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Healthwatch 16: Friendly Neighbors program

Geisinger has teamed up with several YMCAs to help people over 50 make friends and stay connected

Loneliness can be dangerous for seniors. According to the Centers for Disease Control, social isolation can lead to an increased risk of stroke, dementia, and heart disease. That's why Geisinger teamed up with YMCAs in our area to create the Friendly Neighbors program.

Things have been rough lately for Neil Young of Berwick.

"I'm in a position I never thought I'd be in. I'm a widower. My only sister is in Florida, so I'm kind of isolated."

"Part of this program is matching them with someone who is good for them, to not only give them companionship but put them in touch with any kind of services that they may need," said Janelle Surkin, Berwick Area YMCA aquatic director.

Seniors who are lonely are encouraged to call one of these YMCAs and ask to be enrolled. Currently, the program needs volunteers. It could be as simple as calling the person you are paired with and talking about your days.

Credit: WNEP

"I would like to do that. I think it would be beneficial for both parties involved, and who knows? Friendships?" said Mary Ann Rizzo of Berwick.

Rizzo will be a volunteer with the program. The COVID-19 pandemic influenced her decision to get involved.

"There were days where you just stayed in the house, and you wonder if there's anybody out there. It's nice to know that there is somebody who cares about you."

Volunteer training starts at the end of this month.

"It's been a great response from the community, a great response from the participants, and everybody seems to be really enjoying the program," said Anthony Eck, a Geisinger wellness specialist. "The connections are organic, fruitful, and it's doing exactly what we intended."