For the first eight months Liz Begalla lived in Central Park she remembers seeing only young moms with babies. Then, in June 2006 at the Sweet William Market, she saw someone her age. She walked straight up to Collette Shaughnessey and introduced herself—and they met for coffee the following Tuesday. Shaughnessey and Begalla knew immediately that they had something in common—when you feel alone in a new neighborhood, making a friend is “pretty exciting.”
As senior women saw them out walking or in the coffee shop, word spread that their group welcomed all who wanted to join them. Shaughnessey describes the day Lowry resident Suzanne Halters showed up. “She had told her husband, ‘I think there’s a group of women I can meet with. I’m going over to Stapleton.’ And when she couldn’t find us, she calls her husband and, almost in tears, tells him ‘I don’t see them anywhere.’ But pretty soon she finds this little string of five women and comes running after us. And she literally says, ‘Could I join you? From Lowry?’”
“Well,” Shaughnessey recalls, “that was pretty exciting.”
Begalla chimes in, “It was a very loose kind of group, but we knew the one thing that was certain was Tuesday morning coffee. There were no dues and no RSVP, people just showed up.”
That was 16 years ago. The group is still loose—and it is still welcoming all senior women who show up.
As the neighborhood grew, The Grands—so named since many were grandparents who had come to live near their children and grandchildren—grew bigger than the founders ever would have imagined. “I have to admit,” says Begalla, “I am humbled at two women who just wanted to be friends and hadn’t seen anybody their age. The Grands has filled a huge need in the community.”
Phyllis Rouse says by the time she heard about The Grands in 2014, the coffee gatherings had gotten crowded and she found it hard to mingle and meet people. She and Suzanne Halters, who had moved to Central Park north of I-70 and introduced her to the Grands, decided to start another group. They put out word, and six or seven people started showing up for coffee on Tuesdays. They named themselves the SHILOHs—So Happy I Landed Out Here. “If we saw an older woman somewhere, like in Target or the King Soopers, we would say, are you interested in coming to a coffee group?” says Rouse. “And of course most people were thrilled because they wanted to meet new friends.”
Like the Grands, the SHILOHs describe their group as “loose.” “There’s no set leader,” says Rouse. “We’ll see who has ideas and discuss what we want to do, and we’ll do it.” Diane Mettra keeps the email addresses of anybody willing to put their name on the list and sends a message if the group is having a “field trip” or if there’s a change in their venue (they’re currently discussing whether to start meeting outside—or whether some will stay in and some will be outside).
The Grands are still a “loosey goosey” group, says Vondra Abbott, who has been coffeeing with the Grands since 2012, but they have evolved since those earliest gatherings. Now, a volunteer like Abbott brings “The Red Notebook” that enables newcomers to connect with interest groups of their choosing: Arts & Culture, Bridge, Canasta, Mahjong, Music, Quilting, Cooking, Writing, and Walking are some of the groups. A Couples Group is also in the mix. And, Abbott says, “If you’re interested in getting a new group together, go for it.” Donna Schimdt keeps the group’s main email list up to date, adding the newcomers who show up at the coffee gatherings.
Both groups have become much more than social gatherings. When someone is sick or bedridden and needs help, word gets passed around and they deliver food, provide transportation, and offer whatever support is needed.
“The first thing newcomers say is, ‘This group was so welcoming,’” says Rouse. “We want to help women. I mean, we know how it felt when we first moved into a new community because we all went through it.”
Currently The Grands meet for coffee on Tuesdays at 9am at Panera and on Thursdays at 8am in the common area at Stanley Marketplace. The SHILOHs meet at 8:30am Tuesdays at the Starbucks at I-70 and Central Park Blvd.—but the first Tuesday of every month, the SHILOHs meet at Stanley Marketplace at 8:30am.
Friendship groups in other neighborhoods that meet regularly and welcome newcomers to their group can contact Leslie Joseph at the Foundation for Sustainable Urban Communities for information about posting an announcement on their Community Page.