Friday, April 19, 2024

Socializing opportunities for individuals with dementia comes to York County

A popular Williamsburg program is starting in Yorktown to provide those affected by dementia a social outlet.

Memory Cafe has been available to residents at the Williamsburg Regional Library and King of Glory Church for the past three years, but the program has become so popular it is now going to be available for York County residents as well.

“It’s been so well received and we want to give everyone the chance to come,” said program organizer, Marjorie Hilkert.

The program provides individuals with forms of dementia a chance to interact with volunteers in a cafe-setting, provided in partnership with the Riverside Center for Excellence in Aging and Lifelong Health and the Peninsula Agency on Aging.

“When people have memory loss, especially when they’re living at home, they can become isolated,” she said. “When memory loss gets worse, they misspeak and feel like they can’t function in the real world. This gives them a comfortable space for interaction.”

Hilkert first became interested in providing those types of services when her father, Pete Badowski, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She recognized the difficulty individuals with the disease can have with socializing because they might confuse their words and then feel embarrassed.

As a volunteer at the Center for Excellence and Aging, she was asked if she would be interested in starting the program. She said she immediately jumped at the chance because she recognized how important providing socialization to dementia patients was.

The program first started once a month at the Williamsburg Regional Library where people with dementia could come with their caregivers. At the Memory Cafe, volunteers are trained to sit with the individuals and provide conversation and companionship for an hour and a half.

“It became popular,” Hilkert said. “People don’t realize it because they think [dementia patients] don’t remember anything. But while they might not remember the person, they’ll remember the place they come to have acceptance and feel comfortable.”

Eventually the program spread to Hilkert’s church, King of Lutheran Glory, because people wanted more opportunities to participate. At each location, there are about eight to 14 pairs of caretakers and patients that come in for the experience. And now, residents in York County will have that chance as well.

But all of those pairs need volunteers to interact with and the new program at the Yorktown Library is looking for individuals to step up. Volunteers have to go through a training session that is about an hour long, Hilkert said. During the session, volunteers will learn different techniques for chatting with dementia patients, such as how to make a person feel comfortable when they start repeating words in confusion.

“Most people who end up volunteering absolutely have the heart for it,” she said. “They’re willing to have a conversation and overlook some of the things and do it with a smile. It just makes the visit a joyful experience.”

The program will be on the fourth Wednesday of every month beginning on April 24 at the Tabb Library from 1-2:30 p.m. Volunteers should be available on those days from 12:24 to 2:45 p.m.

To learn more about volunteering, contact Hilkert 757-345-6977.

Correction: Memory Cafe is a program run through Riverside and the Peninsula Agency on Aging and is not affiliated with the Williamsburg Regional Library program, Getaway Cafe, said Elizabeth Hornsby, special projects coordinator for WRL.

Alexa Doiron
Alexa Doiron
Alexa Doiron is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She graduated from Roanoke College and is currently working on a master’s degree in English at Virginia Commonwealth University. Alexa was born and raised in Williamsburg and enjoys writing stories about local flair. She began her career in journalism at the Warhill High School newspaper and, eight years later, still loves it. After working as a news editor in Blacksburg, Va., Alexa missed Williamsburg and decided to come back home. In her free time, she enjoys reading Jane Austen and playing with her puppy, Poe. Alexa can be reached at

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