Hometown Heroes: ‘People appreciate a friendly call, and I feel good about helping’

Hometown Heroes: ‘People appreciate a friendly call, and I feel good about helping’

Cal O'Leary, a volunteer with Friendly Call in Cork, pictured with the family dog Zico. Picture Denis Minihane.

GIVING back to the community is a family affair for the O’Leary household in Fair Hill, with both Cal and his wife Lilian involved with the Friendly Call organisation which keeps older and vulnerable people connected with the community.

Friendly Call puts volunteers in touch with people who would benefit from a daily call to check in on them and have a little conversation.

Cal, 72, offered to help out the charity organisation, which is partly funded by the HSE and Cork City Council, after he retired around six or seven years ago.

The southsider, originally from Greenmount, turned northsider, said he calls people three days a week from 11.30am to 1pm in his back room with his dog Zico beside him.

“I used to call people five days a week, but it was too much, so now I do three days a week. My dog Zico takes the calls with me, he knows when I go into the back room what I’m going doing and he comes in and lays on the couch while I’m chatting. Zico is a King Charles-Cocker Spaniel mix.”

Cal’s wife Lilian had already been involved with Friendly Call for some time before Cal joined in 2015.

“It’s nice to chat to people who don’t get a call from one day to another. I have met some lovely people through the organisation.”

Not his first time volunteering, Cal also used to help out with COFFA (Cork Old Folks Friendly Association), which works with elderly people to combat loneliness and get them out and about doing social activities such as playing bingo and going on day tours.

“It was a bit of fun and a bit of work, but I enjoyed it,” said Cal. “You get to know people.”

Building bonds 

After joining Friendly Call, Cal loved going into the centre to make calls.

“Before the pandemic, you would be coming in and there would be a shift coming out and we would all be chatting. It was very enjoyable.”

Cal also enjoyed the social side of the organisation as, pre-Covid, Friendly Call would organise for clients and volunteers to get together for tea and snacks at various locations, including UCC.

“You would meet people at social events, everyone would be wearing name tags, so you could see the people you were talking to and it was good to talk to them.”

Cal was full of praise for the woman at the helm of the organisation, Brenda Barry.

“She is excellent, absolutely outstanding. She organises everything and there is a great system in place to ensure everyone we call is safe and well.

“We have a next of kin number for everyone and if we can’t get through to the person we are calling, we alert Brenda and she checks it out.”

Cal said he is motivated to help as much as possible because there are many people who need his help.

“Some people only get one call a day and it is us. They look forward to it all day and things like that make you want to give as much as you can.”

The conversations with clients vary a lot; Cal said sport is a common theme with men and with women, the weather pops up, as well as swapping stories about their youth.

“You build a bond with them, you get to know them well.”

'There's a lot of talking'

Cal said he rings around 16 people within an hour and a half when he is volunteering.

“That’s a lot of talking!” joked Cal. “I’m very social and friendly, but sometimes you have to gauge people and you just know not to ask certain things or go down certain paths.”

The Friendly Call volunteer said the people at the end of the phone are always extremely grateful for the call and it is a very rewarding experience.

“They are always saying ‘thanks very much’, ‘I really appreciate it’. There are some lovely people out there and we get very close.”

Cal said the one thing he has learned from helping out is the extent of loneliness in society.

“There are some people very lonely and Covid has made things worse.

“Some people won’t leave their homes, they can’t do their shopping, their families can’t visit properly, it’s very sad. It makes you realise how important family is.”

Cal said Friendly Call is a fantastic service and he is very proud of his role within it.

“There is always someone who is a bit down and out and they really appreciate the call. I’m delighted to be able to do that. I get a benefit from doing it. I feel good about helping.”

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