Rita Russo, a Brooklyn native who now lives in Manhattan, knows what she’s good at—talking, including speaking to complete strangers over the phone. So when Senior Planet put a call out for volunteers interested in joining its phone-a-thon on September 24 to help get out the vote for Election 2020, she was in.
Russo, 71, retired after many years doing secretarial work for the United Federation of Teachers’ Welfare Fund (which offers insurance). She only recently became politically active, she says, and responded to the chance to take part in Senior Planet’s phone-a-thon since “A lot of people might need that push.”
So along with several other Senior Planet volunteers, Russo participated in a 1.5- hour training class about how to cold-call people and get them enthused about voting.
How it started
On the morning of the phone-a-thon on September 24, Thomas Kamber, PhD, the executive director of Older Adults Technology Services/Senior Planet, was visibly pleased as he welcomed volunteers on a Zoom call. He saw a screen full of smiling faces and red shirts (the official Senior Planet color, no politics implied). While Senior Planet aims to help older adults ”age with attitude” and stay plugged in to technology, the bottom line, says its founder, is this: “We are a social change organization.”
Getting more people enthused about voting is a social change worth pursuing. “We knew we wanted to do something surrounding the elections,” says Pamela Hugi, membership and advocacy manager for Senior Planet. So she and Aaron Santis, program manager, hatched the plan. In 2018, Hugi says, Senior Planet had an in-person phone-athon. But of course, this year, “A virtual phone-a-thon seemed to be the best option,” Hugi says.
Smile, Dial and More
The volunteers went to work, smiling and dialing. “We had one script for each state,” Hugi says. Volunteers would explain that their call was only to encourage people to vote, not to sell one candidate over the other, and to provide resources on how, when and where to vote if they needed more information. No political discussions were allowed.
Russo didn’t keep track of how many people she called, but found many were registered and ready to go. She pointed others to the Senior Planet online resources, with specific instructions by state, phone numbers, details on how to vote by mail or absentee ballot, and other valuable information.
Volunteers racked up 501 calls, Hugi says. And in a fair percentage—128—volunteers actually spoke with the voter.
Pollsters predict that older adults—especially women—will play a starring role in this election. One poll, by Harris and AARP, found that 95% of women age 50 and above plan to vote, and predict that this group will decide the election. It makes sense that older men and women are taking this election seriously—as they’re affected by so many of the issues under discussion—Social Security, Medicare, health insurance, and climate change, to name just a few.
Photo: Luke Michael for Unsplash