.

“The volunteer establishes a relationship with the senior and provides them with a sense of security and safety,” Vasquez said. “Touchline calls also provide social contact and emotional support for them in their own homes each day.”


Expressions of gratitude

At the annual 2-1-1 Broward Touchline luncheon last May, deep appreciation for the 2-1-1 Broward service was evident when more than 100 clients turned out to celebrate the program and meet the volunteers who call them each day. Given the opportunity to thank the volunteers who call them each day, eager septuagenarians and octogenarians stood up and reached out as Vasquez darted around the Tamarac Community Center main auditorium with a microphone.

Ruth, dressed in an elegant lime green dress and matching bracelet, was the first to speak.

“This is a marvelous program, just marvelous,” said the Coconut Creek resident, a Touchline client since 2013. “If anything happens to me they will know about it.”

“It makes a good start for the day when Rafael asks me what I am going to be doing,” said a spry French-Canadian Yolande, 82, who attends St. Maurice of the Resurrection Church in Dania Beach.

Eileen, 86, spoke with a more serious tone. She recalled the time before she was a Touchline client when she was stuck on the floor for two days.

“I can’t tell you how grateful my children are for this program because they know that every morning someone will call me and let them know if something is wrong,” she said.

Eileen gets her Thursday morning calls from Gail Battle, a Touchline volunteer since 2012.

“These people have no one to sit and talk with,” said Battle, who attends Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church in Deerfield Beach. “My prayer is to have the right word to say to be a bright light to the people I have occasion to speak with.”

Although Senior Touchline is not a faith-based program, Battle considers her work for the program “an expression of my Christian faith”. For program coordinator Vasquez, who attends Calvary Chapel in Fort Lauderdale, the program answers the biblical admonition of James 1:27 to meet the needs of widows and widowers in their distress.

“Most of the clients are attached to a church, and so I am being blessed all the time,” Vasquez said. “Sometimes I feel like I don’t need to go to church on Sunday because of all the blessings I receive from the clients.”


Similar program in greater Palm Beach

North of Broward, the 2-1-1 Palm Beach/Treasure Coast runs a program similar to the 2-1-1 Senior Touchline, covering a larger geographic area and double the number of senior citizens. As part of the Sunshine Daily Telephone Reassurance Program, 24 volunteers call 510 homebound and disabled elders each day throughout Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie, Okeechobee and Indian River counties. The program was launched in Palm Beach in 1974 and expanded into the four neighboring counties with increased funding from the Town of Palm Beach United Way and the Jim Moran Foundation, which also funds the 2-1-1 Broward program.

“It’s a friendly hello and an opportunity for the seniors to have contact with the outside world and to be reminded that someone cares,” said Susan Buza, executive director of 2-1-1 Palm Beach/Treasure Coast. “The Sunshine program not only enriches the lives of seniors, but has been life-saving as volunteers and staff involved emergency rescue crews for ten participating seniors in crisis last year.”


A growing need

With growing numbers of senior citizens in Florida and throughout the United States, the need for programs like 2-1-1 Touchline and the Sunshine Daily Telephone Reassurance Program will continue to increase.

According to the U.S. Census bureau, 280,000 (15 percent) of Broward’s 1.8 million population is over age 65. In Palm Beach County, the number is 307,000 (22.5 percent) out of 1.3 million.

In Florida, the senior citizen population is expected to double to 9.7 million by 2030, according to the Florida Department of Elder Affairs.

“As you can imagine, we are always looking to increase the number of volunteers we can train to call our elderly neighbors,” Vasquez said.

Because the senior outreach programs make their calls from the 2-1-1 Broward and 2-1-1 Palm Beach/Treasure Coast offices, volunteers can easily connect clients with a wide variety of help through the thousands of human service programs registered with the 2-1-1 programs’ resource databases in Broward and Palm Beach counties.

Rowena Smith knows about those potential additional services, but for now she is happy to depend on her daily wellbeing call from a caring volunteer.

“I can count on this program,” she said. “I live with two cats, Kitty-Cat and Ginger, but they aren’t going to tell anyone if I am sick.”

For more information about the 2-1-1 Broward Senior Touchline program, call Rafael Vazquez at 2-1-1 Broward, (954) 390-0493, Ext. 247. For information about the Senior Telephone Assurance Program, run by the 2-1-1 Palm Beach/Treasure Coast, call 211. Both programs are accepting new clients and the 2-1-1 Broward Program is accepting applications for volunteers to call seniors.


Dr. Steve J. Rios, is vice president of Rios Research & Evaluation, a grant-writing and data analysis company based in Sunrise. He can reached at [email protected].

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