I have had the privilege of serving the Freedom Café since before it existed. I remember sitting in the basement of the Lighthouse building when there was nothing more than a few old dorm room couches and cabinets with coffee mugs in them. What we did have was an impulse to try to make our world, and our small Durham community, a freer, more beautiful place. We thought then— and I still believe it now—that if you get people in a comfortable room with good coffee and allow them to freely express ideas and information, amazing things can happen. And if that coffee and conversation can also be a way of helping others, then doubly amazing things can happen.
Since our opening in early 2013, the Freedom Café has grown, increased its impact, and become an important landmark in the Durham community. I am proud of the contributions I have been able to make as a founder, advisor, and in my most recent role as the coordinator of the Freedom Café Board. But for the past year I have been winding down my role and now as we close out another impressive season, I am officially stepping down from leadership. I sincerely hope that the contributions of time, effort, and energy I have made will have helped to secure the foundation of our organization so that it can continue to make a difference for 5, 10, and 20 years to come. I am trusting that this community will continue to rise to serve the needs of the Freedom Café—we will need you as we try our best to respond to one of the most challenging social problems in the world.
I want to leave you all with two ideas, if I might. The first is that the Freedom Café could never have existed without idealists leading the charge. We let our imaginations run wild, wrote mission statements and possibilities on white boards, and dreamed up futures that seemed a little grandiose. That spirit of optimism and infinite possibility is something I see in so many Freedom Café volunteers, past, present, and (no doubt) future. We have to keep pushing ourselves and our communities forward and be fueled by a hope that we can make a difference. We can’t lose that, ever!
The second idea is that the process of actually trying to accomplish something never matches the ideal. The grind of effort, communal opinion, compromise, and number crunching can feel less than inspiring. But I think it is one of life’s great joys to act in the direction of our convictions, even if we can’t see where the impact is at that moment. I know I am preaching to the choir on this one, but never forget to be a doer. We can’t allow the perfect to become the enemy of the good. Jump in and help where you can, whether it is with Freedom Café or your local soup kitchen or wherever. It will refresh your spirit.
The Freedom Café will always be progressing by its ideals and the sometimes messiness of acting on those ideals. Each is as important as the other. Contribute to both.
Thank you all for your service and support of our mission throughout my time serving with you. I think sometimes of an old gospel song that goes “when I come to the end of this road, and I lay down this heavy load, let the work that I’ve done speak for me.” That is my hope.
A special shout out to some folks from the early days of Freedom Café, some whose impact might not be well known but I know is profound: Matt Rymer, Wilma Yowell, David Adams, Avary Thorne, George Adams, Liz Sterndale, Justin Patrie, Mike DeStefano, Larry Brickner-Wood, Katie McMahon, Tyler Racca, Melissa D’Angelo, and Sean Matthews. And a special shout out to my friends and comrades who have served on the Board: Paul D’Angelo, Greg Hadley, Theresa Trombley, Dan Demers, and, of course, Bryan Bessette. It has been a journey, a source of stress, a learning opportunity, a source of inspiration, a laboratory, an honor, a joy.