Rev. Jerry Haas, recognized for his introverted and scholarly demeanor, recently showcased an unexpected side of himself during the inaugural meeting of the Esperanza Memory Cafe at the United Methodist Church of Green Valley.
Haas, sporting bear paws, a bear hat, and a large bow, aimed to set a lively tone for the gathering. He explained that he wanted to dress up in order to convey the idea that this is meant to be FUN, not like the usual seminars and more challenging activities the group often engages in.
The Dementia Capable Southern Arizona (DCSA) director, Harbhajan Khalsa, operates under the Pima Council on Aging, which received a substantial grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services three years ago. This grant aimed to raise awareness about Alzheimer’s disease and prevent its onset, with DCSA focusing on initiatives like Memory Cafes.
Memory Cafes serve as free social hubs for individuals with dementia and their caregivers, providing a space for music, refreshments, and activities without the pressure of social norms. Avoiding explicit mention of terms like “dementia” and “Alzheimer’s,” these gatherings foster a comfortable environment for those on a similar journey.
The initiative at the United Methodist Church stemmed from the ongoing dementia care ministry established by Haas, named Esperanza Memory Cafe to signify “hope” in Spanish. The intent was to emphasize its inclusivity beyond the church’s membership, extending to the entire community.
The inaugural event, hosted by Pastor Doug Handlong, welcomed a small group of individuals with memory challenges and their caregivers, along with hosts including Pastor Ken Bensen, Khalsa, and Nicole Thomas, a community education specialist. The session involved discussions about Thanksgiving, favorite foods, and culminated in activities like pumpkin decoration and singing.
Khalsa commended the successful event, envisioning the potential for more Memory Cafes in Pima County and additional programs aiding dementia patients. Despite ongoing discussions with other churches for potential collaborations, the United Methodist Church’s future events may include hymns and occasional prayers, unlike other cafes.
While future gatherings will occur in the afternoon to accommodate schedules, Haas confirmed plans for continued information forums and networking sessions to address issues and provide support for caregivers. Additionally, the church plans to sustain a support group specifically for caregivers of dementia patients.
The collaborative efforts between Haas and Khalsa also contemplate offering counseling options in Green Valley. They aim to utilize the church’s space for memory screenings and to inform individuals about available resources. Khalsa, meanwhile, remains dedicated to expanding Memory Cafes to more organizations, aiming to spread joy and support within the community.