We believe that Bloomington coffee shops should help knit the community together by providing spaces where people can hang out, make new friends, and share special experiences with their loved ones. But, how do you create a space where everyone feels welcome?

For Norma Jean Madden, Needmore Coffee was a place where she felt safe and supported. She would come to the Bloomington coffee shop every day so that she could talk to the other customers. The funny thing was Jean would speak so freely that she made it hard for others to relax. Katie suspected that Jean might be experiencing some form of memory disorder, but she wasn’t sure how to help. According to Katie:

“When she first started visiting she would often, unintentionally, run customers off by talking to them non-stop, telling them stories of her life, or what was on her mind that day.”

Katie was faced with a dilemma: how could she support Jean’s need to tell her stories while also making sure that other members of the community felt safe and welcome at the coffee shop? To learn how she might use Jean’s enthusiasm for talking to strangers as a way to build community, Katie reached out to a friend at the Better Day Club, an adult day program in Bloomington for people with dementia. To better support customers with dementia, the Needmore Coffee staff participated in training with Amanda Mosier, a community health coordinator for IU Health’s Alzheimer’s Resource Service. Katie learned that the most important thing to do for Jean was to make her feel valued.  As Katie explains:

 “When Jean would come into the coffee shop I would stop whatever I was doing and meet her at the door, give her a hug and ask her how she was doing. I’d go get her a cup of coffee and we would sit down at a table and I would listen to whatever was on her mind. Sometimes it was things I had heard many times, but I would still react like it was all new to me. I would engage her and ask her questions and over time Jean would repeat stories less and less.”

Once the staff learned how to interact with Jean, her presence helped to strengthen the Needmore Coffee shop community. The staff befriended Jean so much that they started hanging out with her outside of the coffee shop as well. They would drive her to Kroger to help her do her grocery shopping and even invited her to the staff Christmas party. In honor of Jean, Katie decided to start a memory cafe for folks with dementia at Needmore. She was able to bring Jean to her very first meeting and it is still a regular event at the shop.

After Jean’s passing, Katie held a celebration of life for her at Needmore. Thirty people from the community were in attendance. Coming together to remember Jean revealed just how much her daily presence at the shop strengthened their sense of connection to Bloomington and to each other.