The chairs have seats that face one another along with conversation starters to facilitate greater conversation, engagement, and interaction. “At Kaleideum, we believe that when we engage in experiences alongside people who may look different from us or have a diverse perspective, then our learning is deeper, as is the growth in our skills and our capacity to appreciate the viewpoints of others,” said Elizabeth Dampier, Kaleideum Executive Director. “This generous donation has allowed us to create a bench that represents these beliefs and brings people together.”
The “Happy to Chat” initiative began in Cardiff, Wales, in 2019 when Allison Owen-Jones noticed an elderly man sitting by himself on a park bench and realized something was needed to combat the inherent awkwardness of starting conversations with strangers. Benches have popped up in locations across the United States and other countries, including Canada, Poland, and the United Kingdom.
“As District Governor for Rotary District 7690, I encourage the 49 Rotary Clubs of the Piedmont of North Carolina to Believe in the Magic of Rotary,” said Debbie Scott, Rotary District Governor 7690. “That magic can be seen when our members come together to serve their communities and our world. I am thrilled that our district is able to partner with the three Rotary Clubs in Winston-Salem — the Reynolda Rotary Club, Stratford (Winston-Salem) Rotary Club, and the Rotary Club of Winston-Salem — to create a lasting example of the importance of fellowship for the youngest members of the community. It is our hope that the conversations that start at the “Happy to Chat” space will spark lifelong friendships.”
The space has a sign that says in both English and Spanish: “These chairs are for chatting. By sitting in this chair, you can let people know that you’re happy to have a friendly conversation with someone.” In addition, there are conversation starters such as “Where is the most beautiful place you have been?” or “Tell me about your oldest friend.”
The chairs are located in Outdoor Science and Environmental Park at Kaleideum North and will move to the Rooftop Adventure space in the reimagined Kaleideum when it is completed and opens in early 2024. “We are excited to be working with the Rotary Clubs of Winston-Salem on this project to encourage connection and alleviate social isolation,” Dampier said. “Kaleideum is about strengthening community and supporting and learning from one another. This space is the embodiment of that philosophy.”