“Can We Just Talk?” is a new take on an idea that goes back to the roots of what Breathe Coffee House founder Patrick McGinnis had in mind when the coffee house opened in April 2016.

“The whole goal of the nonprofit is to try to create dialogue,” McGinnis said of the aptly named Dialogue Ministries that operates through the coffee house. “The intent was to try to find out how to bridge gaps between groups that tend not to communicate or topics that we tend not to communicate about.”

Since the business opened at 703B Main St., McGinnis has brought groups from Fort Hays State University, local schools, mental health professionals and interested citizens, together to learn more about and discuss issues such as mental health, suicide, domestic violence and the role of police.

A community meal is held once a month.

It’s more than just an opportunity to feed the hungry, it gives those who are lonely someone to talk to.

“My main goal was to figure out how we can get the community connected around a dinner table,” he said.

The coffee house will continue with group outreach and community meals. The CWJT program adds another facet of communication. It encourages face-to-face conversation between individuals.

“We have a mental health problem, or at least a perceived mental health problem that’s building in our nation,” McGinnis said.

The number of youth reporting mental health issues has been going up for the last 20 years. The number of students seeking help at the Kelly Center at Fort Hays State University nearly has doubled in the last five years, he said.

High Plains Mental Health Center serves 30 counties, and has seen increased demand as well.

Some seeking counseling at the Kelly Center may not have mental health issues. They are just experiencing loneliness.

“These are people that don’t have anybody else to talk to. They’re just not connecting,” McGinnis said.

With membership in churches, social clubs and civic organizations declining, there are few places where people get together to connect face-to-face.

The goal behind CWJT is to fill some of that gap — not with mental health professionals, but with caring volunteers to spend an hour once a month or oftener, to have a conversation with someone over a cup of coffee.

With the help of an FHSU Leadership 310 Class, the project launched last semester, but has been fine-tuned to a “level playing field,” he said.

Rather than one person coming to the table needing to talk and one expecting to be the listener, “you may be the counselor. You may be the listener. In my view both should be listeners,” McGinnis said. “We’ve both got problems if we’re willing to talk about them.”

Volunteers, who are asked to complete a brief training, can sign up at Breathe Coffee House.

McGinnis emphasized the program is not meant to provide counseling.

“We’re not trying to change people,” he said, “just be here for them.”