Friendship Works

Friendship Works (FW) strives to crack the code of the disconnection epidemic with a very soluble and simple solution: friendship.

Loneliness. Oftentimes, we connote loneliness with being alone. But even people who are busy and chatty can be hiding the pain of isolation on the inside. Once the phone call ends, the door closes, or the sun goes down, they’re left to their thoughts and the empty companionship of loneliness.

For years, the epidemic of loneliness has been on the rise in the United States. Lifestyles have changed; people move more, technology has changed how people interact with each other, and the quality of social connections has suffered.

Last year, the U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, admitted that even he did not realize how pervasive a problem loneliness is for so many citizens.

“People began to tell me they felt isolated, invisible, and insignificant,” he states in his 2023 Advisory Report on the Healing Effects of Social Connection and Community. “Even when they couldn’t put their finger on the word ‘lonely,’ time and time again, people of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds, from every corner of the country, would tell me, ‘I have to shoulder all of life’s burdens by myself,’ or ‘if I disappear tomorrow, no one will even notice.’ It was a lightbulb moment for me: social disconnection was far more common than I had realized.”

Friendship Works (FW) strives to crack the code of this disconnection epidemic with a very soluble and simple solution: friendship.

Since 1984, this Boston organization has matched more than 40,000 older adults with caring volunteers for friendship and assistance. Their five highly personalized programs are offered in every neighborhood of Boston, Brookline, Newton, Somerville, and Cambridge. Two of their largest programs are Friendly Visiting and Medical Escorts.

The Friendly Visiting program pairs a volunteer with an older adult who is suffering from loneliness. “Friendly Visiting is about human connection,” says Janet Seckel-Cerrotti, Executive Director of Friendship Works. “We all need a friend. Not everyone wants to belong to a group. The unique thing about FW is that it’s very personalized and individualized. We take into consideration the heart of the volunteer and the interests of the older adult. It’s very much like matchmaking. We discover what each one likes – hobbies, passions, pets, etc.- and then we make a match!”

Similarly, the Medical Escort program helps ease the anxiety and fear that older patients often feel when attending medical appointments. Medical Escort volunteers are paired with adults over 60 who want/need someone to accompany them to the doctor, the pharmacy, the dentist, etc. Volunteers stay with the individual for the entire medical appointment, provide emotional support, help choose eyeglasses or pick up medication, and even take notes and help explain them after the appointment.

Friendship Works services have proven to lower depression, diabetes, and heart disease and are available for free. “People don’t pay for friendship,” says Janet. “Sometimes, the friendship is the only connection that continues when someone must move to assisted living or a nursing home. Everything else may change (their doctor, their barber, their dentist) but the friendship continues.”

Social connection, relationships, and personal connectivity are integral to the human experience. Friendship ties those three elements together and acts as a powerful prescription for a happier, healthier life.

In other words, friendship… works.

Friendship Works is one of the many organizations funded by the Catholic Health Foundation. For more information on Friendship Works or its programs, please visit: https://fw4elders.org/.

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