“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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Together we can do so much.
[Photo by Elena Clamen]