JF&CS Memory Cafe

Organization Associated with Program
Jewish Family & Children's Service
1430 Main Street
Waltham, Massachusetts 02451

The JF&CS Memory Café is a welcoming place where individuals and families living with dementia enjoy intergenerational socializing and a creative adventure. It has been open on the first Friday morning of the month since March, 2014, when it became the second memory café in Massachusetts. It serves an average of thirty guests and ten volunteers each month.

More people than ever before are living with dementia and the social isolation that it often brings in its wake. The goals of the Memory Café are to:

  • Reduce social isolation for people with dementia and care partners
  • Spark renewed connection between persons with dementia and their care partner
  • Empower students to interact effectively with people with dementia, and transform their view of the potential of those with dementia to live well and contribute to others

Brandeis college students co-host the Café, generating a double benefit for guests and students. A guest artist shares his or her work and facilitates a creative experience each month. Past Cafés have featured poetry, singing, musical theater, storytelling and dance. The art experience is always highly interactive, and designed to be engaging and meaningful to guests with a range of cognitive abilities and personalities. The Memory Café welcomes those at any stage of disease progression, including those who have not been diagnosed. Those requiring personal care assistance are asked to bring a care partner. The JF&CS Memory Café is embedded within the JF&CS Alzheimer’s/Related Disorders Family Support Program and wraparound senior services to easily link guests to more support when needed.

Program History

The JF&CS Memory Café was developed to respond to the risk of social isolation for the growing number of individuals living with dementia, and their care partners. Memory Cafés have been spreading throughout the U.S., but Massachusetts only had one at the time that the JF&CS café was launched. Research into existing memory cafés identified the Brooklyn Memory Arts Café and the intergenerational Upper Valley Memory Café at Dartmouth College as particular models for the JF&CS café. Also influential was JF&CS’ Parkinson’s Family Support Program, which for many years has been integrating arts engagement, psychosocial support, and resource assistance in its services.

Early in the development process, JF&CS established a partnership with the Waltham Student Group of Brandeis University. This has ensured that a large number of trained volunteers take part in each café, so that even guests who come alone or need some extra assistance in participating will have this help. The students also increase everyone’s enjoyment by bringing generations together. They are learning skills and attitudes that will help move us toward the dementia-competent society that we must achieve.

By August 2014, the JF&CS Memory Café began to draw consistent crowds of 30 – 35 guests, plus 10 -15 students, and often a number of aging service professionals as well. In November 2014, the “Percolator” memory café network was launched in order to foster the proliferation, development and sustainability of memory cafés throughout Greater Boston. It is hoped that guests will be able to attend multiple cafés per month, and that specialized cafes will develop.

Program Assessments and Evaluations

These programs are evaluated by means of attendance numbers. Evaluations are conducted by the staff, a related agency or partner organization, and an inhouse department of performance and quality management that assists in development, implementation, and analysis of evaluations.

Advice for Other Organizations Conducting Similar Programs

Development of a café requires careful planning and long-term commitment. Expect participation to be low for the first six months while word gets out about the café. Particularly if there are few or no cafes in your area, your café is liable to pique interest among providers but to be too unfamiliar for potential guests except the very adventuresome types. Invite providers to come, as they can better spread the word once they experience it. Use local newspapers and cable to describe the program so that guests will be more willing to give it a try.

Kinds of creative engagement/ program focus Creation of Original Work, Viewing Artwork, Participate in a Workshop, Watch a Lecture/Demonstration
Arts Discipline: Dance, Design, Literature, Music, Musical Theater, Theater, Visual Arts
Interdisciplinary Connections: Education, Volunteerism
Target Audience: Caregivers - Family, Caregivers - Professional, Intergenerational, People with Alzheimer's Disease / Dementia
Adaptive Program Design Hearing Disabilities, Visual Disabilities, Mobility Disabilities, Cognitive Disabilities, Intellectual Disabilities, Psychiatric Disabilities
Program Setting: Social Service Agency
Program Service Area: Suburban, Urban
Type of Practice: