Members of the nonprofit A Little Compassion (ALC) and guests gathered on a sunny afternoon for the grand opening of the new Community Gathering Space at the organization’s Nest Coffee House on March 18.
With ALC’s mission “to build a safe, kind and inclusive community for all” at its cafe, the room serves that exact purpose with its sensory-friendly environment to suit its young neurodiverse staff members and visitors.
ALC hosts a number of “Nest Gatherings” events at its cafe on Main Street in Deep River, including those for arts and crafts, bingo, game nights, and writer’s workshop. The new space will go to support those events even further.
“The Nest hosts social gathering events weekly throughout the year that provide opportunities for these neurodiverse individuals to feel a sense of support, understanding, and connection to others in their community,” said an ALC press release on the event. “With over 600 members of the Gatherings Group and the employment and community awareness programs growing rapidly, the Nest needed more space.”
Executive Director of ALC Jane Moen addressed those in attendance with a speech thanking the efforts that went into constructing the space and the purpose it will serve at the Nest.
“We’re here in this beautiful space that was designed specifically to meet the sensory needs of those who experience the world differently,” she said.
Sensory-friendly neutral colors for neurodiverse individuals make up the room, while its lights can be dimmed for further comfort. Attached to the ceiling are sound-absorbing ceiling tiles, capped off with a slightly-fading green mural of leaves for a backdrop on the furthest wall in the back of the room. It all adds up to continue making the Nest “truly a soft place to land for so many,” said Moen.
Thanking all those who contributed to the development of the space, Moen added that the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, which struck the community of Deep River nine months after the Nest’s opening, was an additional motivator to bring more opportunities and social gatherings for those neurodiverse people who were isolated during the crisis.
“COVID might have tested our resolve, but it pushed us to think differently and brought with it some real silver linings,” said Moen. “Today, we’re stronger than ever before, and all of you have helped to make that possible.”
Present at the grand opening was internationally famed French chef Jacques Pépin, who came to the event to embrace the message of warmth and compassion by the Nest amidst difficult times politically and socially.
“I think it is very exciting and very compassionate and very important. We need more of that in our time of polarization,” he said. “This is a great mission, and I’m glad to be here with them.”
Whether it be the “very pleasant” Community Gathering Space or a five-star restaurant, Pépin knows that people coming together and bonding over food and drink is the best setting for people to connect with one another, regardless of their differences.
“Food is the greatest way to bring people together; you see that wherever you go in the world. Whether people speak the same language as you or not…as you sit down and order some wine and some cheese, and all of a sudden you’re human, and they relate to you.”
Reflecting on ALC’s past work since the opening of the Nest, Moen said those efforts have created an impact leading up to the opening of the new space as that “soft place to land,” which she said was “fueled by the compassion, kindness, and generosity from everybody that’s here today, and many more.”
She added, “Every single wall, countertop – everything that you see here was touched by a volunteer or somebody that wanted to make a difference. Our ability to make this difference, to have our young adulthood come here to find the confidence, gain skills, and a sense of belonging, is, again, supercharged by that love and care that you all brought today.”