By LISA WHALEY
For five years, the ladies of the Corner Cup Coffee group had been gathering each Wednesday to share stories and laughter, lifting each other for the week’s challenges to come.
“It’s just been a lifeline, the whole time,” said Jo Anne Jones, one of the members of the group. “My week is not right if we don’t go to the Corner Cup. I think everybody feels that way.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the doors of the Corner Cup closed to inside service and the group was left without their meeting place, their coffee and their companionship — at least, until they got their (figurative) heads together and decided to find a way.
“The idea to have Zoom coffee meetings came from our newest member, Wendy Gourney, in a reply to my weekly coffee group notice on March 25,” explained Lori Olmstead, another group member and organizer of the Zoom meetings.
The email simply read, “Miss you all. Be well. Hope to be getting together soon.”
“Wendy suggested we make our own coffee or tea and meet on Zoom,” Olmsted said. “I told Wendy I’d need a tutorial.
“The rest is history.”
Now, each Wednesday at 11, the coffee group gathers around home computers to share and encourage. The surroundings may be different, they say, but the coffee and the companionship remain.
“This group has grown,” said Deb Kruse, the Corner Cup’s owner who not only watched the formation of the group, but also delivers coffee each Wednesday to its nearby Jonesborough members. “One of the things I miss a lot are those weekly meetings of the same people that I know I’m going to see. This is such a great idea to do this (on Zoom.) To get to see the faces again.”
Sipping their Corner Cup coffees, interspersed with a few home brews, the group reminisced recently about what the weekly gathering has meant and continue to mean.
“I haven’t even met all of these ladies face to face,” said Gourney, the group’s newest member. “I came clear across the country to go to school at ETSU and I did bring one adult son with me, but he’s in his room most of the day. He’s working on an online master’s and I’m working on a master’s at ETSU”
For Gourney, this group has been such a resource as she navigates her new life.
“I’m removed from everything and everyone I know,” Gourney said. “I never even lived outside the West before. This is a grand adventure, but it is also a rather isolating thing, especially once the pandemic hit. So this has been a lifeline for me to get to know these ladies.
“I don’t know where I’m going when I’m done (with my degree), but I want to invest myself here right now.”
While Gourney may be the newest, former Jonesborough resident Mitzi Sobol is definitely the furthest away.
“For me, it’s been amazing to be back with everyone,” said Sobol, who moved to Wales with her husband, Joseph. “I first started going to the Corner Cup when I was going through a difficult time in my life, trying to do what I need to do, to get the house ready to sell it and I didn’t really want to move. I wanted to stay in Jonesborough.
“And the meeting and the women, and the conversations, the problem solving, the therapies — it got me through. It helped every time I went. Every time I went I left feeling better. (I knew) that I could do what I needed to do.
“We laughed, we talked about things that were funny. We talked about things that were deep. I never went away without learning something new.
“It has been an amazing experience.”
The new meeting method has brought other positive changes, besides being able to reunite with friends across the globe.
Member Lynda Harris has found that these online meetings are just a little easier to get to.
“I had missed several meetings this year because I thought I was too busy,” she said. “And I think I have made every one of the Zoom ones. And I even get dressed up for it.”
Marat Moore said she has also benefited from the ease of access.
“I appreciate being part of this group,” she said, admitting that a standing conflict had often made it difficult to attend. “But I have felt so welcome. The freeform nature of this has been such a gift. I feel that as a group it is a way of nurturing community here at a time when it is difficult to do so.
“We are greater than the sum of our parts, the whole of this group. Every time I have had the opportunity to come, I have learned something. Practical things or emotional things. It’s been a gift to me… I find this time has it’s blessings and this is one of them.”
It’s all about being together for each other, said Katie Rosolowski. And “just the right timing.”
“You could have a lifetime of coffees, and it would be cheaper than paying for a therapist,” Rosolowski said with a smile.
Whatever the draw —wisdom, empathy or laughter — the coffee group continues to gather online until the time finally comes to once again safely meet at the Corner Cup, hopefully drawing more friends and visitors into their circle.
For now, however, they have each other. And that, they say, is more than enough.
“It’s continuity,” member Marcy Hawley shared. “It’s part of our routine. It’s a ritual. And in this day with things the way they are now, we don’t know. . . we don’t know what’s going on tomorrow. We only know what’s happening right now. And I’m looking at my computer and I see all of my friends.”