By Rosalyn Eason
A single phone call can brighten someone’s day. That is what Olivia Cardona hopes each time she dials one of the 40 numbers on her list of senior citizens. She not only is calling to check on them, but also to be a friend and a contact with the outside world. It is a service that Cardona is happy to provide to seniors to improve their quality of life.
Cardona makes calls to Jefferson Parish seniors who have requested the service offered by the Jefferson Council on Aging Cares program. The seniors often feel isolated due to age, living arrangements or health issues and many live alone. Her main responsibility is to check on them, but her call gives them much more and in some cases genuine friendship.
“Believe it or not, many have children but since they are old, they (children) want nothing to do with them. They tell me, ‘The only voice I hear each week is yours so don’t stop calling me,'” Cardona said.
This connection is what motivates Cardona to hear their stories, answer their questions, and provide assistance resources.
Cardona, 75, joined JCOA eight years ago after a career in the medical field. The mother of four had lost everything in Hurricane Katrina and survived breast cancer but still had energy to give. She went to JCOA looking to volunteer and ended up with a job.
As the first Cares management assistant, Cardona had one senior to call. New seniors were added to her list if they requested her service when they visited the JCOA. At one time she had up to 125 calls to make each week. Usually, she calls 10 seniors a day between the hours of 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“I have a few that want me to call at 8:30 to make sure that, ‘I am awake and not dead,'” Cardona said with a laugh.
Some seniors only want a quick call and others have a lot to say. Cardona enjoys telling the story about her 97-year-old who loves to talk about her children and her 98-year-old boyfriend.
“She wants me to out with them and have some drinks. It makes me laugh,” Cardona said.
So far Cardona has had three marriage proposals and many requests to meet in person. She has learned about her seniors’ hobbies and interests including one senior’s postcard collection. Now, Cardona sends the senior a postcard for her birthday and other holidays. She gets postcards in return.
Some have become so attached to Cardona that they worry about her.
“When she (Cardona) is on vacation and doesn’t call they call here worrying about her and asking, ‘Is she okay?'” JCOA Development Director Liz Yager said.
But not every call brings laughs.
“It’s a lot of fun but some days are very sad,” Cardona said.
Due to her attachment to her seniors it is hard when one dies or moves. Her first senior died after six years in the program–a very sad day for Cardona.
Despite the sad times, Cardona enjoys it. Her family wants her to retire but she still has energy to give to each senior she calls.
“I want a purpose to go to work every day,” Cardona said.
She has that–spreading joy by talking to her seniors.
The Cares program is one of the many programs offered by JCOA to Jefferson Parish residents 60 years of age and older. Their mission is to assist the senior citizens of the parish to age with dignity independence in the place and manner of their choice. The programs they offer include senior and disability resources, senior centers and care management, nutrition, senior employment and transportation services.
Cash donations and volunteers are needed to assist the JCOA in their mission. Call Liz Yager at 504.207.4691 or click here to donate now.