Real Estate

#ElderWisdom: The Campaign Breaking Down Ageist Stereotypes

Dec 2022 | By Kristian Partington

A young lady named Ashley walked through Toronto’s Trinity Bellwoods Park during her lunch break on a random day in June of 2019. A green bench came into view with an older gentleman sitting upon it and another beside in a wheelchair. The word #ElderWisdom adorned the back of the bench while curiosity drew her closer and she was invited to join these gentlemen in a short conversation.

This was a snapshot in time, a few short moments where perceived barriers between generations evaporated in the lovely summer air and strangers became friends.

In a message later sent to the Schlegel Villages’ #ElderWisdom campaign via Instagram, Ashley recounted what those moments meant to her. In her short message, she captured the simple essence of what this campaign is all about.

“Even though it was only for a short time,” Ashley wrote, “I just wanted to let you know how great of an experience it was. What an extraordinary campaign that allows us to connect with the elderly in such a casual fashion. It brightened my day tremendously.”

The #ElderWisdom campaign was first launched in 2016 based on the vision of Schlegel Villages founder Ron Schlegel, who once said: “The greatest untapped resource in Canada, if not the world, is the collective wisdom of our elders.”

It seems that relatively few people in the midst of the busyness of life take the time to sit with their elders, however, which is what this campaign seeks to alter.

“It’s sad to say, but ageism seems to be the last acceptable form of prejudice in our society,” says Ted Hudson, senior manager of digital marketing with Schlegel Villages and one of the event’s key organizers, “But when younger people get past the stereotypes that come with getting older and just sit and talk with an elder, those ageist barriers break down so easy. That’s what makes the #ElderWisdom campaign so special and it’s amazing to see the conversation spread.”

With stops in prominent locations in six Ontario cities in the summer of 2022, the campaign started modestly again in person after COVID-19 hindered such opportunities in the two years prior. The pandemic didn’t stop the conversations, however. In fact, it inspired a new way to share them widely around the world through the #ElderWisdom: Stories from the Green Bench Podcast.

Hosted by author, speaker and retired radio personality Erin Davis and Douglas Robinson, a resident at The Village of Sandalwood Park in Brampton, the podcast opens conversations with older adults about the ordinary and extraordinary aspects of regular lives lived well. Through more than 50 episodes, Erin Doug and former co-host Lloyd Hetherington have explored friendship, tragedy, love, life, learning and so much more, challenging ageism as they inspire listeners to take a moment on the green bench.

“The Green Bench is a symbol of elder wisdom,” the podcast promotes. “Physically or virtually, the bench invites us all to sit alongside a senior, share a conversation, or give and offer advice. It challenges the stigma seniors face, the ageism still so prevalent in society. It reminds us of the wealth of wisdom our elders offer and in doing so, helps restore them to a place of reverence.”

The greatest untapped resource may be the Wisdom of the Elder. With each conversation, we come a little closer bringing this wealth to life and the wider it spreads, the easier it becomes to breakdown ageist barriers.