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The Spirit of Social Work in Action

Katherine Mitchellby Dr. Katherine Mitchell

I first heard about the concept that has become “Care Cafe” in an early discussion with Dean Wozniak when I met her last summer. She told me about an article she’d read in the New York Times about something called “Repair Cafe”. It’s an innovative idea about community connection and sustainability that originated in Amsterdam as a way for people to come together in spontaneous communities to  learn how to repair and preserve common household items, kindle enthusiasm for a sustainable society, pass on valuable practical knowledge, connect with others over a cup of tea and hopefully be inspired.  Dean Wozniak took that idea and started thinking about the need to have a place for people to repair their hearts and find the same sense of community, connection and inspiration.

My initial reaction was “Wow! I love this”.  And for me, it completely resonated with my understanding of and love for the social work profession. I couldn’t wait to get more involved.  As it turned out, serendipity presented me with the opportunity to lead this new initiative, re-imagined for Wurzweiler as “Care Cafe”. What an honor it is to work with an incredible group of Wurzweiler students, staff and faculty over the past three months to bring this vision of “Care Cafe” to life.

The students have embodied Care Cafe, not only in their caring attention to the vast number of details involved in creating something new from the ground up, but in the enthusiasm, dedication and use of their individual talents to bring interesting, innovative programs to the five boroughs of New York City. We have built a schedule of Cafes covering an array of interesting and timely topics that we hope will carry over into a sustainable sense of inspiration, connection and hope in these complicated times.

With loving care, the students are creating beautiful graphics and informational materials, reaching into their networks for speakers and venues and working hard to get the word out. They are researching resources relevant to each café topic that we share with the people who attend in the hopes that they will find enrichment and new-found inspiration.

Most recently, we had the honor of hosting Mr. Jeff Bell, a well-known speaker on the topic of overcoming anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  Mr. Bell, who shares very openly about his journey to recovery from OCD, gave a very engaging talk at the A. Philip Randolph Senior Center on West 146th Street in New York City to enthusiastic reception by an audience of 30 seniors, many of whom were octogenarians, including several WW II and Korean War Veterans.  That evening, he repeated his talk at Riverside Memorial Chapel in Manhattan to an audience of about 20 people, many of whom had read his books or seen him speak at conferences.  I had not been familiar with Mr. Bell’s work, and when I saw the enthusiastic welcome he received (almost like we had a Rockstar in our midst) I knew we had done a great service to the community.

He gave a marvelous talk in the lovely cafe-like setting created by Riverside Memorial Director Sherry Anthony that included small cafe tables and a delicious light dinner. Mr. Bell tracked his personal journey, focusing on how he has recovered and his passion for sharing that solution with others. The most wonderful part was what I observed happening in the room. As he spoke, his audience was fully engaged, asking questions, sharing insights and their own recovery strategies.  We had a group of our brilliant Wurzweiler Care Cafe MSW students in attendance, ready with resources lists and completely engaged in talking with attendees and making connections.

And after Mr. Bell had finished his talk, taking questions and said his farewells, people continued to sit at the tables deeply engaged in conversation and reluctant for the evening to end.  It was happening!

Care Cafe became the vehicle for a pop-up community of people with a common interest, engaged and inspired by a speaker and then connecting with one another!

I was witnessing what I understand to be the true spirit of social work come to life before my eyes! Meeting people where they are, and working actively in communities, we are serving as agents of change facilitating connection, information and potentially transformation.

Please take a look at the full schedule of upcoming cafes and be a part of this marvelous experience!