Café-Wellness Center Hybrid Expands To Senior Centers and Beyond

CHICAGO – Saying it can help senior centers attract younger, more active members, a group that has pioneered a combination Internet-wired coffee shop and wellness center is taking its concept into two senior centers in 2005. Mather LifeWays has developed four such “cafés” since 2000, including Norwood, a facility on the Northwest Side that feels like an embellished Starbucks, with warm colors, contemporary furnishings and class room space. Open to all ages, it offers an affordable, day-long menu with a strong focus on customer choice. The café also provides bar-coded membership cards that track what people eat and the programs they attend and enable staff to call those who have not participated in a while. Cardholders pay $42 per year or $80 for any two people and receive a 20 percent discount on classes and food. Soon, this approach will be adopted by the Des Plaines Senior Center, which will make Mather LifeWays its congregate meal provider when the center relocates to a strip mall it is redeveloping

Setting Affordable Prices

About 40 older people who are being grandfathered will be asked to donate $3.50 for the lunch item of their choosing, while other senior center patrons will pay a little over $5. A joint fundraising program will provide additional revenue and allow the program to expand. Mather LifeWays is also about to sign a contract with the Arlington Heights (Ill.) senior center for a similar service. In fact, the Mather group receives calls about the café model from around the country and as far away as Japan. Inquiries come from senior centers with declining memberships and unpopular meals programs, according to Program Replication Manager Stacey Foisy. “They know change is in the air and that they need to bring in new patrons,” she told OAR, “but where do they begin and where is the capital to make these changes?” Senior centers are not the only places that are looking at the Mather model. In San Francisco, the Mission Housing Development Corporation will put a Mather café in a 100-unit apartment building for active seniors being constructed next to a building for frail elders. The café will be available to residents of both buildings. “It’s not just about the paint, how it looks or what meals you serve,” Foisy said. “It’s about choice and choice brings empowerment. The day of [older people] poking their fork in a plastic container is gone. Make your older customers empowered like adults.” Contact: Stacey Foisy, Mather LifeWays, (847) 492-6774,; Ken Jones, Mission Housing, (415) 864-6432; Sharon Smith, Des Plaines Community Senior Center, (847) 391-5717,