When Pamela returned home after a lengthy hospital stay, she was heartbroken to discover that her favorite friend had become too busy for her. When she realized this, she couldn’t stop crying. In search of solace, she picked up the November 1987 Ensign. On page 111 she read a single column titled “BYU Offers Senior Citizens Telephone Helpline.”
Although she was far from being a senior citizen, Pamela hoped she too could find help. After dialing the Helpline’s toll-free number, she talked to the operator who explained more details.
“Please give me your name and address,” the operator said, “and I’ll send a brochure listing the subjects treated on the Helpline, with instructions for using the program. But for right now, let me connect you with a couple of tapes on happy living. You may call back as often as you wish.”
That first taped message offered a ray of hope to Pamela. She dialed repeatedly, grasping for supportive ideas. “I don’t know what I would have done without Helpline,” she says. “It became my lifeline.”
Everyone, young and old, needs constructive, positive ideas for a rich life. This is especially true of older, dependent people. The increasing senior citizen population in the United States is reflected in the 210 individuals who, each week, celebrate their one hundredth birthday. At the present time in America, the 85+ age bracket is the fastest-growing group. By 2030, one in five will be age sixty-five or older. Many of these people are housebound or dependent on others for basic necessities. The BYU Gerontology Center staff recognizes this need, and that’s why they began Helpline.
Dr. Phileon Robinson, retiring head of BYU’s Gerontology Resource Center, says, “Information is vital to all of us in this fast-changing world. One of the best ways a university can serve older people is to provide them expert knowledge in areas vital to their lives.”
The program began in August of 1987 and has grown rapidly without much formal publicity. The many satisfied callers who eagerly tell others of the service and order brochures for friends account for much of the increase. The Salvation Army and other service organizations have also voluntarily spread the word to their contacts.
Initially, a grant from the Bireley Foundation launched the program. Future expansion of subject matter and facilities will be made possible through private donations—both large and small.
Residents of the United States, including Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico, can request free Helpline brochures by writing to BYU Senior Helpline, 934 SWKT, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah 84602. These brochures list the Helpline’s prerecorded messages—more than a hundred topics of general interest geared especially to senior citizens: caregiving; education; emotions and mental health; facts on and trends of the “graying” of America; family life; financial planning; good health; guidelines to a happy, long life (fifteen inspiring sermonettes of Elder Richard L. Evans on the subject); housing for the elderly; legal help for wills and trusts; retirement; safety; services for retirees. There are multiple taped messages under each main subject.
The program operates twenty-four hours a day for people who own a true touch-tone telephone. Rotary or dial telephone users require operator assistance, available between 8:00 A.M. and 4:00 P.M. Mountain Time, Monday through Friday, except holidays.
Because the Helpline has become so popular, lines are in constant use. More lines will be added as rapidly as funds become available to pay for them, but for now, Helpline employees ask that callers be patient and try again if the number is busy.
Although the program is designed primarily for older people, it benefits those in all age groups. One girl in her late teens was not doing well in school and didn’t feel accepted by her peers. After listening to messages about emotional and mental health and some of Richard L. Evans’s tapes on happiness, she now realizes that it is her responsibility to reach out rather than turn inward.
One young mother of two boys said, “My brother told me and my husband to prepare a will should we both be taken in an accident. He related a story where minor children in such a case had become wards of the state, and the extended family had been torn apart because of feuding over those children. While at my mother-in-law’s home I noticed the BYU Helpline brochure and called for legal information. The tape on wills and trusts gave us guidance to find legal help. The result is peace of mind. Older people are not the only ones who need to put their affairs in order through a will or trust to eliminate family squabbling.”
One Arizona woman says, “I saw the column about the Helpline in the Ensign. Immediately I thought about the single sisters in our ward and wrote for a supply of Helpline brochures. I was glad I had them, because they opened a door to solving a serious problem for me.
“Our 25-year-old son is addicted to drugs. Of course, this breaks our hearts. One morning, especially discouraged, I dialed Helpline to listen to a message on emotional stress. By mistake, the attendant who answered my call dialed one of Richard L. Evans’s tapes on happiness. It was no mistake, because that message changed my perspective. In order to cope with my situation, I had to realize that happiness and emotional stress both bubble from within. I am the one who determines whether I’ll be happy or stressed.”
This woman, who is involved with a support group for parents of drug-abusing children, knows that other parents can benefit from Helpline. Since the messages are general and nondenominational, anyone can be guided by them.
Education should be a constant pursuit. One California stake president, who recently retired as a high school principal, says: “I’ve had a lifetime dream of visiting our nation’s capital, but we wanted more than a quick pass-through. After listening to the ‘Travel to Washington, D.C., through Close Up’ tape, which gives tips on visiting America’s capital, we knew that we would see everything in Washington that we wanted to. The Elderhostel program, described on another tape, gave us the opportunity to stay on the Brigham Young University campus and attend genealogy classes at the university and at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.”
A sister from Albuquerque says of the messages she has received, “I thought everything was instructive, inspirational, and at times, even a bit humorous. ‘Looking beyond Labels’ made me realize that a lot of older people sit and rock, and don’t use their minds. I’m determined to keep exercising mine. ‘Leaving My Own Legacy’ was most important. I had already haphazardly started my personal history, and this particular tape motivated me to diligence. My personal history is a part of the legacy I must leave for my posterity.”
A retired editor offers other insights. “I’m a diabetic, and when I listened to the tape on medications, I discovered that pharmacists have an index book to check the compatibility of different medicines. Something on that tape led me to ask my pharmacist about a medication recently prescribed for me. After consulting his index book, he said, ‘This medication isn’t compatible with your diabetes medication.’ This knowledge helped me to avoid problems.”
“Another advantage of Helpline,” the editor adds, “is that since the tape is readily available, I don’t have to take and keep track of notes. Quick access to sources is a definite advantage. This is especially true for shut-ins or people with eye limitations.
“Sometimes older people forget to take their medications,” he said. “Yet while they resent their children’s reminders, they readily accept the message on the tape to be responsible for themselves.”
A gentleman from Bloomington, Indiana, reports that the message “You and Your Aging Eyes” helped him know to take his wife to the doctor immediately when she complained of seeing numerous spots. After her surgery, he gratefully phoned the Helpline to say, “This message saved her sight.”
“I feel as if I have a friend as close as the telephone,” says a woman who suffered for weeks with shingles. “Listening to tapes gave me lots to think about besides my discomfort.”
Richard L. Evans’s inspirational messages, taken from “The Spoken Word” Mormon Tabernacle Choir broadcasts, have changed many Helpline listeners’ lives. One in particular was that of Dorothy Mitchell, one of Elder Evans’s secretaries. Elder Evans welcomed ideas for sermonettes from his co-workers, and one day Dorothy submitted a statement by Robert Louis Stevenson that it is our duty to be happy. Elder Evans immediately developed the idea several times in various ways.
Now, many years later, Dorothy is somewhat disabled following a stroke, and cataracts dim her vision. While scanning the Helpline brochure titles with her magnifying glass, she was delighted to find included Elder Evans’s sermonette, “The Duty of Being Happy.”
She says, “I relive wonderful experiences as I listen to Elder Evans on tape. It’s almost like a visit across his desk. Now that my resources are limited, I need mental stimulus desperately. It’s most comforting to be instructed and soothed by that warm, familiar voice. How grateful I am for this program that helps me in so many areas.”
Full-time missionaries order brochures for work with contacts and Church members. A missionary in Ohio informed his ward members about the program and offered them brochures. One lady who cared for her ninety-year-old mother says the messages on caring for the elderly gave her a more positive attitude, as well as insights for greater efficiency. In a confining situation such as hers, the tapes also became uplifting “visitors.” Since the mother’s recent death, the daughter appreciates Helpline’s assistance in these difficult days.
Bob Maclean of Bloomington, Indiana, says, “These messages are good for all ages.” He has procured copies of the Helpline tapes for his ward library, to be checked out, for instance, by home teachers and visiting teachers to supplement messages in the Ensign. This is especially helpful for disabled people who desire the messages but can’t dial their own Helpline numbers.
In addition to having the tapes available in the ward library, people can copy the message onto their personal tape recorders, with a telephone attachment, for non-commercial use only.
For those who respond better to print, reprints of specific messages, also for non-commercial use, can be obtained by writing to BYU Senior Helpline.
The BYU Gerontology Resource Center will send news releases about the Helpline to anyone upon request. Elder Herbert Frost, communications director of the Florida Fort Lauderdale Mission, has supplied the three stake communications directors in his area with news releases for their local newspapers. Readers can learn of the program, send for brochures, and use the facilities. Not only can this information help listeners, it can also break down prejudice against the Church and open doors when missionaries knock.
Dialing the Helpline can lift the spirits of lonely, sometimes despondent people. The messages can encourage, spark ideas, build self-esteem, fill social needs, and diminish loneliness. A friendly voice, reaching out in concern and love, can be a lifeline.