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Elder Wisdom Circle Has Openings for Senior Volunteers

"Cybergrandparents" Offer Advice to Younger Generations

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EWC is a good venue for senior volunteers, sometimes known as

EWC is a good venue for senior volunteers, sometimes known as "cybergrandparents."

Photo © Claudia Dewald / iStockphoto

Live in a remote area? Have limited mobility? If you have Internet access, you can still be part of an exciting and worthwhile volunteer opportunity. Elder Wisdom Circle (EWC) is an organization made up of senior volunteers who hand out advice to younger generations via the Internet.

"We are looking for people who want to serve and who have something to share," Doug Meckelson, founder, stated in a telephone interview.

Meckelson's respect for elder wisdom began with his grandmother, Revay Meckelson, a former teacher whom Meckelson characterizes as "my inspiration."

"She had the attitude that 'you can do anything,' which was just very encouraging," Meckelson said. "I think grandparents and grandchildren have a special bond because all of that parent stuff is removed."

Meckelson's blueprint for sharing elder wisdom is simple. Advice-seekers submit letters to the website. A senior volunteer, called an Elder, answers the letter, which is approved by others in the organization before it is forwarded to the advice-seeker.

Meckelson sees a strong contrast between the EWC process and other modern web experiences, such as Twitter.

"With platforms like Twitter, you are restricted to one or two sentences, and your communications may go out to thousands of people," he said. "With Elder Wisdom Circle, it is one-on-one and responses may be quite lengthy." Sometimes, he added, the writers are surprised that someone cared enough to craft such a lengthy response.

The venue--the Internet--which makes EWC work is also its biggest curse, Meckelson said. Like other Internet ventures, such as blogs, there is a high abandonment rate.

"Many times people go through the process of being approved--we have an application process which is substantial--and then they never really get out of the gate," he said. Meckelson adds that senior volunteers often expect more response and feedback than they usually get.

Many of those who encounter EWC are initially skeptical about its purpose.

"They think we're some kind of a front for some other organization or group," Meckelson said. He points out that EWC is positioned as a non-sectarian, non-political nonprofit, and that it could lose its nonprofit status if it espouses particular views. The only time that Elders may insert religious advice is when invited to do so by an advice-seeker. Letter writers may ask that a Elder who is of a particular religion respond to their letters.

EWC is one of the rare nonprofits that is an all-volunteer organization. According to Meckelson, its largest supporter is Google, but the Elders themselves and their families are a substantial source of donations.

Elders are positioned as having wisdom derived from age and life experiences, not from professional backgrounds. They are not allowed to reveal themselves as professionals in any field, no matter what their background may be. They are never allowed to give out medical, legal or financial advice. These precautions keep the organization from being perceived as offering expert advice, which could open it to lawsuits.

The application process includes composing two sample responses. The letter writers are screened for the ability to offer sound, empathic advice that does not promote a political or religious agenda. Writing ability is an area of concern, but advice is reviewed and edited for errors before it is approved. Volunteers who have good advice to give but have writing deficiencies may work with a coach to improve their writing skills.

Because EWC works with an older population, volunteers come and go, often due to health issues and even death, as well as other circumstances. Elders who wish to give advice but who don't have the ability to deal with the computing tasks may work with a facilitator, often a son or daughter or a caregiver. Meckelson cites the case of one Elder who is in her 90s.

"We are always looking for volunteers," Meckelson said. "We don't want to turn people away."

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