Southington’s soup kitchen, Bread for Life, is now joining both the Southington Public Library and LiveWell in offering a monthly “memory café” to people living with dementia and their caregivers or family members. The group will meet on the first Monday of every month, from 4 to 5:30 p.m.
“We are so excited to offer this to our community,” said BFL executive director Donna Ayer. “A memory café is a social event for people living with dementia, their caregiver or family member, offering a place to come together and enjoy an activity with others who are walking a similar journey.”
BFL has been a part of the Dementia Friendly Southington action team for over a year, which has allowed staff and volunteers to better serve BFL clients. BFL serves meals to 50 home-bound clients, and most of them are elderly individuals, Ayer said.
“We are sometimes the only ones who get to visit with them, and we do see quite a few of those clients we serve with cognitive memory issues,” said Ayer. “Through being part of the Dementia Friendly action team, we have been able to offer several trainings to our staff and volunteers so we can be better trained on how to interact with people living with dementia and how to spot signs of a person who may be struggling with those issues.”
Ayer said BFL wanted to use their facility to “give back to the community” by hosting these special events.
“One thing we realized by being part of this team is that we are such an important community partner,” she said. “In that role, we have this beautiful facility that the community gave to us, and we want to utilize that and give back.”
Each memory café will have a different theme that utilizes the BFL kitchen as part of the event. In addition, dinner will be served at each memory café event to give attendees “one less thing to worry about,” Ayer said.
In addition, attendees will be able to participate in different community service activities such as baking cookies for BFL clients or taking care of the garden.
“Many of them like to give back to their communities, and too often, they’re cut off from those opportunities because of their dementia,” Ayer said. “We’d like to give that back to them, as well.”
BFL received aid from three sponsors to provide these memory cafes—Hartford Healthcare’s center for healthy aging, Mary Our Queen Roman Catholic Church, and LiveWell Dementia Specialists.
LiveWell director of community development, Katy O’Leary, said LiveWell is thrilled to be a sponsor of the event. LiveWell has taken the lead on championing for Dementia Friendly Southington.
“Both the library and BFL are just wonderful community stakeholders when it comes to the Dementia Friendly Southington initiative,” she said. “Both of these organizations have not only gone through the Dementia Friendly informational session as an entire organization, but both have also done Dementia Friendly training, which is a deeper dive.”
O’Leary said BFL is the “perfect community space” for people to go and be supported and understood.
The Southington Public Library has been offering monthly memory cafes for nine months now and was able to provide insight and guidance to BFL as they started their own.
“The library has been a learning experience for all of us,” said O’Leary. “They’ve given a lot of opportunities to experiment with best practices and learn through shared resources, and they’ve made a tremendous commitment to making Southington Dementia Friendly.”
Liz Chubet, the library’s adult program coordinator, said the library’s memory cafes have been “very successful,” and attendance has steadily increased over time.
“The best part is that couples will meet on the outside and go have coffee or dinner together,” she said. “There’s relationships forming, and that is really great to see.”
Those interested in attending memory cafes do not need to choose one location or another—in fact, they are encouraged to attend multiple memory cafes. With the help of a grant from Tufts Health Plan Foundation, LiveWell is working on creating a network of memory cafes across the state.
To learn more about the Dementia Friendly initiative in Connecticut, visit www.dementiafriendst.org.