Rita La Force and Austen Creger can talk about just about anything together. Their weekly hourlong chats on the telephone regularly touch upon everything from the finer points of sewing to finely crafted novels.
Over the last three years as Covid kept many apart—La Force, 81, of San Francisco and Creger, 68, of Santa Cruz—have forged a phone friendship so strong that they feel like sisters—except the two retirees have never met in person.
At arts nonprofit Ruth’s Table in San Francisco, the long-distance friends finally met face-to-face. Creger braved rain and wet roads from Santa Cruz to meet the book-loving octogenarian, who was born in the City by the Bay and has called it home for 50 years.
“I’ve so enjoyed getting to know Rita, and I just can't wait to meet her in person,” Creger told The Standard the day before the meetup.
“I feel the same way. This is going to be fun,” La Force added.
The two women were initially paired up at the beginning of the pandemic by Social Call, a San Francisco-born program run by the California-based nonprofit Front Porch that connects people over 60 with volunteers across the country for phone or video chats. The national program, which aims to combat loneliness among seniors, matches participants in the program based on shared interests and hobbies, conversational style and other factors, such as where participants grew up or shared cultural history or background. A $95,000 grant from a Kaiser Permanente fund at the East Bay Community Foundation helps support this program.
While over 90% of matches exceed the 6-month minimum commitment, according to Front Porch’s Senior Director of Creative Engagement Katie Wade, La Force and Creger’s connection is an extremely successful outlier—having lasted three years. It also demonstrates that Social Call relationships have the capacity to be not only intergenerational—70% of Social Call matches are between participants with decades between them—but also peer-to-peer. La Force and Creger are among the 30% of matches who are both seniors.
“I feel like people like Rita and Austen show the inherent goodness of humanity,” Wade said. “They're really empathetic and willing to be vulnerable with each other. And that's where these relationships are born.”
When they were first connected, La Force was not only homebound due to the pandemic but also sciatica. And Creger, who had just retired, was searching to find a sense of purpose after her mother’s death, selling her parents’ home on the Stanford campus where she grew up and the ending of her decadeslong career as an HR professional.
“Literally the moment I retired, I retired into a national shutdown—everything was closed because of Covid,” Creger said. “I was so honored with Rita, really opening up to me and telling me some amazing stories about her life. I think we supported one another so beautifully during those early months.”
The two women bonded over books and found comfort in each other’s voices as lockdowns clamped down on everyday life. La Force, a writer and illustrator, appreciated being able to share her poetry with Austen and converse on the novels of Jane Austen, for whom, coincidentally enough, Creger is named.
The two also geeked out over interior design and sewing. La Force, who studied drama and gravitated toward costume design in college, makes custom doll outfits from upcycled materials, and Creger used to dance and sew her own costumes.
In the end, the two are glad to have connected over the phone and feel like a part of each other’s lives now.
“I have a younger sister, [but]I've always wanted an older sister,” Creger said. “Now, I have Rita.”
“It's the same for me,” La Force said of their sisterly friendship.
While Creger and La Force only met in San Francisco today, the two will always be a phone call away.
Christina Campodonico can be reached at [email protected]