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Hosting a Community Dinner

To combat isolation among older LGBT adults, a Boston nonprofit invites them 'Out4Supper'

Diners gather at long tables for an Out4Supper dinner.

Photo courtesy Ethos

The monthly Out4Supper gathering has room for a table or two of up to 50 diners.

When Dale Mitchell, the executive director of Ethos, a nonprofit serving older adults in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts, was thinking about how he could provide the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community with a supportive and safe way to socialize, he hearkened back to the smoky, boozy bygone tradition of supper clubs.

Popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, supper clubs brought groups together in a private setting for themed evenings of food, wine and entertainment. In 2012, Mitchell revived the dining experience — minus the smoking and drinking — with Out4Supper, the Boston area’s first LGBT-friendly supper club.

The experiment, which began with a handful of participants, now attracts up to 50 LGBT older people and their friends each month. A primary reason for Ethos’s launching of the program was to combat social isolation, a particular and potentially lethal danger among LGBT elders.

“These seniors are less likely to be partnered, and too often are estranged from their own families,” says Mitchell, a longtime advocate for the community. With events like Out4Supper, LGBT elders can “commune with each other in a safe and inviting environment.”

The dinners take place in a spacious, private dining area provided by the Mount Pleasant Home, a nonprofit residential care center for people age 62 and over. The gourmet menu, prepared by the home’s chefs, has included such entrées as swordfish with pineapple relish and seafood linguine with lobster sauce.

Entertainment has come courtesy of acclaimed pianists and a capella singers from Boston University. There are also speakers on such topics as depression management and long-term care.

The diversity of the diners is a big part of the fun. Whereas some Ethos gatherings previously drew only gay men, or only lesbians, Out4Supper is marketed to appeal to all.

“We found that there had been some self-segregation at earlier events,” says Ethos community relations director Ray Santos. “We tailored marketing of Out4Supper to ensure participation among men and women and we also schedule it in the evening to include seniors who are still working.”

The result, says Santos, is more than a nice meal: “Out4Supper has many regulars, different ages, and it’s really nice to see that people have made lasting connections.” 

This article is an excerpt from the "Inspire Community Engagement" chapter of the AARP book Where We Live: Communities for All Ages — 100+ Inspiring Examples From America’s Community Leaders. Download or order your free copy.

Learn more about what AARP is up to in Massachusetts by connecting with AARP Massachusetts.

Article by Harriet Barovick | Book published June 2018 

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