Longstanding Educational Series Connects Neighbors . . . Over Coffee
Coffeehouses are commonly known as places where members of the nearby community can meet for hot drinks and lively conversation. When the Coffeehouse Discussion Series was organized in 2009, it was with the goal of creating a place where residents throughout St. John’s Meadows as well as the community at-large could gather on a regular basis to learn and speak more about shared topics of interest. Almost eight years later, the program remains a unique example of a retirement community collaborating with the adjacent neighborhoods surrounding it to create a cohesive neighborhood hub.
The concept for the Coffeehouse Discussion Series was originally discussed during a brainstorm between Meadows residents and Nazareth students during the early days of the St. John’s Collaborative for Intergenerational Learning. From there, St. John’s Administration brought the idea to members of the Azalea, Lilac, and Highland Park Neighborhood Associations who were invited to offer public input on the design plan for Brickstone by St. John’s. One of those participants—David Day, a retired professor of anthropology at Monroe Community College who lives in the Azalea Neighborhood—remembers that St. John’s Administration was sincere in their hopes to create an inclusive feel at the soon-to-be-constructed Brickstone as well as the Meadows. “The initial thought was that the nearby communities be welcome on the trails and at the programs,” David explains. “They wanted to make sure there would be that link with the outside world.”
David has been involved with the Coffeehouse Committee since the early days of the series. This group of residents from St. John’s and the neighborhoods in the vicinity of the Elmwood Avenue campus meet regularly to produce a schedule of six diverse topics for the fall and spring sessions. Alice Mahan moved to St. John’s Meadows a year and a half ago and recently joined the committee. She compliments the process the committee uses to present and flesh out ideas as “very democratic.” According to Alice “we look to bring in insights on things we see in the headlines. People on the committee keep their eyes and ears open for subjects and speakers that would be of interest.” From there, usually one member will champion a topic that has been agreed upon by the committee and work to schedule an appropriate speaker.
Jane Davis admits she has always been “a program person.” During her time as a director of a childcare center she often brought in programs and speakers for children as well as their parents. She developed similar programs through volunteer work with the American Association of University Women (AAUW) and the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA). Jane has served on the committee for about 5 years and she is proud of all that the group has accomplished. “The Coffeehouse Series is very different than anything else here,” Jane says. “The quality of the programs has been outstanding, and I think the attendance reflects that.”
The consistently high turnout for Coffeehouse Series sessions does indeed validate the hard work put in by the committee. Residents and outside guests who attend the free Coffeehouse sessions have always given the gourmet coffees and desserts provided high marks throughout the program’s long run. However, it has always been the quality of programming—the favorites being local history, technology, musical theater, and opera—that have driven the success of the series.
The most recent sessions that concluded in late October featured topics ranging from “The Future of the Seneca Park Zoo” to “Cell Phone Culture in the South Pacific.” All six presentations drew crowds of nearly 100 attendees. Not surprisingly, the committee is already working on topics for the upcoming spring schedule. For David Day, the Coffeehouse Series has accomplished its initial goal to create a more interconnected community. “I’ve come to know a lot of the residents at the Meadows and a lot of my neighbors have moved to St. John’s.”