ElderFriends Transforms Loner to Friend

Wayne Tofthagen thought of himself as a “lifelong loner,” especially since his wife died a few years back. His daughter lives within driving distance, but is busy with work and family. Wayne lived alone and felt isolated.

Since meeting Jeff Drayer through Full Life’s ElderFriends volunteer companionship program, Wayne is less of a “lifelong loner” and is now more of a “lifelong friend.” The first time they met, the pair quickly found that they had a lot to talk about.

Newly retired, Jeff was exploring volunteer opportunities and heard about ElderFriends on KIRO radio.

“It piqued my interest, and so I decided to check it out,” he said. “I was reluctant at first, but I pushed past the fear of trying something new and that might be a little uncomfortable. I’m glad I did.”

Wayne is glad for it too. Wayne’s world has greatly improved since they met. He’s in a new apartment and has new friends. Jeff helped bring about many of the changes.

New Home, New Friends

Wayne has mobility issues that hindered efforts to keep up with housework. He knew he’d need to find a new home soon. Shortly after they met, Jeff drove Wayne to a nearby department store. On the way, they passed an apartment building.

“That’s where I want to live,” Wayne told Jeff.

A few months later, Wayne had concerns about his landlord and needed to move. Jeff contacted ElderFriends, which put Wayne in touch with Seattle/King County Human Services. In the end, Wayne moved into a 55+ community, which, it turns out, was that same apartment complex Wayne pointed out when they first met.

“It was like hitting the lottery,” Jeff said. Wayne signed the lease on December 26. Jeff and a few friends helped Wayne move in the next day. 

After Wayne settled into the new apartment, Jeff encouraged him to go downstairs to meet new people.

New Friends, New Outlook

Jeff and Wayne still have routine visits, but now they often include visiting with Wayne’s new friends before heading to the Renton Senior Center for lunch, where they meet another group of new friends.

“I can’t say our relationship has changed much,” Jeff said. “I did tell Wayne recently that I started this program as a volunteer, but today I’m just a true friend for life. I love helping Wayne and watching him thrive.”

Wayne’s daughter, Cristine Kalinski, said she appreciates all Jeff does.

“Dad really enjoys that,” she said. “My husband and I both work a lot and don’t get to see him as much as we should. Jeff helps my dad out and always keeps in contact with me. This program has helped my dad connect with new people after my mom died.”

For his part, Jeff said Elderfriends has made him more sensitive to the needs of our aging community, including his own father, who lives in the Midwest.

“Loneliness is a real issue and making sure they know that we still care about them and that they’re not forgotten is extremely important to me now,” Jeff said. “Before ElderFriends I think I probably took that for granted. It has inspired me to look at other areas in the aging community where I can give back.”