Story by Kristen Caldwell

When a need arose in the small central Washington town of Ephrata to provide more support for people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia and their caregivers, the local United Methodist Church stepped up.

Once a month for the last year-and-a-half, Ephrata United Methodist Church has hosted a Memory Café for those who suffer from memory loss illnesses such as dementia and Alzheimer’s as well as their caregivers.

“It’s intended to be an outreach beyond our four walls into the community,” said Pastor Don Dunn. “It works really well.”

Part of the reason it may work so well is that early on, church member Penny Clees got involved.

Clees has spent a good portion of her career as a caregiver, specifically working with people with dementia. She also has some national training experience behind her credentials related to memory care.

Clees said a member of the congregation had talked to her about the church getting involved in some sort of care program. There was a need in the Ephrata area for a more social setting for those in need of assistance.

“It’s a support system,” Clees said. “We work to be social. Staying engaged and physically active is really, really important.”

Dunn said he likes how the program is structured to help evoke a memory or memories through things such as music and different exercises.

Clees said the Memory Café is part of an international curriculum that is tailored to individuals with memory loss. They start with a relaxed, calming environment and practice all kinds of communication skills. There is usually music involved and a small group discussion at the end with a healthy snack.

“It’s really nurturing and it’s a wonderful time,” Clees said.

Dunn said the church received a $5,000 donation to assist with the Memory Café. Clees said there are only a couple of participants from the church, but they reach three different communities in Grant County. But that’s a good thing.

People from the church come to make snacks or be greeters or are part of the clean-up crew. They rotate through on a regular basis. They see upward of 20-30 people in their building for each month’s Memory Café gatherings.

“From the very beginning we set it up as an outreach of the church,” Clees said.

Kristen Caldwell is serving as Interim Director of Communications for the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.

Photo Credit: Ephrata UMC photo screen grab from Google Street View.

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