Nearly 50 seniors filled the banquet room of the William Way LGBT Community Center Sunday for a speed-friending event designed to expand the networks of older LGBT Philadelphians.
A similar event, a joint affair between William Way and Widener University, took place last year with fewer than a dozen people. This year’s turnout was encouraging, said a participant who also attended last year.
“As seniors, sometimes we don’t want to get out,” Wanda Bell said. “I like to go out on the town and I like these kinds of events. It gives us somewhere to go.”
The speed-friending process started with each of the participants filling out a questionnaire about astrological signs, best jokes and other icebreaker topics. In pairs of two, sitting opposite from one another, the participants used the questionnaires as conversation starters for two minutes of discussion. Once the two minutes were complete, the seniors rotated around the room meeting potential friends. They wrote down the number assigned to the person they connected with the most. The seniors who matched with one another exchanged contact information. Many of the participants became quick friends as conversations exceeded the two-minute timer. Reid, one participant, said he found a friend a fellow senior after discovering a mutual love of gardening.
“I met a guy named Herb and it turns out we have a lot in common,” Reid said.
Some of the seniors said they were grateful to talk to people they may have seen at various meetings at the community center but never had the opportunity to get to know.
Events such as speed-friending provide a platform for seniors to talk to one another in order to build long-term, substantial relationships, said Ed Miller, senior programs coordinator at William Way.
Dr. Robin Goldberg-Glen, associate professor at Widener University Center for Social Work Education, has organized senior speed-friending events for the last two years as service projects for students in the Masters of Social Work program.
“Because you’re a certain chronological age, your needs shouldn’t be dismissed,” Goldberg-Glen told PGN during the event. “Our older-adult population is invisible.”
Speed-friending offers a unique twist to speed-dating, with the intention focused more on building friendships instead of romances, said Goldberg-Glen. Senior speed-friending serves as a hands-on teaching method that provides her students with real-world experience in understanding the human-rights and social- justice issues that older adults face, she added.
Speed-friending is one of several social gatherings that William Way hosts specifically for older adults. MorningsOUT Men’s Senior Social and the 50+ Rap Session are two of the groups specifically catered towards older LGBT adults who want to be more socially involved with other seniors.
“Our whole objective at the community center with the senior programs is to keep seniors in the community as they age,” Miller said. “We always try to do that in order to reduce isolation and loneliness in the community.”
Companies including Shop Rite, Giant Food Stores, Pet Valu and Fresh Grocer contributed gift donations that were used as raffle prizes. Chipotle catered the speed-friending event and decorating services were provided gratis by local event coordinator Kristin Patton of K. Madison Creations.
Along with providing a platform for seniors to socialize, speed-friending also created intergenerational relationships between the student volunteers and the seniors. Toni Jackson, a senior in Widener’s MSW program who helped to organize the event, expressed apprehension about being accepted.
“I was nervous about how I would be perceived because I’m not a part of the LGBT community,” she said. Jackson shared those feelings with the group of seniors.
“The students have the same kinds of issues that the seniors have, Miller said. “They’ve had experiences of bullying, not feeling welcomed. No matter what your age is, we all seem to have the same issues.”