Silver Living Friendships During COVID-19
Throughout this pandemic, our collective experience of challenging times has been felt across our community in ways that we have never experienced before. Our expanding capacity for empathy and kindness towards all individuals is something we will take away as one silver linings of this time.
This past year will go down in history as a formative year for our Central Coast community, like many communities around the world. As San Luis Obispo County enters the red tier, and vaccine appointments are administered by the thousands, hope is on the horizon. It’s at this time that one stops to look back at the last 365 days; A year that tested resilience and tried ingenuity; A year of loss, from the tragic death of loved ones to lost businesses, jobs, health and time. But in these dark times, the Central Coast community shone bright as neighbors lent a helping hand. That was the story of Cierra and Bonnie.
Cierra Savatgy-King, a 37-year-old City of SLO resident, grappled with what to do when Covid-19 arrived in SLO County last year. She shared, “I felt helpless being stuck at home when so many were struggling.” She was thinking about how she could get involved, when she stumbled upon a program. “I heard about Wilshire Community Services and learned they were pairing people up with homebound or isolated older adults to safely chat on the phone with each other… Boy did I draw the lucky name!” After a short training and background check, Cierra was matched with Wilshire client, Bonnie Miller, a 97-year-old woman who came to the Central Coast in 1940 during the Dust Bowl in Oklahoma. Their instant connection was undeniable from the beginning. Bonnie spoke fondly when talking of their first visit, “Talking to her, it was like I’d known her for a long time. And I think she likes to talk to me too.”
Because of COVID-19, Wilshire’s Caring Callers program shifted from in-person friendly visits to phone calls and FaceTime. The program, which is a part of Wilshire Health and Community Services, bridges homebound and isolated older adults with community volunteers. The basis of the program is to keep older adults engaged and connected for their social-emotional wellness. Studies have shown this has a positive impact on both mental and physical health.
In the case of Bonnie and Cierra, Bonnie genuinely found the support she was looking for, “I look forward to our conversations because we talk, and we laugh. I’m not walking well, so I try and stay close to the phone. And, when I’m not, she always waits for me to get to my chair…We just talk about everything.”
However, Bonnie was not the only one feeling supported. Cierra found herself pleasantly surprised by the profound impact Bonnie had on her life. She shared her message on Facebook, to inspire her friends to highlight the good happening this year. She wrote on her Facebook wall, “Bonnie and I started chatting on the phone every Thursday for an hour. I would do chores or walk the dog while she shared what had changed in nearly 100 years … At 97 (and 1/2!), she had some wild stories to share that puts the evolution of humanity in perspective! Her grandmother was born when Lincoln was president! Her dad almost died of the Spanish Flu! His siblings did. Her parents got married in 1914! Her mom made dresses out of flour bags. Her family lived through the Dust Bowl and moved to California and picked cotton. These are things I normally hear about from afar in books and TV, not from someone who has LIVED them. Over the year, I learned so much from this sweet soul. Covid has changed so much for everyone, but this is one positive addition for me. And a relationship I’ll cherish forever.”
The joys of the relationship were reciprocal for Bonnie. Bonnie shared that she loved to cook but had lost her vision. Through Cierra, her recipes were coming back to life. Bonnie explained, “Cierra made one of my recipes that I made up. But I was having problems remembering the ingredients, so I gave her what I thought. It was tuna puffs. I made it up from my own mind and she made them. She said they were pretty good!”
Recently, after a year of talking over the phone, Cierra and Bonnie were able to safely meet in-person. It was a much-anticipated visit for the both of them and Bonnie couldn’t have been more overjoyed. “To meet Cierra in person, it was so nice. We sat outside on my porch. And I was really happy to meet her. It was like she was one my grandkids, if I had any! We just get along good. And it seems like our conversations, even an hour, they go so fast. Kathy, my daughter, was here when we met too, and she thinks she’s nice too.” Further down the road, when COVID-19 is a distant memory, they hope to have Cierra’s mom join Cierra for a visit with Kathy and Bonnie. And until then, they connect over the phone every Thursday, relishing their relationship as the silver lining of a difficult year.
Facts About Wilshire Health and Community Services
• Wilshire Health and Community Services is comprised of three agencies that provide critical support in the community, including: Wilshire Hospice, Wilshire Home Health, and Wilshire Community Services. Wilshire serves the entire County of San Luis Obispo, and parts of northern Santa Barbara County.
• Wilshire Health and Community Services has been serving the Central Coast for more than 20 years.
• Wilshire’s mission is to help people live a better life
• Wilshire Health & Community Services, Inc., is a not-for-profit, 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization.
To learn more about our senior services volunteer programs, or to get involved, email or call our Volunteer Coordinator, Kristen Grasso, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (805) 503-8174.