Sfeir to create ‘Memory Café’ in Beaumont

Beck Fellow, Natalie Sfeir

Beck Fellow Natalie Sfeir. UP photo by Hannah LeTulle

Natalie Sfeir has travelled through England and Ireland, from Liverpool and London to Dublin and Donegal, studying the forgotten — or rather, the forgetful.

“My dream has always been to represent those who do not have a voice or who feel marginalized in any manner,” she said. “Working with those that have dementia, and creating a safe space for them, combined my passions.”

A speech and hearing science major, Sfeir was awarded a Beck Fellowship in November 2016. Since then, she travelled to observe dementia-friendly communities in hopes that she could replicate one at Lamar University.

“I spent the majority of my summer working with the Alzheimer Society of Ireland, observing adult day care centers, attending memory cafés and social groups, and speaking with dementia patients and their caregivers,” she said. “I learned about new dementia-related technologies and initiatives that further progressed my research.”

Sfeir said she also completed numerous training programs.

“I trained at the House of Memories in Liverpool, England, which is training in effective communication strategies and empathy,” she said. “I also attended caregivers training conferences in Donegal, Ireland.

“My project centers around the idea of creating a dementia memory café, which is ultimately a safe, judgment-free zone for those affected by dementia.”

The café will feature light refreshments, and will also include educational components and cognitive-stimulating activities.

Before returning to Beaumont, Sfeir travelled to a dementia-friendly city within the U.S. – Roseville, Minn.

“This city is dementia friendly, meaning it has a city-wide effort to provide educational components such as lectures, resources, and seminars for those affected by dementia,” she said. “I met with the city mayor, Pat Trudgeon, to learn more about this initiative and worked with the CEO of Alzheimer’s Speaks.”

While studying dementia, Sfeir said she has learned how to represent an idea bigger than herself and how to understand life from a different point of view.

Sfeir’s memory café will be the first in the Golden Triangle.

“It will be one-of-a-kind in our area — there is nothing like it,” she said. “It is a safe, judgment-free zone for those with dementia and their loved ones to just come, enjoy a cup of coffee or tea, and be able to talk freely and enjoy themselves for a bit. Resources in our community and important contact information is also provided at these events.”

Sfeir said she intends to present her project by capturing the individual experiences she had with some of the dementia patients she met.

“I plan on highlighting all of the wonderful individuals I met who taught me about dementia care and how to serve those affected, and those I got to speak to and get to know/hear their perspective,” she said. “My hope is that this memory café is a sustainable project for Lamar University and the department of speech and hearing sciences, as future generations of Lamar students will get this hands-on experience and meet with those that have dementia from around the community.”

It was all truly a memorable experience, Sfeir said. But there was one experience that she was most excited about.

“I have to say that in Baldoyle, Ireland, I was invited to observe and sing with the Forget-Me-Nots Choir,” she said. “The choir is a local group of those affected by dementia, and those from around the community who perform in Ireland. I was very eager and excited to meet with them, as music plays a huge role in my life, as a singer and pianist.

Beck fellow Natalie Sfeir. UP photo by Hannah LeTulle

Beck fellow Natalie Sfeir. UP photo by Hannah LeTulle

“I sang along to Frank Sinatra and others with them, and then they invited me to perform a solo for them. It combined two of my passions — serving as an advocate for those with dementia, and music.”

Sfeir said the Beck Fellowship experience has made her grow as an individual.

“Words can never describe my immense gratitude and appreciation for those that have given me this opportunity,” she said. “I truly feel like I have grown, not only as a student, but as an individual, advocate, and proponent for social justice.

“I met so many amazing individuals that care for those that have dementia and those that are affected by dementia, and they all had such a heavy impact on my life and my career choice. I’m forever grateful for this opportunity and will always encourage other students to venture out and study abroad.”

Story by Cassandra Jenkins, UP sports editor

Learn more about Lamar University at lamar.edu

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