“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” - Helen Keller
Almost a year ago, JF&CS started the second memory café in Massachusetts. Two things about the experience of launching and developing a café struck me.
First, providers were intrigued by the name and concept, and once we built solid attendance, guests loved it. Our experience reinforced what I’d heard from others across the country – that the memory café is new and compelling. It fills a gap as a nonclinical model, a social opportunity for people with dementia and care partners together, a bridge between formal services and the neighborhood coffee shop. However, my second takeaway was that significant time and careful planning is required to design and sustain a good café, one that will make it over the hump from a great idea to a flourishing community.
So, once the JF&CS Memory Café was humming along, how could we expand access to this wonderful thing? How could we respond to families who asked us to please offer a café in the afternoon as well as the morning, or more than once a month? How could we be in more locations, offer activities for different cultural and linguistic groups, an evening group for those with younger onset dementia? With our limited resources, we couldn’t.
From this sprung the idea of a memory café network. I contacted everyone I knew who was running or had expressed interest in starting a café, along with a supporter at the Alzheimer’s Association who could help ensure that our cafés were known to this key referral source. Our network, the “Percolator,” has met twice, and plans to continue on a quarterly basis. Our goals include ensuring that the day/times of cafés don’t conflict, developing a shared café directory and a guest artist directory, offering technical assistance to new cafés, sharing ideas and resources. Next on the horizon is to encourage the development of cafés in areas that could benefit from them.
Though the Percolator is in its infancy, we’ve had these gains:
- A shared directory is now available at www.jfcsboston.org/MemoryCafeDirectory and each café is helping to publicize it.
- Several families are now attending multiple cafés in our network. One care partner wrote to say that she and her husband are becoming “café groupies.”
- Those starting new cafés are reaching out for support and ideas, and through our network they can tap into information quickly.
And, as Percolator participant Bonnie Bigalke of the Alzheimer’s Association of MA/NH says, "Having an organized network and a directory makes it much easier for Alzheimer’s Association Helpline staff to refer people to local memory cafes.”
The network model presents challenges as well. Although Percolator participants plan to write up a list of norms and standards, each café is independently run; we cannot evaluate cafés or enforce standards. There is also a natural hesitation to share ideas and resources with organizations that could be viewed as competitors. Since attendance is the biggest hurdle for establishing and sustaining a café, the elephant in the room at our first meeting was this: will new cafés take away our guests?
I’d had this worry, too, until I spoke with John McFadden at the Fox Valley Memory Project in Wisconsin. The Fox Valley Memory Project http://www.foxvalleymemoryproject.org runs a network of seven cafés within driving distance. He noted that some attendees just stick with “their” café, while others attend several, and that there is plenty of room for multiple cafés. I brought the Fox Valley Memory Project’s café map to our first Percolator meeting, along with a café map from the UK, where cafés are so thick you can’t even count them.
For all of us, the broader goal is social change. We want to create thriving memory cafés, but we’d also like for our neighbors with dementia to be able to get a cup of coffee at the local Starbucks. To reach this goal, we need to think big, and we need to think collaboratively.
I’m happy to share my experience and to learn from others experimenting with café networks. Feel free to contact me at 781-693-5628 or email@example.com.
Together we can do so much.
[Photo by Elena Clamen]
Developing and maintaining memory café membership can be much more difficult than one would imagine. Once people come to a café, they are usually hooked, but getting new members out for the first time can be the biggest challenge faced by organizers. And when members move on because of changing care needs, the outreach and marketing cycle must begin again.
As we expand our memory café groups here in the San Francisco Bay Area, we are making new discoveries about how to do outreach. I will share them here, and I hope that you will do the same by leaving a comment or writing a community blog post.
Today my focus is on getting the word out online. We are trying to make a trusted connection with vulnerable older adults in need, and often that requires that they hear about our organization from several different sources. Online outreach is an important part of that connection.
Since most communities do not have access to a comprehensive calendar of activities available for people living at home with memory loss, one of the best ways for people to find out about your café is through an online search.
Have you done a few searches of keywords, to see whether your café program information or website comes up? An example might be: “activities” + “Alzheimer’s” + your city name. It turns out that it is important to use a “private window” or “incognito window” to test those search results because otherwise the searches are skewed by the topics and websites that we frequently search and visit. Using one of these private window options (found under “file” on your search engine menu bar) will allow you to see what others find when they search those same keywords.
If you’re not happy with where your website is coming up in that search, you may need to work on your SEO (search engine optimization). There are consultants who can help you fix these issues quickly (e.g EffectiveWebsites.com), but here are some basic DIY tips if you are operating on a tight budget:
There are a lot of helpful summary articles about improving SEO, which go way beyond the scope of this post. If you're interested, one that I can suggest is the Moz Beginners Guide to SEO.
Many cafés are independent, which means their meeting information is not listed on the local Alzheimer’s Association chapter website or other regional elder care nonprofit websites. These days, it seems that each organization lists only the events they sponsor directly. It’s probably due to time constraints and liability issues, but this practice makes it difficult for potential members to find independent memory cafés, and for memory cafés to get the word out in an affordable and efficient way.
There are now a few national directories that are trying to help connect consumers to services. For example, two databases that are powering searches through local and national Alzheimer’s Association websites are CareMavens.com and CareLike.com, and both will allow you to post your listing at no charge. It’s worth adding your café information to both of these databases, although CareLike.com just informed me that since they do not currently have a category that fits memory/Alzheimer’s cafés, our listing will not be searchable until they have enough interest to create a category to ‘house’ us. The same is true for Caring.com, although they are accommodating us in their Adult Day Care category for now, and were very receptive to the idea of adding a category that would better suit Memory/Alzheimer’s cafés. Please consider talking to these organizations about the need—together we can make some noise and get memory/Alzheimer’s cafés recognized as an important category of services!
Have you heard of the National 211 Collaborative? They provide free information and referral for a broad range of help services including health care and counseling. You can now list your café free of charge with 211.org. Once you search your zip code and figure out if calling 2-1-1 is available in your area, you can check the information for agencies to find out how to submit your listing. In my area, 211 is supported by our local United Way.
If you are not already listed on the two national lists of Memory and Alzheimer’s Cafés, I would highly recommend that as well. Please see: Alzheimer’sCafé.com, and the Alzheimer’s Speaks Resource Directory.
Make sure to follow up and check back on all of your listings. Submission does not guarantee the listing will get posted or that it will be done with accuracy. And if your information changes, remember to go back and make those updates. It takes some time, but the potential to reach a broad audience at low/no cost is worth the effort.
Other options for online outreach include Craigslist and your local newspaper’s online classified ads. Craigslist ads are free and often times your local newspaper will allow nonprofit organizations/community events to advertise for free on their online classified page.
There is a movement now to create online community-specific news, information and engagement by several ‘hyperlocal’ organizations. If available in your area, consider contributing content or posting a café event on their bulletin boards. Two examples are Patch.com (national sites) and Baristanet (New Jersey)—check here to see if there is one covering your area. Also, many cities have neighborhood newspapers that have online content and classifieds, and they are looking for local news and events to write about!
Another possibility is to join local professional elder services networks, which often list their members’ organizations on their website. Examples might be ‘Senior Roundtable’ organizations, a local ‘Section on Aging’ group or Meetup groups.
Please chime in with additional suggestions. Many of us struggle with attendance issues at one time or another and sharing tips and information will help us continue to provide these much needed café programs!
What if there was a free online platform that could help your memory café bring in new members, volunteers and community donations, and also provide a place for these groups to share information, schedules and announcements?
You may have heard about Lotsa Helping Hands as a free online tool that can help family and friends coordinate care for a loved one who is experiencing challenging life circumstances. But last year, Lotsa Helping Hands added an ‘Open Communities’ option where people in need can ask for help from their broader community, and those who want to volunteer in their neighborhood can find local people and organizations who need their help. These Open Communities are proliferating rapidly, and larger organizations are now beginning to use this online platform (it is free for nonprofits).
I have not found any mention of a memory café using this platform to get the word out and coordinate volunteer efforts, but in my future endeavors to support multiple memory cafés in my hometown of San Francisco, I am going to give it a try. And here is why:
If you want more details, you can watch the related webinar here. The Q & A at the end of the webinar also addresses the important issue of recruiting and vetting volunteers.
Facebook and Meetup are other social networking options for getting the word out about your memory café. Ken Capron of Maine’s "Memory Works" is using the Meetup platform to organize all of the new memory cafés in Maine--check it out here. The Meetup network is searchable by location, date and keyword, which is very practical.
Another up-and-coming platform worth watching is IAM-CARE. They are in the process of creating an international, integrative, healthcare platform for dementia care, which aims to have health tools, information and networking available in one place. They are also looking for ways to help connect members to local community support options like memory cafés, and it will be interesting to see how they address this important need in the future.
Would you consider using a social networking platform to promote and organize your memory café? Can you suggest other options? Please let us know!
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