WHITE CENTER - It's probably not the cafe scene you're used to in Seattle. Sure, there's coffee and pastries. They're even free. But the meeting, this time, is in the back of a school house. It's called a Community Cafe.
Organized by the White Center Community Development Association, Community Cafes invite parents from the neighborhood for a casual chat and supportive company. Small groups of parents gather around decorative, inviting tables. In the middle of the table is a big notepad and some pens. A host at the gathering offers more than just coffee. She also offers up a question about parenting.
What is special or precious about the first years of a child's life? That's the first question offered. Parents get busy with their answers. Conversation starts slowly, but then picks up and becomes more lively. Parents learn they're truly in a supportive environment. Parents start writing down some answers on the notepad that seem to represent a common thread.
"Ask Grandma!" That's one bit of wisdom a parent shares on paper. Parents around the table all agree that when you're confused about parenting or what to do, parents should feel okay about reaching out and asking for guidance from people who've been there. People like Grandma.
You can hear bits of conversation from each table.
"They're always asking, asking, asking. So many questions. Sometimes its hard to answer all the questions they have," said one woman, struggling a little with her English.
At another table, a mother shares her surprise that her toddler was learning her letters so easily. "She said "M," that's for McDonald's," said the woman to the laughter of the other parents at her table. "She was so little, but already learning so much," she said.
No heavy subjects come up today. But parents walk away feeling a little better about the job they're doing.
"It gives me confidence to hear about the other parents' experience," said Patricia Velasco, a mother of two young children. "I think that helps me to be a better mother."
The Community Cafe also helps a neighborhood like White Center build community bridges.
"We have people from so many different backgrounds, so many cultures," said Sarah Weir, the Family Development Director for the White Center Community Development Association. "But that's the beauty of it. We can have different cultures, different beliefs but we all want what's best for our children. It's easy to make a connection."
Every community has its problems. But that "connection" may help parents and neighborhoods find common solutions.
The hope is that more neighborhoods will adopt Community Cafes, bringing neighbors and parents together.