Throughout the pandemic, I’ve attended several virtual events, primarily over Zoom, in which only the speakers are shown and the audience is mostly invisible. Unfortunately, these events never quite captured the in-person feeling of a live event or theatrical performance.
Then I signed up for Revel — a new social network designed specifically for women in their 40s, 50s, and beyond — and quickly discovered a community of like-minded individuals from all over the United States who are looking to connect over common interests. Topics range from writing and drawing workshops to clothing swaps and happy hours to exercise classes and expert-led conversations. And so much more.
As you might have guessed, Revel is just getting warmed up. The first 20,000 “Revelers” can join the community for free; as of December 2021, the total number has surpassed 12,000 members. Though Revel is designed for middle-aged and older women, the startup story is intergenerational. Revel was founded in 2019 by Lisa Marrone and Alexa Wahr — both San Francisco–based Harvard MBAs in their mid-thirties — whose vision spans beyond their years.
The very first Revel event was a coffee conversation hosted by a Reveler in her Oakland, California, backyard garden. In 2020, Revel joined forces with Finding Female Friends Past 50, a MeetUp group founded by former graphic designer Dale Pollekoff, now 74, in 2015. In 2021, Revel merged with The Woolfer, a community founded by Nina Lorez Collins with the same goal of connecting fabulous women of a certain age.
The first virtual Revel event I attended was “Meet Amanda Gorman’s Grandmother, Bertha Gaffney Gorman,” and I was impressed by how personal it felt even with 63 participants. Host Donne Davis founded the GaGa Sisterhood, an organization that aims to provide a place for grandmothers to bond over the joys and challenges of being a grandparent, as well as help them foster good relationships with their adult children and their grandchildren.
While I’m not a grandmother, I am a parent and found Gaffney Gorman’s talk to be both inspiring and informative, particularly in my understanding of the important role that grandparents play in my child’s life and my own.
In addition to being the grandmother of the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history, Gaffney Gorman worked as a reporter for the Sacramento Bee, spent a decade as a consultant with the California State Assembly, and served three years as an associate secretary at the California Health and Human Services Agency.
A descendent of enslaved people and the oldest girl of 12 children, Gaffney Gorman didn’t attend school until age 9 due to there being no public schools where she lived, but reading books and telling stories were always a big part of growing up in her family.
She spoke of her job as a grandmother, which she believes is to nurture her grandchildren’s passions without judgment. She ended by reading a poem that she wrote after Amanda gave her an outline of how to write a poem, which began with the prompt “I love.”
When Gaffney Gorman finished speaking, Davis opened the virtual floor to questions from the audience. I liked that everyone’s faces were visible on the Revel platform, making it feel more like an in-person Q&A session. Gaffney Gorman fielded queries about maintaining close connections with grandchildren as they get older, dealing with the media when your grandchild is famous, and fighting the current attempts to erase of our country’s history with racism and slavery.
During my first month as a Reveler, I also attended “Empower Yourself Book Club,” “Divorce Support Group: Contemplation & Preparation” and “Finding Tranquility,” which are all recurring virtual events that any Revel member can join.
These online meetings were cozier than the Gaffney Gorman event, with between eight and 26 attendees apiece, and really captured the intimacy of a casual in-person gathering at someone’s house. Most events are hosted by other Revel members, so there can be occasional technical issues and awkward moments, but if the subject or speaker is compelling, it’s easy to look past any glitches.
In addition to events, Revel also features groups that are tailored to specific regions and interests. Topics range from fitness and health to hobbies and leisure to career advice and emotional support. I personally have already turned to the Chicago group to request recommendations for local lawyers and I look forward to meeting other Revelers in the area at one of the upcoming in-person events.
Because the platform is built on three core community values — authenticity, respect, and joy — members can feel free to share their thoughts or ask questions about difficult life experiences in a safe, trusted space, allowing the opportunity for real, honest conversations.
The “Code of Conduct” is what really sets Revel apart from other social networks. It’s not a free-for-all where people can write or say whatever they want anonymously with impunity like certain websites do. Most events require that attendees turn on their cameras so there’s a face for every name, and the relatively limited size of the community ensures that everyone is held accountable. Rather, the focus is on creating a welcoming environment of open and adventurous individuals who are eager to continue learning, growing and exploring while navigating midlife and beyond.
Another huge difference between Revel and other digital platforms is the site doesn’t feature advertising and doesn’t sell user data to third parties. And solicitation is prohibited, though members can invite others to contact them directly if they offer services relevant to the audience of an event or to a group.
Now more than ever, maintaining friendships are key to mental health and wellness. A study by the Industrial Psychiatry Journal published in Psychology Today showed a significant relationship between depression and loneliness in older people.
• “Unlearning Racism: Reparations” hosted by Nina Lorez Collins
• “Eye Candy: Down the Rabbit Hole of Visual Wonders,” which is hosted by Dale Pollekoff, the founder of the MeetUp group Finding Female Friends Past 50.
Revel membership also includes access to their member directory, where you can search Revelers by location, event, and interest. In addition to virtual events, there are in-person meet-ups in cities including Asheville, Nashville, New York, Los Angeles, San Diego, Seattle, Washington, D.C., and Longmont, Colorado.
To help keep in-person events safe during the pandemic, many of them are outside or require attendees to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Of course, for those who aren’t comfortable with in-person outings or who don’t live in an area with a large number of Revelers, the virtual meet-ups can be equally rewarding. I just RSVP’d to a bunch of events myself, so maybe I’ll see you there!
Top photo credit: Amy Sedaris isn’t currently hosting a Revel event, but you can attend Revel cooking events here.
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