SPRINGFIELD >> TGIF! Who doesn’t like to kick back on a Friday night after a long week, socialize and have a few laughs with friends while enjoying a bite to eat and listening to a little live music?
On any given Friday night, about 25-50 music-lovers, of all backgrounds and all abilities, gather in the community room at Princeton Presbyterian Church in Springfield to listen to local musicians perform, share a light dinner, connect with old friends and perhaps meet a few new ones. Currently two years old, “Our Community Cup” was formerly housed in Chambers Presbyterian Church in Rutledge, but moved to Princeton Church earlier this year where it continues to serve as a venue for local performers and attract an audience of community members, people with disabilities and their caregivers, musicians, artists and other new attendees each week.
The “different kind of coffeehouse” was founded in 2014 as a cooperative venture. Jim Wurster of Springfield and Tom Reinke of Wallingford, co-founders of the New Avenue Foundation, an organization dedicated to helping provide meaningful lives for people with disabilities, teamed up with Wallingford resident Ginny Warmerdam and Pam McShane, pastor of Princeton Presbyterian Church in Springfield to create Our Community Cup coffeehouse. Its mission is to build community through music and help one another to learn to respect differences. The coffeehouse was designed to serve as a safe and enjoyable gathering place for young and old people with all types of intellectual and physical disabilities.
Wurster and Reinke, who are both fathers of children with disabilities, noticed a need for recreational opportunities for their adult children. Once past school age, there didn’t seem like many places were available where they could socialize and be themselves in a “non-judgmental” environment. They mentioned the idea to McShane who, at the time, was searching for a meaningful outreach for her parishioners. In a joint effort between the churches and the New Avenue Foundation, Our Community Cup coffeehouse was born and took off through word of mouth.
“We formed this project as a way to help make the lives of people with disabilities more meaningful, to make a place where everyone is welcome. We are mostly targeting the local community,” Wurster explained. “There are many people with disabilities in Pennsylvania who lack waiver funding to provide services for them. About 85 percent of people with disabilities do not have a job. This can mean that these people with disabilities sit at home most of the time. One of the reasons we started this is because we know when kids ‘age out’ of the school system, they lose their entitlements. Our idea is to provide something for people with disabilities that they would otherwise not have and to give them a place to enjoy some music with their caregivers and work on their socialization with others.”
“Part of who we are as a church community is continually to be open to one another and to offer hospitality to the one who is outside and might not quite fit in. Our goal is to invite them in,” McShane said. “That is what I understand to be at the very heart of the gospel. I think that’s what grace is all about for all of us.”
Wurster’s adult daughter, Alicia, who has autism, accompanies her father to the coffeehouse each week. Wurster said that the music really helps Alicia. He books performers from the community who enjoy sharing their gifts of music and entertainment.
“By creating a communal space for those over the age of 14 and their caregivers and families, we have provided opportunities for the building of friendships and just having a night out from the daily routine to be with others,” Wurster explained. “Events like these make others aware that our kids are valuable and can do things. As parents, we want our kids to be appreciated and to have opportunities.”
“With all the things going on in the world today, acceptance and recognizing people’s dignity is more important than ever before,” McShane added.
“Our Community Cup Coffeehouse hosts weekly Friday nights of fun, food, festivities and fellowship, while giving the audience a chance to hear great live music provided by local musicians,” explained Wurster. “We didn’t realize at first how the musicians would support our mission. They are in with us all the way. They are so loving and caring of all who attend. And so our family has grown.”
Recent musicians included Last Chance, Baldwin B-Flats, Rockdale Boys, Mike McDevitt, Lizzy Hilliard, Wake The Dead, Mike Vargas, Olivia Leonard, The Main Line Opera Guild, Hannah Paige, The Joybells of Melmark, The Pennise Family Band, Thunderbus, Out of Darkness and many others.
“Our Community Coffee Cup is a great place for everyone to enjoy a night of fun with others in a community setting,” Wurster continued. “Our performers usually have such a great time, they can’t wait to return.”
Upcoming coffeehouse performers include: Craig and Aislinn Bickhardt on May 20; Katie Barbato with Charlie Bell on May 26; Every Heard with Alyssa Dodge on June 2, Al and Clara Bien with Chris Adams on June 9; Jean Lenke and Friends on June 17; Dave Fiebert on June 23; Silver Wind and Friends on June 30; Paul Kurrey and Friends on July 8; Heartsong on July 14; and Dolores Magro on July 21.
As a way of saying thank you to the musicians who have played and will play for Our Community Cup for no fee, the New Avenue Foundation, a registered public charity, provides them with a tax deductible receipt for the value of their performance, as well as a Bevan’s chocolate CD parting gift to signify deep appreciation.
McShane, who said that Wurster has “a gift” for making connections, gave him all of the credit for arranging the talent each week at the coffeehouse and for the summer concert series. Additionally, Wurster records the performers on Facebook Live so people who cannot attend the concerts can still watch them.
There is no admission for people to attend the Friday night pay-what-you-can coffeehouse, which runs from 5:30-9 p.m. Dinner begins at 6 p.m. and the entertainment starts at 7 p.m. There is usually one or two opening performers before the main show. Attendees can make a donation if they desire to help with food and overhead. Community groups have periodically donated to the cause.
“We invite people to hang out in a comfortable environment, enjoy good music and meet some new people. Whenever we can join together people of all abilities and backgrounds, who wouldn’t normally know one another, we feel that this coffeehouse is worthwhile,” McShane said.
Church parishioners and leaders serve as the food and hospitality committee. Carolyn Jeffrey of Media, an active church member, said she comes almost every Friday night to help out because “she enjoys it.”
Tables are set up with all kinds of refreshments, from pizza and macaroni and cheese to salads, soups and desserts, made by parishioners and brought by those in attendance. While the live music fills the air, people spontaneously pick up maracas and other hand-held instruments to shake and rattle. Others get up to spontaneously dance. Some sit and work on puzzles, play board games or make crafts. The coffeehouse is family-friendly and wheelchair accessible and the church lot has plenty of parking spaces.
On a recent Friday night, as audience members sang along to the performing band, Last Chance, Rich and Donna Koziol of Brookhaven shared their feelings.
“We come almost every Friday for the past few years, because we really have a nice time. Someone told us about the coffeehouse and we’ve been coming ever since,” Donna said. “Last Chance is really good. We really enjoyed their performance tonight.”
McShane said that Last Chance, consisting of musicians Jack Scott and Ingrid Rosenback, has probably performed at the coffeehouse about five times, and has yet to ever turn down an invitation to perform there.
“The musicians probably get as much out of performing here as the people do who come to hear the music,” McShane explained. “We have extraordinary, gifted people who just enjoy making music and are willing to generously share their gift.”
Wurster is involved in the annual Haverford Music Festival and meets many musicians there. He said he finds others through Facebook and word of mouth. In February, to celebrate its second year of success, Our Community Cup Coffeehouse held a “Share The Love Fest” which featured an all-day lineup of performers, food and family fun.
Last summer, Our Community Cup Coffeehouse took a month’s break and then resumed in September. This year, the coffeehouse will present outdoor Saturday summer concerts on the lawn of Princeton Presbyterian Church, 933 Baltimore Pike, Springfield. The concert series will kick off Saturday night, May 20, with Craig and Aislinn Bickhardt and continue monthly with Gurls Who Rock featuring Jean Lenke and Friends on June 17, the Classic Rockers featuring Paul Kurrey and friend on July 8, the Young Rockers featuring Julia Zane and friends on August 19 and the Faith Rockers featuring Out of Darkness on Sept. 16. Everyone is encouraged to bring a chair. In the event of rain, the concert will be moved inside. The music and barbecue begin at 5:30 p.m. Admission is by donation and all proceeds will benefit the New Avenue Foundation’s coffee roasting business.
In addition to the Friday night coffeehouse and the upcoming Saturday night outdoor concerts, Our Community Cup offers an Open Mic and Parent Support Group 7:30-9:30 p.m. on the first and second Monday of every month at Temple Lutheran Church at 501 Brookline Boulevard, Havertown. Families, those with special needs, entertainers, musicians and audience members are encouraged to attend. The open mic features musicians, magicians, jugglers, poetry readings, comedy, puppets, karaoke and much more. Everyone is welcome. There is no cover charge to attend, but donations are appreciated to cover the cost of food and drink.
The success of the weekly coffeehouse and open mic night have served as a springboard for other projects. New Avenue Foundation hopes to have its new coffee roasting business, Our Community Cup Coffee as part of the newly launched Media Bean Company, a coffee shop and bakery in Media. The coffee roasting business will employ people with disabilities. New Avenue Foundation is selling its coffee now at Media Bean Company in Media. It will continue to sell coffee and crafts at the Lansdowne, Newtown Square and Tinicum farmers markets this summer. McShane and the members of Princeton Presbyterian are in the process of renaming their church “The Tree of Life,” and rewriting its mission to include a ministry of serving those in the community with disabilities. Another outcome of the coffeehouse has been the formation of a support group at Princeton Presbyterian for parents of children with ASD and ADHD. The group, geared for parents of preschool and school aged children, meets from 1 to 3 p.m., every other Sunday.
Asked how long he will continue facilitating Our Community Cup Coffeehouse, Wurster didn’t hesitate with an answer.
“As long as I see so many smiles, and so many people enjoying themselves at these events,” he said, “we will keep making them happen. After all, that’s what it’s all about!”
For more information on attending or performing at Our Community Cup Coffeehouse, or for more information on New Avenue Foundation’s other ventures and projects, visit http://ourcommunitycup.com, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call Jim Wurster at 610-246-8939.