April 26, 2006 -- When 85-year-old Mollie Pier was admitted to the hospital a few months ago after surgery, the first thing she asked for was a computer. Pier, an 85-year-old grandmother, is a member of the Elder Wisdom Circle, a group of seniors ages 60 to 103 who dispense advice via the Internet to young questioners from around the globe.
After applying to the group and going through a screening process, the seniors are free to scan submissions to see which ones they can best answer. "I've been asked everything from how to deal with the death of a loved one to how to start a worm farm from home," says Jim Kowalczyk, 64, one of the younger members of the circle.
The Elder Wisdom Circle has certainly caught on. With over 400 seniors, the group will answer about 3,000 submissions this month; it has expanded into advice columns in local papers and will unveil its first book next spring. EWC is even thinking of branching out into "Advice TV" with Webcams to help questioners interact more fully with the elders.
"A lot of people don't have standard family structure or elders to help them in tough situations, people are coming to us with complex problems," says Doug Meckelson, the group's founder.
Meckelson, who calls himself a "refugee from the corporate world," is not an elder himself but says he always had a strong affinity for seniors stemming from a close relationship with his maternal grandmother. "She always said we don't treat seniors well here, and told me I would do something about that one day," he said.
ElderWisdomCircle.org not only seeks to benefit the questioners, but advice givers as well. Mollie Pier's youngest son died of AIDS at the age of 37. She became active in the gay community through PFLAG (Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) and now counsels other parents of gay children and young people dealing with their own sexuality.
"This gives you a sense of healing in the world," Pier says. "We can't do anything about politics or war, but if we can help each other, one on one, it might improve situations."
The questions can be difficult. Elder Wisdom is an anonymous service but "not a crisis hotline," Meckelson says. That doesn't stop people from writing in with dire situations, whether they are contemplating suicide or dealing with the death of a child.
"It's hard, we want people to get the help they need," Meckelson says.
Pier was recently asked a tough question about family dynamics and child rearing. She wrote a thoughtful response about coming to terms with a less-than-desirable situation and pulling together. As she always says, "Advice and wisdom go hand in hand."
Excerpts from Elder Wisdom Circle
On Sex Education
Question: I just saw my sister's Web browsing history and shewas doing a Google search on "condom." I really don't know how to react to this, but I don't want her to getwrong info or ideas in her mind. She is just 13! It took me courage to write this letter because Ican't even think of talking with her about that, though I am 18. I want to protect her from anythingbad. Please help me.
Elder Response: Your sister is lucky to have a caring brother like you. I can understand your concern for your sister. We know that 13-year-old girls are certainly vulnerable if they get into the wrong company. I am a 79-year-old grandfather. My two daughters have been married for many years and they havegrandchildren of their own who are 18 to 21 years of age. I remember very well being concerned about mydaughters as they grew up.
The fact that your sister was searching for information about condoms is no reason for alarm. Anynormal girl of her age will at one time or another want to know what a condom is. That doesn't mean sheis thinking of using one.
However, you and I both know that a search for the word "condom" on the Internet can lead to all kinds ofother stuff. It is impossible for us to protect a girl from encountering people and environments from whichwe would like to protect them. One needs to hope that by the time they encounter things that my lead totrouble, they will have the strength and common sense not to be led astray.
What you can do is to set a good example for your sister. Be the kind of person you would like her tobe. Be her friend. Talk to her about school or anything else she may be interested in. Listen to herwhen she talks.
Most people don't really know how to listen. They think that if they are quiet when another person talks they are listening. They may not be listening at all. They may just be waiting until the person is finishedtalking so they can say something. Listening means looking at the person while she talks. If you lookaway, they think you are not listening. Let them finish talking. Then ask them a question or two toshow you are really interested in what they are saying.
It would be nice if you and your sister would get to be close friends and talk a lot with each other. Ifyour sister learns to trust you, she may ask for help if she ever needs it. Advice for a Third Wife
Question: I'm the third wife of a 44-year-old man. His second wifefinds a reason to call him periodically about every four months. First she has one of his keys, then she needsa telephone number for a mutual friend. She cheated on my husband with her old boyfriend and I can't help but think she's waiting for a similar opportunity here. He says there isn't anything there, but when she calledlast night he went to see her. I trust him except when it comes to her. I just don't feel I can be objective about this and would really greatly appreciate advice.
Elder Response: You've never been jealous before. So why now? Every four months is not a lot of contact. Your husband is trusting you to talk to your ex every two days! Heisn't jealous. Why are you?
Jealousy is insecurity. Has he done something else to leave you feeling insecure? Did he cheat on his otherwives? Are you the "other woman" in his second marriage? I could understand feeling insecure if hehas a history of cheating.
What you are doing now is not going to help. You need to be affirming, not nagging. Respond with pleasureand praise when he pays attention to you. Ignore these other public contacts with his ex. Instead, be thewoman he chose. If you keep making this fuss, he'll start hiding. That would erode the relationship. Charm, care, attention to his needs and wants. You live with him. Make the most of that.