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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Memory Café

N.C. congregation gathers those with dementia, caregivers for meal & music

Whether it’s “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” “Blue Suede Shoes” or “A Hard Day’s Night,” the music of our youth survives deep within our bones. Long remembered tunes transcend time and place and stir us to move with the beat. This music memory can be especially significant when the present world seems so foreign.

Gail Vaughn recalled how much music meant to her parents, especially in the later stages of her mother’s dementia when she couldn’t speak or care for herself. When her mother had difficulty walking, Gail’s father began to sing. Taking her in his arms, he danced his wife to the dinner table. Her smile glowed as she shuffled to the familiar rhythm.

This treasured recollection inspired Vaughn to organize the Memory Café at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Raleigh, N.C. She envisioned an occasion of musical entertainment, food and fellowship for people with dementia and their caregivers. She understood a caregiver’s need for respite.

The congregation has experience in café ministry. For 16 years it has operated the Coffeehouse for individuals with developmental disabilities. So Vaughn found it receptive to her idea, and by January 2012 she had her core volunteers: Ginny Poston manages the guest list and reservations, Jesse Chow handles advertising and promotion, and Debbie Helfrich is in charge of food. Vaughn organizes the entertainment.

“Everyone dove right in and it all just seemed to fall into place,” she said.

Most of the 12 to 15 regular adult volunteers are motivated by family members with dementia; another 50 are ready to help.

Third- and fourth-grade youth from Good Shepherd serve the meal. “I like helping people,” said Emily Sloman, 9. “I make new friends every time I come here.” She produced a PowerPoint presentation on the café for a school project.


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