By Kathy DeMott
The smell of fresh coffee and the sound of quiet children’s giggles welcome a visitor to Mezanmi Play Cafe in downtown Vicksburg, a place to play, learn and connect with other caregivers and young children.
The cafe at 105 S. Kalamazoo is open to the public with a menu of hot and iced espresso drinks, teas, flavored lemonades, local baked treats, and now shaved ice in an assortment of flavors.
According to its owner, Vicksburg native Renee (Lash) Janofski, the word Mezanmi is a Haitian Creole expression that explains the purpose of this business. It means, she said, “Oh my goodness, I’m overwhelmed!” as well as “Wow, I can’t believe my eyes!” though the literal translation is “my friends”.
Renee has a degree in elementary education and said she understands the need for creative, imaginative play that supports motor, cognitive and language skills and social development. As a mom of two teenagers, she also understands that parenting is challenging at times and remembers the need she felt to get out of the house and connect with other caregivers in a clean environment.
These spaces were not easy to find; the idea of a play cafe took root.
She and her husband, Craig, lived and worked in Haiti for six years. After learning a lot working in orphan care, they switched their focus to orphan prevention through job creation. Craig and Renee continue to work with Extollo International, a non-profit that teaches skills and job training to Haitians, empowering them to provide for their own children and decrease the number of economic orphans. The boutique area of Mezanmi features beautiful handmade products made by Haitian mothers. Mezanmi’s coffee is grown in Haiti as well. The proceeds help families stay together and keep children out of orphanages.
To maximize play time and guarantee space, 90-minute play sessions for children 6 and under can be scheduled online at mezanmiplaycafe.com. The cafe is also open to the public Monday through Friday from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m.-12:30 p.m. To help keep a clean and safe environment, the play area requires socks only for all participants.
Mezanmi offers memberships with discounted rates and passes that can be used by members or their guests. Special events, camps and interactive play areas are designed to spark imaginations and social development. The space can be rented for private birthday parties after hours.
Many children born during or shortly before COVID-19 have had limited time interacting with other children, especially if they are an only child. Their exposure to others was limited during a time that is important to their development. Mezanmi provides a safe place to explore and meet new friends, Janofski said. “My favorite part of Mezanmi is when I see moms come in, have a place to relax, make connections with other moms and feel encouraged.” She said caregivers have traveled from all over the state of Michigan and even Indiana just to connect with others in the unique environment.
By Kathy DeMott