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February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

The Senior Help Line USA was formally launched last week at the New York Irish Center in Long Island City.
The help line, which will be manned by seniors who have been trained specifically for the service, will be partly run out of the center which is run by Belfast native Fr. Colm Campbell.
And the center itself was the recipient of a surprise check at the opening, $50,000 from New York City, personally delivered to Fr. Campbell by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn who joined Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Miche_l Martin in unveiling the new connection for the elder Irish.
Also attending the opening was Irish Ambassador to the United States, Michael Collins, and Irish Consul General in New York, Niall Burgess.
The project, which received an Irish government grant of $15,000, is a collaboration between the Irish Center, the Aisling Irish Center and the Emerald Isle Immigration Center.
“What we do here is absolutely needed,” said Fr. Campbell.
Campbell said that Irish people who came to the U.S. in the 1950s and 60s used be able to depend on a system of parishes but this was now changing. The phone line was a response to this in New York, a city where over half the Irish-born residents are now over 65 years of age.
Minister Martin said that the seniors who would benefit from the help line had made a contribution both to Ireland and the building of America.
“The Senior Help Line aims to help our older people who have become isolated as their social networks splinter and sometimes disappear altogether. These are the very people who over the years would have sent substantial amounts in financial remittances back to Ireland and it is important that their contribution not be forgotten.
“Our support for this project is the Irish government’s way of giving something back,” Martin said.
In formally declaring the phone line open for business, Speaker Quinn said the service would be a boon to seniors, particularly in the context of harder times caused by the recession.
Quinn said that the service would have an even more profoundly positive effect because of the senior volunteers running it. Consul General Burgess said the service would empower the older generation of immigrants to address issues such as loneliness and isolation in the community, and to reach beyond the existing areas covered by the main Irish centers to identify and begin addressing needs in the wider Irish community.
The phone service is modeled on a success story in Ireland where 13 senior help lines are now operating.
Mary Nally, ceo of the Irish venture, said at the launch that the idea behind Senior Help Line was “a unique peer approach,” a “web of older people listening to older people.”
Fifty or so senior volunteers have received training to date at the Emerald Isle Immigration Center and are now ready and prepared to answer phones during operating hours.
The toll free number, 1-877-997-5777, connects to both the Emerald Isle’s Bronx office and the New York Irish Center. For the time being, it will be active from 10 a.m. to 12 noon, Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

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