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Erin Olejniczak

A community project run in North St Marys provides a fortnightly opportunity for residents over the age of 50 to come together to catch up, have a cup of coffee and to discuss local and personal issues in a casual, relaxed setting. Erin Olejniczak is the Community Projects Officer responsible for the project, Village Café.

Established in June 2017, Village Café is for older residents that may be feeling isolated, or may not have the capacity to look after themselves because they are busy caring for someone else. Set up in what was a vacant lot in North St Marys, the Village Café is a pop up style café with café tables and a mobile barista, creating a real festive feel.

Erin starts setup from 8am with the café officially opening at 9am and running through to 11.30am. She says that most of the residents come for the whole time and move around catching up with each other. A lot of the residents have been coming since inception but the numbers are increasing.

Some of the residents also meet outside of the Village Café setting, where you can see new friendships developing.

It was through community consultation that the idea came together. Visiting older residents in their own homes, they were able to design the Village Café concept in answer to real community needs. It is through those conversations with residents that the next Café event is planned with presenters or speakers to answer their questions and concerns.

Run for a couple of hours every second Thursday, the Village Café always has good coffee, courtesy of Café au Go Go, free fresh fruit and vegetables care of WestCare, and at this particular session, free flu vaccinations in preparation for the upcoming flu season.

There is a caring attitude at the café with a nice blend of community workers, council employees, and residents all coming together. Erin moves from table to table talking with the residents and everyone is engaged in conversations.

Erin values her relationship with the residents the most. With a background in Social Research and Policy, it is the work with the people that she enjoys.

It is about giving people the time. Their stories are important and we want to hear them.

She says that even presenters who have attended previously have updated their presentation style to get more engagement from the group.

These are our elders, they have been here in the community a long time and they want to hear personal stories. They don’t want to be talked at.

Other councils have shown an interest in the initiative and have come along to find out more, which is great news.

Running these Village Cafes communities in need all over NSW would be fantastic.

Village Café is run in Parklawn Place Shops, North St Marys from 9am to 11.30am every second Thursday.