The Neighborhood Café and Other Hospitable Places

 “Friendship is dependent on combining enough gifts among a group of people that the properties of association and hospitality can be manifested.”

— The Abundant Community

Have you ever been to a place where it just feels wonderfully good to spend time there? I am thinking of places that offer an open sincere welcome, and possess such a sense of warmth and open energy that it feels great just to be there.

In my neighborhood I know of several places like that. One such place is Happen, Inc. Happen is a “play center” for kids and their parents and by its nature is a very creative space. But it is not the creativity that fosters the hospitality, warmth, friendship and the power that is easily discovered here. It flows from the people.

Tommy Reuff is the chief welcomer and conductor of Happen. He is also a talented community builder. He is amazing at welcoming and pays intense attention to people’s gifts; this space in turn offers great hospitality. I spend much of my time discovering places where this sense of radical hospitality exists. It is at these places where not only people are usually welcomed, but often so are their gifts. I have discovered thousands of hospitable places in the Cincinnati area.

I have also attempted to create this type of place. In doing so, I had to think of what are the ingredients that would comprise the place we are visioning. It would be gift focused, welcoming of all, have a hospitable spirit in all that it is, and be intentional about this. One of my attempts was “The Neighborhood Café.” The Café is a free coffee shop designed to welcome neighbors and focus on the gifts of those that are present on any given day. The focus is not on the coffee. It is the excuse for a group of people to gather and develop relationships and to share and appreciate the gifts of one another.

I shared this statement with the 20 or so neighbors that first attended the café in January 2010. I hope that each week my actions and conversations are reflective of this aim. We try to welcome every person that visits and to quickly learn their name and to share with them how much we appreciate their presence. Over the course of weeks, relationships develop and intentional energy is given to what are this person’s gifts.

Each new person that arrives is potential for more associations, joyous hospitality, and a stronger neighborhood full of even more gifts.

Over the past year of conducting the café I have met about 100 people and learned of hundreds and hundreds of gifts that are present there. Don is passionate about fishing and is knowledgeable what types of fish are in what lakes in our area. Linda loves to knit and is a great cook, who spent over 30 years working in restaurants.  Donald is a hard worker, who loves to help and likes NASCAR. Larry once had a very successful children’s television show and is still passionate about kids.

I could go on and on. As we all have been intentional about recognizing each other’s gifts, many relationships have grown. Many strong friendships have begun here. Donald and Linda so appreciated each other’s gifts that they decided to get married. All this happening over a free cup of coffee, a warm welcome and focused intention on the gifts of everyone.

I have attempted this around events and existing groups also. One such an event was Treasures of Cincinnati. This was a series of community conversations across many neighborhoods in Cincinnati. The event was 5 – 6 people each sharing what their gift is and how they share it with others. Each “Treasure” would speak for 8 – 10 minutes on this and the group attending would talk about what struck them about the conversation.

Westwood Works is another example. It is a “civic group” that intentionally realizes their neighborhood is great and creates opportunities for neighbors to come together and share their gifts with each other. They are not problem or issue focused. Instead they have coordinated a neighborhood Amazing Race, an Art Show, a Neighborhood Day, an Up for Grabs Day and many other events. Their “meetings” reflect the ingredients that are listed above: very gift focused, extremely hospitable, and intentionality about all of this.

I have noticed that once several people are intentional in this regards, it seems to spread and eventually become the spirit of the group.

For more information please call or email Joe Erpenbeck: 513-910-1259 or [email protected]

Photo: Coffee Party USA

About the Lead Author

Joe Erpenbeck
Joe Erpenbeck
Joe works in the disabilities world for a large county board. Within this system he has created a small team of people who are moving from providing services to building community. In his case, community is built around individuals whom we used to call the “disabled.” His group is alert to people’s gifts, their desires, and what makes them happy. They then find ways that these gifts can be offered, whether through a hobby, an interest, or just the willingness to be in the room with a group of strangers. Joe’s project has radical implications for social service, and he has results to show for it. — From Community: The Structure of Belonging, by Peter Block

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