Community Life

Java Groups help residents build friendships



Today we share a story from our Better Together series about small, intimate weekly gatherings where residents share experiences and build friendships. A participant commented recently, “I’m so happy to have a group I can share in.”

Java Groups take place currently at 11 long-term care centers at Presbyterian Homes & Services. A recent Minnesota state grant funds our Java group facilitation resources, including manuals, songbooks and CDs.

Creators of the successful nationwide Java Groups Programs explain that “through structured peer support and peer mentoring, Java participants uplift others and are uplifted themselves.” Happiness spreads because “people are happiest when they are helping one another,” they say further.

Weekly at the memory care neighborhood of Harmony River in Hutchinson, Minn., four to eight participants exchange small tokens of love and understanding.

Julieann Knutson, life enrichment director, has witnessed the women develop stronger friendships, simply by listening to one another. “Afterward, they may not be able to remember details of what was shared,” she explains, “but that feeling — that emotional connection — lingers with them.”

On a recent day, Julieann’s colleague, Cindy Henning, a life enrichment assistant, facilitates Java Memory Care using photography, music and readings to support the week’s theme of creativity.

The sound of gentle chimes draws everyone’s attention to the moment. Cindy reminds the group, “Our one guiding principle is loving kindness.”

Songbooks with simple, uplifting lyrics get passed around. Music from years gone by plays on a CD.

When silence returns, Cindy continues, “Everyone matters and has something to share. I believe everyone has creative gifts. What is yours?”

Conversation opens by naming their unique talents — hinting at far richer, untold life tales. One is a yodeler; another is a Twins baseball team expert. One woman reminisces about decades of favorite crocheted blanket projects and comments wisely, “When you start, it becomes part of you. I love it.”

With a little prompting from Cindy, everyone’s stories of careers and hobbies begin to unravel like a ball of yarn in the hands of the group’s star knitter.

Giggles of joy erupt from one who has dementia and is non-verbal. The woman who crochets looks over and says adoringly, “She is my best friend.”

Quiet comes again as the next participant reads aloud a short inspirational quote (from Dr. Seuss!):

Think left. Think right.
Think low. Think high.
The thinks you can think of
If you only try.

Soon the group closes with the song titled “When You Believe”:

There can be miracles when you believe
Though hope is frail it’s hard to kill
Who knows what miracles you can achieve
When you believe, somehow you will
You will when you believe

As the music fades, Cindy says, “I believe in miracles.” A participant, raising her head, utters, “I do, too.”

Do you know someone looking for more purpose in their work? Share the good news and the many opportunities to join our team at

You might also be interested in:

Senior living offers new friends, new connections
The life enrichment pro: ‘I do something meaningful – I connect people’



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