December 1, 2021

Memory Cafe runs on community support

Volunteer Belinda Burtner grills hot dogs Tuesday at a joint picnic with Memory Cafe participants at Durkee Park in Homer.

Bob Ellis/staff photographer

Volunteer Belinda Burtner grills hot dogs Tuesday at a joint picnic with Memory Cafe participants at Durkee Park in Homer.

HOMER — Last October, a small group of residents had an idea: they wanted to do something to help people in their community dealing with memory loss and the family and friends who care for them.

Based on a similar program that originated in the Netherlands, they created the Memory Cafe, a monthly meeting where people who have Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia or memory loss can come with their caretakers to support each other.

Today, with roughly 20 regular participants and volunteers gathering in less than a year, organizers say more people are showing interest all the time and what started as an idea has quickly become a program people seem to enjoy being a part of and one others rely on.

The group regularly meets the third Tuesday of every month to play games and activities meant to stimulate brain activity, swap stories and to get out of the house for a few hours of fun in a stress-free environment.

Former SUNY Cortland psychology professor and program organizer Bill Hopkins said Tuesday the Memory Cafe program has grown rapidly since starting in October.

“(It’s been) phenomenal because of the community support we’ve been getting,” Hopkins said. “The word is getting out.”

For example, the Cortland Community Center has served as the regular meet-up place for the Memory Cafe. But on Tuesday, the group opted for a change of scenery and had a picnic at Durkee Park in the village of Homer.

The regular attendees of the Memory Cafe program were joined by people from the Brewster House assisted living facility in Homer.

Residents from Walden Place assisted living facility in Cortlandville will be participating in the program in August.

“I can’t keep up with the enthusiasm that people have that want to be part of this,” Hopkins said.

One of those people is Cortland resident Carol Crannage, who said she was invited to attend a meeting three months ago. She volunteered, finding the Memory Cafe to not only to be a productive use of her time, but beneficial for others.

“I fell in love with everybody,” Crannage said. “I’ll continue doing this. There’s a lot of people out there who need help and entertainment. I love it.”

Groton resident Maria Cotterill has been attending the Memory Cafe with her father, Garry Davidson, since it began.

Cotterill said as a caretaker, the Memory Cafe has been a great resource as she gets feedback from knowledgeable people who can — and want — to help.

“Sometimes you have questions,” Cotterill said. “The people who volunteer their time — they’ve been caretakers, they’ve been nurses. They offer so much. There’s a feeling of being welcome. It’s just encouraging and people are always friendly.”

It helps that her father, Davidson, enjoys the Memory Cafe each month, too.

“I look forward to this,” Davidson said. “I like it because it’s so much fun. The people are great. I enjoy it. It’s beautiful.”

Hopkins said things are going so well that the Memory Cafe is considering doing more activities like field trips in the future, but there are small yet significant plans he hopes to get going for the short term, like teaching people how to use the internet.

To accomplish this, they have already enlisted a couple of local high school students and interns from SUNY Cortland and Tompkins Cortland Community College — and volunteers from the community — to help with the Memory Cafe.

From the participants to the organizers and volunteers, everyone said the good the Memory Cafe seems to be doing for people is just as exciting to be a part of as it is to watch. Hopkins said he encouraged more people to get involved and to experience it for themselves.

“You can just feel the energy,” he said. “It’s hard to measure it, but you know it’s there.”