On my continuing mission to challenge myself to be intentional about exploring the many ways Seattleites might open up their friendship circles, I decided to try my hand at organizing a neighborhood coffee klatch. I think there was one in my neighborhood years ago, but it faded out about the time we moved in. I have such amazing timing, I know.
The Invitee List & Quick Details
To build my invitee list I combed through neighborhood and school directories for published email addresses of women in my neighborhood. Yes, this one was targeted at women, sorry guys. I also scoured my own Outlook account to look for gals I might have served on a neighborhood or school committee with but didn’t really know them very well. And, of course, I invited neighbors that I already knew – aka ‘the peeps’. As I did this one mid-week, I targeted stay-at-home and work-from-home women.
For this venture I used Evite to keep things über simple and organized. I emailed the invite to a list of 22 neighborhood gals, with about a week’s notice prior to the klatch.
Six gals were able to attend. Several more were thankful for the invite, and although they had other commitments they made a point to say “please let me know when you have the next one.”
And, do you want to know the CRAZY, AMAZING COINCIDENCE that happened at my inaugural neighborhood coffee klatch?
Here’s the story and every word is true. My friend Jill, who lives up around the loop from me, was the first to arrive. My friend Sue, who lives in the cul-de-sac behind me, was among the last to arrive. They had never met.
Sue walks into my kitchen, looks at Jill and says with a huge smile, “You’re Jill, aren’t you?”
Jill smiles and says, “I am,” and with a look of mild surprise, pauses a bit to see what Sue says next.
Sue says, “I recently found out that my parents and your grandmother live in the same little town up in the northernmost part of Wisconsin.”
Jill: “You’re kidding?”
Sue: “Yeah, I guess two or three years ago my mom met your grandmother when she came in to volunteer at the local thrift shop, where my mom volunteers. Soon after that, my mom noticed that your grandma, Marian, also attended her church and would see her walking the short distance to her home so she offered to drive her and now they attend together quite often.”
Jill: “That’s you? That’s your mom?”
And then all the jaws dropped and the Kleenex came out. The rest of us just kind of stood there, mouths agape for a few minutes and just savored the moment. Sue and her family are original owners in our neighborhood and have lived here more than 20 years. Jill and her family have lived in the neighborhood 13 years. And they met just last week over a cup of coffee.
A bit more of the back story from Sue:
My parents live in Washburn, Wisconsin (population 2,117) right on Lake Superior. My father was born and raised there on a dairy farm but he left in his early 20’s and settled in Milwaukee after serving in the Navy. My parents moved back up there about 14 years ago and built a new house on the old property and became very active in the community. He’s the Town Chairman and she volunteers at their Catholic Church and that little thrift store.
Jill’s grandmother, Marian, came in to volunteer at the thrift shop after having recently moved up to Washburn with her daughter who had decided to relocate up there.
While visiting, my mom and Marian soon learned that they both had family in Sammamish and quite possibly the same neighborhood. When my mom mentioned this to me, I looked for Jill’s name in our directory and have been looking forward to an opportunity to meet her and tell her about this small world of ours!
When we’re visiting my parents in Wisconsin and I attend church with my mother, I have had the pleasure of meeting and visiting with Jill’s grandmother a couple of times including just last month. She’s a wonderful, sweet, lively woman who I hope to spend more time with on our next visit.
A bit more of the back story from Jill:
The feelings of complete gratitude that I have for Sue’s Mom, a woman I have never met, are beyond expression. I see her as an extension of me: The me that wishes she could take her Grandma to mass and ensure she gets to her volunteer outings at the community thrift shop. My Grandma Fulop has been the single most inspiring person and giver of everything to me through the years. And she still is and I feel remarkably blessed that, at 41, I can still talk with her and she lovingly helps me problem solve my way through my life. So, you can easily see how very grateful I am!!!
My Grandma, age 93, moved from her home of 61 years on Okauchee Lake to Washburn. She was quite active with the food pantry and her church in Oconomowoc most of those years. My Aunt Mary and her husband Jim relocated to Washburn and knew Grandma needed to go with them. She lives alone and has no car. While my Aunt Mary is a very strong presence in her life-I don’t want to undermine that at all!–I’m grateful to Sue’s mom for friending my Grandma. Marian left EVERYTHING she ever knew to settle in Washburn and begin a new life in her late 80’s. So it’s just wonderful that she has a friend who shares her lifelong passions and ensures she gets to her activities no matter what the weather is!
My 4 Big Lessons
Reflecting on this amazing connection, a few – dare I say profound – nuggets went through my mind:
- Lesson One. Thinking about Jill’s sweet 93-year-old grandma, Marion found an opportunity for connection in her new town not by waiting for the phone to ring, but by being proactive to find a volunteer opportunity she cared about in her new community. Moving to a new town can be intimidating, especially when you’re in your late 80’s, but Marion is a wonderful example of how we can choose to engage, regardless of circumstances or age.
- Lesson Two. Thinking about Sue’s parents, after their own relocation in their retirement years they ‘got busy’ in their new community through various volunteer activities. Connection doesn’t just happen because we have kids who go to the same school. It happens through initiative, even long after those kids have left the nest. Even long after the grandkids start leaving the nest. It can happen by simply noticing that someone needs a ride.
- Lesson Three. Thinking about Sue & Jill, we truly never know the amazing things that can happen when we simply decide to reach out and connect. Sue and Jill are individuals who are both pro-active, both engaged in their children’s schools and activities, and each has a vibrant circle of friendships. Yet, they still decided to accept an invitation to coffee with the thought of perhaps meeting someone new in the neighborhood. And, boy did they. There’s always room for one more friend in the circle and we never know how they might impact our life.
- Lesson Four. Thinking about the klatch, truly all I did was fire up the Keurig, buy some K-cups and half-n-half, and extend an Evite. Fate, as it turned out, did the rest. And I have to say, as much as I am really enjoying getting to know more of my neighbors, I’m equally enjoying watching my neighbors get to know one another. Sometimes when we purpose to expand our friendship circles, there’s the inherent benefit that we may be expanding their’s as well.
It really was just a cup of coffee…
With caffeine vessel in hand, I looked around my kitchen and noticed: none of these women were friends from high school or college. We had never worked together. We had never attended a faith community or health club together. We did share a commonality of neighborhood schools, although our kids’ ages are all across the board and spread across all grade levels, elementary through college.
We’re simply neighbors who decided to be neighborly, to get to know one another beyond a hello at the mailbox. We just decided to have coffee together. It really was that simple. Going forward, I’m thinking of trying to have one coffee klatch about once a month. I’d like to experiment with some on weekday mornings for the “stay-at-homies” and some on the weekends for women who work. I’ll share my progress as we go.
And, just so it doesn’t get lost in the story, I also enjoyed the privilege of getting to know better two more neighbors, both of whom I had either seen or volunteered with once at my son’s school, but I didn’t know until recently that they lived in my neighborhood. Uhuh.
How goes your invites? Ready to join the Thaw?
I’m extending the invitation again. My “Join the Thaw” page is feeling pretty lonely. Are you ready to bite the bullet? Are you ready to go on public record that you will do whatever you can to set ONE GOAL of getting to know one or more neighbors in the coming months? Dinner? Block Party? 12th Man Tailgate Party?
Or, maybe just coffee? They are all do-able opportunities to foster connection in your neighborhood. C’Mon. What are ya waiting for? Join the Thaw Challenge.
You just never know…