A friendly voice on the line
They tell you all the stories of their lives, mainly the war years, the things they used to get up to during the war. They tell you about their current problems and how they’re trying to cope at home with different things. You can suggest little things here and there to help.
Across the country there’s an army of volunteers with alarms set for sometime around 8 in the morning when they will stop what they’re doing, pick up the phone and make a call to someone they barely know.
These volunteers, mostly women, are Australian Red Cross’ Telecross callers, and the five or so minutes they spend on the phone each day can be, for some people, the only conversation they’ll have all day.
All right, my name is Julie. I'm recently retired, about three or four years ago. I decided that it’s very boring being at home doing nothing so I thought I’d do something useful. I heard about what Red Cross does, and in particular, the Telecross idea, which I thought was marvellous, being able to call people every day and bring in a little bit of laughter into their lives. I always like to joke about with them a little bit if I can.
But usually they’ve got a little story they want to tell you. They want to tell you about their little cat or their dog and what they got up to, just nice little stories just to keep them interested. Sometimes they start off with a voice that's very croaky because they say, “I haven’t spoken to anybody today so my voice isn’t right”. I said, “Well, just take a minute and have a drink of water and we’ll carry on. I can wait.”
We do little things like that too, which helps.
It’s been really good. It’s been just as rewarding for me too because I’ve really enjoyed it. I know they get a lot of fun out of it, but it’s reassuring for them to know that there’s a voice there. There’s somebody willing to talk to them every morning. Sometimes they tell you that you’re the only person that they speak to all day long and that's a bit sad, really.
That’s a lot of responsibility, to be the only person someone might talk to on any given day.
Sometimes they have carers that come in and assist them with their housework or taking them to the shops or cleaning their houses, or whatever, in the shower maybe; helps them that way. But they don’t have that every day so on the odd days they’re feeling very lonely. So it’s nice for them to have somebody to talk to. So that's a service that Red Cross provides.
And what about you? What made you want to volunteer for Telecross?
Quite a few years ago now I had cancer and there was an awful lot of people that helped me during that time. In times when you think about things like that you think well, I’d like to be able to help somebody else now. I’d already been a blood donor with the Australian Red Cross for many years, but I was unable to do it once I got my cancer.
So I thought afterwards, well, there’s something else I’d like to do now. What can I do to help? So that was why I was drawn into this. I mean there are many types of volunteers. Volunteers do lots of different things and this was so different from what a normal volunteer would do. Most volunteers go to a place and they’re visible and they help people in a hospital, for example, situation or in an op shop.
But this was something quite different, to be at the other end of the phone. I thought, yes, I could do that. That was good.
But it’s every single day? Do you ever take a break from it?
Obviously, at weekends there’s no one else in here so it’s a lot better if we can take it home with us and do it that way. I’ve even taken it on holiday with me and take the phone with me and call my clients then when I go away for Christmas. Christmas is an important time for this service because families are not always able to get together, so many of the clients do not have their children anywhere near them and they feel very lonely over Christmas. So it’s important that we continue this service, even through public holidays, especially Christmas, so they’ve got a voice.
That’s pretty amazing. The people you talk to on the phone must feel like family. You must end up having quite a soft spot for them. That must be nice for them, and for you.
It’s just a friendly – Well, it’s just like a friend. It could be like their neighbour popping in just having a chat with them. It’s just sort of a friendly service that we provide.
We always make note of when their birthdays are. So it’s very important for them to get a happy birthday that sometimes I even sing it to them just to make it nice, just to make them have a happy day because, again, I could be the only person that they would talk to all day long. So it makes a big difference to them.
Julie, I know you’re passionate about the social contact that comes from a Telecross phone call, but tell me, you’ve also seen quite the tragic side of what could happen without a daily call to check on a person’s health and wellbeing.
Well, we ring to make sure that they’re well, they’re happy, mainly that they are there. If, for instance, they do no answer the phone, then we have set plans in place to help them that way. We have a list of their emergency contacts that we contact to find out whether they’re able to go round to make sure that the client is all right.
I’ve talked to a lady who actually collapsed while I was talking to her. I could just hear the phone hitting what I assumed was the bench. I called the client’s contact immediately to go and check and she was actually lying on the floor. She was ill, so fortunately there was somebody there quickly enough to be able to help her.
You know, it’s not an uncommon story, I’ve heard other other Telecross volunteers tell similar stories. I think it really encapsulates how important that simple phone call is and that the simple act of being a friendly voice on the end of the line can actually, on the right day, be a lifesaver.
Even though there can be the odd tough phone call, Julie, what is it that keeps you volunteering with Red Cross?
Well, the fact that you make people laugh and you know they’re smiling at you when you’re talking to them, and you know that you’re doing good. You’re making them feel good and you feel good once you’ve finished as well. When I finish the morning’s work and I know that I’ve got everybody through without having to ring an ambulance, or to find out whether they’re still in hospital, or what has happened to them, but when you’ve had a good run through you think well, that was a good morning’s work.
Telecross volunteers around the country make more than 7000 phone calls every day, even on Christmas Day. That’s thousands of connections that are a positive start to a person’s day. For Julie, the simple act of making that call is a kindness that has also brought meaning to her days and given her purpose in her retirement.
Julie’s brought a lot of good to her community and you can too. Visit redcross.org.au to bring your good and take an action with Australian Red Cross today.