Elders Share Advice Online

Seniors share their wisdom and advice by e-mail as part of a nation-wide organization called Elders Wisdom Circle.

- Posted on Apr 8, 2011

three senior citizens sitting around a table

I needed help. Help with my finances. Sure, I had a steady paycheck from my new job at GUIDEPOSTS, but I was a recent college grad. Juggling school loans with credit-card bills was tough! I sat staring at my checkbook. All those numbers made my head spin.

With a wedding approaching I wondered how I’d ever afford a new dress and a nice gift. Then I heard about an amazing group—Elder Wisdom Circle, a nationwide organization of seniors offering free advice through the internet. Advice seekers type their queries on the group’s website, where an elder, under a “nom de advice,” replies. These self-dubbed “cybergrandparents” are web savvy and eager to help.

The group tosses topics from non-flowering begonias to aiding troubled teens, the premise being that elders, with their accumulated know-how, have much to dish on all subjects. Maybe they can untangle my frazzled finances, I thought. At least it might make a good story for the magazine.

On a crisp November day, I drove to Asbury Methodist Village, in Gaithersburg, Maryland—a town about a half hour outside of Washington, D.C. I pulled up to the retirement community and entered a lobby, brightly decorated with autumn leaves. A woman shook my hand energetically. “Welcome, I’m Trish Mayyasi,” she said. Wow, not what I expected.

She steered me toward the mauve-carpeted meeting room where 14 seniors sat. Wednesday mornings at 10:15 sharp the elders meet. Trish, founder of the Gaithersburg chapter, serves as facilitator—printing the e-mailed quandaries from her computer.

Armed with a stack, she travels to Asbury Methodist. After reading queries to the group she e-mails the response, under the moniker “Asbury Friends.” I took a seat and pulled paper and pen from my bag. Trish is in her early seventies, but the average age of the rest is about 90!

“Okay! Ready to get to work?” asked Trish. Gray heads nodded. Trish read the first letter: My last grandparent just passed away. I’m 23, and my family moved to Illinois, but I stayed here in Georgia. I’m lonely. Please share any information to help me. Trish said, “That’s a big one!”

But retired Reverend Bernard Fogle didn’t miss a beat. “Tell her to read GUIDEPOSTS!” he bellowed, giving me a conspiratorial wink. Then he continued seriously. “She could volunteer in a hospital’s children’s ward.” Trish compiled the group’s reactions—that the young lady should volunteer and meet people in her community.

A letter from a woman with relationship troubles got 96-year-old Stephanie Martenson riled up. Seems the woman’s fiancé wasn’t pulling his weight financially. Should she kick him to the curb? “Dump him!” Stephanie said. “Financial differences are the biggest cause of divorce.” Bernard agreed. “He’s bad news!” The group’s vigor was so contagious, I wanted to join in!

“This one will really get you going!” said Trish, reading the next e-mail. Do you have advice on teaching children to be respectful? The seniors laughed. A petite woman with a halo of soft curls perked up. “Politeness is to do and say the kindest thing in the kindest way.” Dorothy Thompson, 91, had a calm sensibility about her.

After the meeting I chatted with several elders. Maryland native Bernard has been a member since the group’s inception two years ago. “I first came out of curiosity,” he said. “Now I’m hooked.” Stephanie explained, “This group is great—we old folks know what happens after years of living.”

Leaning closer she whispered, “You have to take the bitter with the better.” Dorothy beamed. “My favorite category is love. Mother always said, ‘Love reflects love.’” Finally I got up my courage and asked about financial issues plaguing so many young people (like me!). Dorothy’s voice grew firm. “Oh, naturally save. Save a little, spend a little!”

Although the session was under an hour, I was amazed at how much great advice the elders dispensed. I collected my notes and pen. Trish gave me a grandmotherly squeeze goodbye. During the long drive home, I reflected on what I’d learned. I’ve always been grateful for the way the internet connects me with my friends, but who knew it would link 20-somethings and nonagenarians?

Back at my desk, Dorothy’s words echoed through my mind: Spend a little, save a little…. Just the plan I needed. Maybe I didn’t need a new dress, but with the money I saved I could afford a great gift and have a little savings left over. Elder Wisdom Circle is a godsend. For me. For you. For anyone needing some grand advice.

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