I picked up this post card at Cafe at 407 a “Cafe with a Cause” in Liverpool, NY. The profits made there go directly to the support of Ophelia’s Place, an outpatient treatment and support center for people with eating disorders. When you are in the cafe you don’t even realize that behind the door in the back of the building, life-saving meetings are going on between professional staff and clients. What you notice, in one word is…community.
The brainchild behind this amazing place is a beautiful Italian woman named Mary Ellen. I heard Mary Ellen speak in 2005 in Washington, D.C. at an Eating Disorders Coalition Lobby Day and simply decided I had to meet her. A couple of months later at another conference in Denver, she walked by me and I nabbed her. After one brief conversation we connected in a very special way and cannot seem to get away from one another for very long. God keeps throwing us in each other’s way and we’ve gotten rather used to it. In January as my family and I were returning from a trip to see my son in Texas, we met at a Love’s truck stop in the middle of Oklahoma. I noticed her Facebook post with a photo of the sign that read “Oklahoma” and called her say, “No way are you really in Oklahoma?”. She was. On the same interstate. Her going south. Me going north. And we arrive at the chosen truck stop at the same time. It’s pretty crazy.
My first recollection of the actual building where Ophelia’s Place and the cafe are located is that it was a big open building designed to educate and support those in the battle for recovery from an eating disorder. It was a beautiful space and could have remained just as it was for a long time except Mary Ellen is a visionary and remaining the same is rarely an option for her. In the decade that I have known her an incredible evolution has taken place.
As I walked around the building, I found myself in awe of the way things had changed. The little vision that could grew up and is now a community hub where people from everywhere come in, have coffee, eat a meal and visit or do work on their laptop. Students from Syracuse University were there one Sunday filming their thesis project. They took over a little corner and the rest of the business went on as usual. There is a community room in the middle of the building that is available for rent. While I was there I saw a business type meeting taking place in it and a little girl’s birthday party. I heard the manager talking to someone about renting the room for several weeks. It is clearly a win/win for those using it and for the cafe.
As I made my way up front one day, I was happy to see the large sign that hangs by the front door. The words are the same as those on the postcard above. I realized that this was one of the few things in the building that had not changed beyond where it was placed. The heartbeat of Cafe at 407 and Ophelia’s Place is the community. Mary Ellen has connections all over the place and I’m sure she could find a way to travel the country and speak about her experiences but that is clearly not what she is about. She actually told me that she’s really not all that interested in leaving a legacy as much as she is that work continues when she eventually leaves it. I didn’t have the awareness at that moment or I would have said, “Mary Ellen, it’s too late. Your legacy is already here; in the community space you have created as well as in the work at the back of the building.”
I wonder if what my friend is doing isn’t something we could all really learn from. She has taken her passion for a cause, started a business to provide it with a revenue stream and now lives are being saved. Apparently this concept has been done by others like the companies that make Tom’s shoes and Bombass socks where you buy a pair and they donate a pair to someone in need. Bombass socks are donated to the homeless because socks are one of the things they need the most. It’s a pretty amazing paradigm if you ask me.
I will be thinking about my experiences in New York for some time to come but most of all I will bask in sunlight of a great friendship and a beautiful community.