Wendl retired from her paid job several years ago but hasn’t stopped working for a moment as an avid volunteer. For the past 10 years, she’s performed and maintenance for the Central Park Conservancy, including raking, mulching, pruning, weeding, sapling removal, and disposing of litter.
Her other passion lies in the volunteer work project she formed on behalf of Solo Agers at the end of 2013. She teaches groups of older people in their mid-50s and up who don’t have close family how to age wisely and to create for themselves a community family.
“Solo agers have to be their own best advocates. If you don’t have a family, it’s important to learn how to expand your community so that between friends, neighbors, professionals, and colleagues you build a mutually supportive network. That becomes your community family.”
Since 2014, Wendl has hosted her own community group of about 25 solo agers who meet regularly in her synagogue (and currently on Zoom). Word spread of her work and she had a number of interviews and articles written by and about her. People began asking her for help starting their own groups in NYC. Now she works across different cities in the US and was able to speak about the ‘community as family’ concept to the NGO Committee on Aging to the UN, New York. Her work is having an impact not just locally but globally!
“My goal is to encourage people to embrace their older years as a time full of potential for meaningful living. I want them to be empowered. They don’t necessarily have to be vulnerable years if you prepare for them by anticipating issues and problems that may arise.”
Wendl first thought of this idea as she and her similarly childless friends were caring for aging parents. It occurred to her, ‘Who would care about me and my husband?’ This is a serious question. Wendl’s husband is 11 years older, and they consider themselves two solo agers living together.
These questions lead to her creation of supportive solo ager communities. She quickly realized this was an issue for many people, and she wasn't alone in seeing a need to address the issue.
Solo ager communities revolve around empowerment and positivity, many of whom prefer to use a different descriptive identification than the term “elder orphans,” created by the medical community some years ago.
Now Wendl helps groups across the country set up their own customized communities of three or more solo agers, they are addressing issues like getting critical documents in place, creating an A-team of support, learning where the best resources are (and how they work!), and expanding the borders of community engagement. She never charges for this voluntary work but considers each new group a part of a larger extended family across the country.
“The best part is I get to meet the nicest people -- they, too, want to create a community that understands their challenges and helps them feel more empowered!”
Wendl first heard about GetSetUp from GetSetUp’s Guide and Learner Support Guru Norman. Wendl and Norman have been friends for a long time and worked together in the anti-ageism movement. As a fellow solo ager, Norman knows the importance that technology has for the solo aging community. He wanted to make sure that fellow solo agers had access to these essential tools through classes specifically designed for older adults.
“Generally speaking one of the first things I tell people is - ‘you have got to tap into the resources you need. You must have access and comfort with technology! You have to know how it works!'”
While it is a bit harder with the pandemic for newbies to get started, for those willing to take the challenge, GetSetUp is ready to help. Classes built around connection, feeling comfortable, and confidence happen daily.
“Technology is essential. This is how you get access to all your resources. Information to make appointments, learn about health issues, order the goods and services you need, and it’s also a huge part of your social life, to stay in touch with people and to make new friends. In fact, you can create a whole new community of friends -- virtually!”
Wendl has been taking classes and keeping notes in her Pandemic Diary since Norman first told her about GetSetUp. She’s been able to enhance her skills with Zoom and learn more about other key tools she uses regularly. GetSetUp offers classes for a range of users from how to use your phone to how to use Facebook. There is a bit of something for everyone.
“I don’t take a lot of photos, but I’d like to take more, and probably will. I felt my lack of knowledge in photography and how to make sure photos go in the right place needed improvement. So now I know how to take photos and create albums to organize them. I came in feeling uninformed and left empowered!”
Since her initial class, Wendl has shared GetSetUp with all her solo ager groups as an essential tool for success!
“GetSetUp is a great asset. You can learn how things work. Then make it work for you to make your world bigger, more efficient, and more fun!”
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One of the biggest differentials in GetSetUp classes from other classes is their supportive nature - designed to empower. You can come into the classes at any level and get your questions answered. There is no such thing as a stupid question! Guides are patient and meet students at their level, whether they take the class 1 time or 10+ times until they feel confident. Guides are always there to support each learner.
“The classes are very professional. They start on time and end on time to respect people’s other commitments. The Guides are all very knowledgeable and you can tell they have researched their topics. Everyone is patient. Learners and Guides all know that we are all on this aging journey together and we are jumping into classes at different points!”
Don’t let your tech skills hold you back from joining the GetSetUp community. We have activities for everyone and ensure that learners have the skills they need to age well!
“There’s a lot of technology out there. Just because you can do something with technology doesn’t mean you should. We will talk about how to keep tech simple.”
“My niece is too polite to call me old. I knew she was thinking it was a shock that I knew more about Zoom than she did. So I told her - ‘ . . . I might be a bit slower,.