Ben Gallo knows the importance of making people feel welcome.
He understands the small decisions that accumulate to a big sense of hospitality: clean accommodations, plenty of space, willing and patient staff, generous refreshments. And most importantly: a genuine desire to give guests a sense of belonging, of safety, and of enjoyment.
Ben knows these elements by heart because he spent several decades working in the hospitality industry, mostly in luxury hotels.
As a newly retired Mystic Valley area resident, Ben now recognizes these qualities every time he attends Mystic Tea, a special monthly event for our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community members.
Mystic Valley Elder Services started Mystic Tea nearly five years ago to provide an affirming, comfortable gathering place for the LGBT seniors in the north metro region.
In that time, participation in the monthly meetings has remained robust, and newcomers to our Mystic Valley LGBT senior community have joined the gathering, finding companionship, acceptance, and the joy of shared experience.
“It’s a space where you don’t feel inhibited,” Ben says. “You may have grown up in an environment where you were persecuted or where you were made to feel like an outcast. [Mystic Tea] is very comfortable and welcoming.”
Other senior gatherings, which are straight/heterosexually dominated spaces, largely by default, are not always so welcoming for older LGBT people.
Even without meaning to, straight guests can make LGBT guests feel different, or left out, or alone.
“At a straight senior group, it’s a different world,” Ben says.
After lifetimes of feeling different, or of hiding their sexuality or their relationships, many LGBT seniors seek a safe place to be themselves—their entire selves—without judgment.
“It gets you out of the house,” which is also very important, says Ben. “I’m a Cancer, so I tend to stay in my shell. I would be happy to stay home alone, but it is good for me to get out and see people. Mystic Tea is a place where I can be myself and feel comfortable.”
Ben says it’s a comfortable group, always ready to make a first-timer feel welcome and embraced. And he notes that for some of the participants, it’s the only LGBT-specific space they ever encounter.
“Without it, it would be a loss,” he says.
For the several dozen regular attendees of Mystic Tea, the monthly event has become central to their social calendars. Sometimes there are special guest speakers, presentations on senior nutrition and help navigating Medicare.
Food and coffee and tea are in abundance, too, but most of all it’s the company that keeps folks coming back, month after month and year after year.
“I know that life is full of changes and that we should be thankful and enjoy the things we have,” Ben says. “I am thankful that I have Mystic Tea.”
Mystic Valley Elder Services is a non-profit agency which provides essential home- and community-based care and resources to elders, adults living with disabilities, and caregivers who reside in Chelsea, Everett, Malden, Medford, Melrose, North Reading, Reading, Revere, Stoneham, Wakefield and Winthrop. Agency services include coordination of home care, transportation, Meals on Wheels, and information and referrals. For more information on Mystic Tea or other agency programs and services, please call our main phone number at (781) 324-7705 or visit our website www.mves.org.