Sisters Kathi Welch, right, and Sherry Sonith smile with their dogs at the end of Coffee and Conversation. (Photos by Shakeem Jones)
The senior citizens greeted each other with hugs and jokes about their hips spreading wider than they would like. They had breakfast together the week before, and now they were back together planning a fashion show.
After isolation and losing loved ones due to COVID, Coffee and Conversation is giving seniors a new lease on life.
Roseanne Soltau has been a member of Coffee and Conversation for the past five years.
“Seniors are like everybody else — we just have more wrinkles,” Soltau said.
Coffee and Conversation meets on the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month in a space donated by Cayce United Methodist Church.
The group was created in 2016 by Mary Beth Lamey of Thompson Funeral Homes, which sponsors the group. One reason Coffee and Conversation was created was to decrease the isolation seniors felt after losing a loved one. The pandemic isolated them all over again.
At one point, membership was up to around 45 members pre-pandemic. Now there are about 20. The decline came from age and other health issues of its members related to the pandemic.
“We definitely had members who were anxious and afraid to get back together,” Lamey said. “It has kept them at home, and they stay isolated till this day.”
Now, as people start to meet again in person, Lamey said activities are planned around what members’ interests are, and time is always planned for socializing at the end.
“The idea behind Coffee and Conversation is just to provide a safe space for folks to find friendships,” Lamey said.
Last week, they had a guest speaker, Marsha Clayman, a senior lifestyle counselor discuss brain health.
She gave advice on how to keep the brain in shape. She told members to use their non-dominant hand while getting ready for bed that night: brushing their teeth and putting on their pajamas. The goal was to challenge their brains.
After Clayman finished speaking, the group — mostly made up of women — conversed and laughed with each other.
The group gives its members the opportunity to get up, get dressed and leave their houses, Lamey said.
“Outside of our regular meetings, a lot of our members have become friends, and they’ll call one another and ask, ‘Hey, do you want to go to dinner?’” Lamey said.
Member Sherri Sonith said she has been attending Coffee and Conversation for the past four years. Sonith said she likes what the club offers her.
“Seniors today don’t want to just sit and knit,” Sonith said. “We want to be active and do things.”
Sonith’s sister, Kathi Welch, visited her sister from Atlanta and accompanied her sister to the meeting.
“I love this group — it’s interesting and keeps you stimulated with conversations,” Welch said.
Sonith said being a senior citizen is different from what it used to be, and it doesn’t mean sitting with soup.
“We are active and vibrant and interesting,” Sonith said. “We do things. We dance. We listen to music. We do everything anybody is able to do.”
Lamey said she doesn’t know what the future has in store for Coffee and Conversation but hopes it will continue to be a resource for single seniors.
She doesn’t mind if it grows, but she also wouldn’t mind if it stays the same because it can become less personal with more members.
“If we’re going to grow, I would like it to be a nice, slow growth,” Lamey said. “We can maintain the friendships and integrity of what it was created for.”