Vermont Maturity  June 2015, by Carrie Shamel   –

When I heard that Burlington was starting a Memory Café, I was excited and curious. I was not sure what to expect, but I hoped to see that it would bring together those affected by memory challenges and their loved ones to share times of joy and meaning as opposed to the stressors that can come with care giving.

When I walked into the Thayer House last fall for the inaugural cafe, I was rewarded by a world of songs and smiles. I joined the circle of participants and we sang away (out of tune or not!) to familiar songs, as a guest played the guitar. The age range was impressive: from those in their 30s up into their 90s. As we continued to sing and laugh, I realized that in this setting, all barriers of age and memory were removed. No one cared who was “young” or who was “old,” who could walk or needed a walker or who could recall if it was 2014 or 1999. We were in harmony.

The music came to an end, but the conversation and connection continued over coffee and snacks. It seemed everyone had made a new friend, and people were reluctant to leave the café.

I was not surprised to see the same faces return a month later, along with some new faces, as well. The Queen City Memory Café meets the third Saturday of each month from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the Thayer House in Burlington off North Avenue. It is open to the public and free of charge. It is designed to be an engaging community for people with memory challenges and their caregivers and friends. The café does not provide physical care, but provides a warm and supportive ambiance.

In the time since the café began, a wide variety of offerings have occurred, from poetry writing and reading, to storytelling, to holiday celebrating and drumming. In January, a talented musician came to the café, with a host of various types of drums. Another participant gifted us with a wide range of instruments and her own set of talents. Many of us, including myself, were reluctant to pick up an instrument, as we were fearful of making a mistake, not having played before. However, the musician skillfully encouraged us to try, and one by one you saw hands hitting drums, shaking maracas and playing a washboard. As minutes passed, and with little instruction, the sound intensified and you could see confidence growing in each face.

As there were some new folks to the group, some of us had been strangers prior to this day. But in drumming collectively, we made a powerful song that unlocked our souls and drew us together. How wonderful it was to see a diverse group of people creating joyous sounds together. It reminded me for the 100th time that regardless of age or ability you can have fun, make connections and learn new things.

I look forward to future months with more participants joining us. We are looking ahead to learning to do comedy, summer picnicking, some blissful singing and much more. Memory cafes are also in full swing in Montpelier and St. Albans.