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:

  1. Outreach capabilities: Perhaps the most important feature of the Open Community platform for neighborhood memory café organizing is that potential members and volunteers can easily find your café when they are looking for opportunities in their neighborhood. These Open Communities are searchable by zip code and community ID number. Each community has a place to describe their mission and post location and help-needed info in the directory. People who find your memory café through this Lotsa Helping Hands search would then have the option to visit your webpage and inquire about your program/volunteering opportunities or request help from your community.
  2. Donations: Local organizations looking to give back to the community can easily find your memory café using the zip code search, and then donate online via a 'Donate' tab or contact you directly about in-kind donations. Lotsa Helping Hands also provides a toolkit to facilitate correspondence with local organizations about potential donations.
  3. Groups: The Open Communities platform gives your organization the option to create distinct groups with adjustable privacy/permissions settings. Example groups could include individual memory cafés in your city/county or separate groups working within one café, such as volunteers focusing on outreach, outings, fundraising or activities.
  4. Calendar: This function can obviously be used to advertise café meeting schedules, but it is also useful for letting your community know when help is needed and who has volunteered to contribute to a specific task.
  5. Information sharing: The platform has additional bells and whistles including an announcements function (a system-generated option too), a message board, photo sharing, and a resources page where you could potentially provide a list of additional community-based dementia-related services available in the area.

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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