Menlo Park-based nonprofit Friendly Voices has received a grant that could triple the number of clients it serves.
Friendly Voices is a nonprofit run by Menlo Park residents Laura Steuer and Donne Davis that connects seniors without social connections to volunteers who call at least once a week to have conversations. Steurer describes the program as like having a pen pal, but over the phone, creating personal relationships that develop over months as the volunteers and seniors talk.
It recently received a grant, its first ever, from the Walnut Creek-based Joseph & Vera Long Foundation, created by the founders of Long’s drug store. The foundation supports five programs, one of which focuses on healthy aging.
The nonprofit currently serves 80 seniors; the grant will enable it to help 240, Steuer said. She refused to disclose the exact grant amount.
“We have one client who used to call PG&E every day to have someone to talk to,” Steuer said. “Most of us can't really envision what that utter loneliness is like, you know. We had a little piece of the disconnect during COVID, but we knew that that would end.”
Friendly Voices began during the COVID-19 pandemic, serving seniors who were isolated in care facilities. However, after visitors were allowed back in, Steuer said the organization saw a more prominent need for human connection for those aging in place. With this shift, there was also a change to primarily serve the Bay Area and greater Northern California, including Menlo Park and Palo Alto.
“The folks living alone were still in dire need (of our services),” Steuer said. “Because COVID went away, everyone said, 'Yes, great. We can be together again, and we can see each other,' but people at home are isolated. … It didn't really change anything for them. They were lonely before; they were lonely now.”
Steuer said that Friendly Voices will use the money to ramp up the number of volunteers and clients by taking steps to increase the reach of the nonprofit's message and bringing on new volunteers.
Upon receiving the news that they had received the grant, Steuer said, they were “jumping up and down and screaming for joy."
“It meant an incredible amount of validation,” she said, particularly since it was from a foundation that is centered in the Bay Area. “It meant that the larger world, represented by this foundation, saw our work, read about our work … and saw its value and its importance.”
Prospective volunteers and seniors in need can sign up at Friendly Voices’ website.