Make Shift Coffee House has announced that Dr. Demi Kouzounas and Phil Bartlett Esq. will serve as co-chairmen of its new advisory board. Bartlett chairs the Maine Democratic Party and Kouzounas chairs the Maine Republican Party.

The purpose of a Make Shift Coffee House is for people to understand each other’s political views. Founded by professional meeting facilitator Craig Freshley, there have been about 20 Make Shift Coffee Houses held around the state so far in libraries, on college campuses, in Grange halls, in church halls, in school cafeterias, and many other places.

The organization wants to hold many more and thus improve civility among Maine people, even in the midst of a national trends toward growing political divide and increased animosity, according to a press release.

“Having attended Make Shift Coffee Houses, even though skeptical at first, I can tell you that this is a wonderful way for us to understand each other and lay a foundation for working together,” Kouzounas said. “When we take the time to hear each other’s perspectives, it’s hard to be mean to each other.”

Bartlett said, “In today’s contentious political environment, it’s often easy to forget that there is more that unites us than there is that divides us. That’s why I’m grateful to Make Shift Coffee House for bringing people together in an effort to bridge the political divide and foster a constructive, civil dialogue about the serious issues facing Maine and the nation. I’m glad to join my counterpart, Maine GOP Chairwoman Demi Kouzounas, in co-chairing this important effort and look forward to supporting it as it moves forward.”

Make Shift Coffee House has been entirely volunteer-driven with Freshley donating significant time and money to the cause, along with donations from several others.

Given the popularity of the effort and encouragement to take it further, Freshley has arranged for fiscal sponsorship from the Friends of the Maine State Library and is now accepting charitable donations. He is also establishing a high-profile advisory board.

“We want to bring more Make Shift Coffee Houses to more people,” he explained. “It’s easy to get self-reinforcing opinions on social media but many people are hungry for face-to-face conversations with people who think differently. This is what we provide.

“And they are actually fun!” Freshley said. “There is always live music and free food and no charge for admission. And free coffee, of course.”

Freshley has also assembled an array of articles, podcasts, videos and discussion guides on all aspects of the growing political divide and how to understand each other better. These resources and information about upcoming Make Shift Coffee Houses are available at MakeShiftCoffeeHouse.com.

Some Make Shift Coffee Houses have focused on specific topics such as guns, taxes, morality, gender, and fake news. While others have been more general in nature, providing a chance for liberals and conservatives to simply understand each other’s broad views.

Freshley is the owner Good Group Decisions and has written a book called "The Wisdom of Group Decisions." He has facilitated thousands of meeting across Maine for municipalities, state government agencies, nonprofits, and private corporations, and has posted hundreds of how-to videos and one-page tips about group dynamics. Freshley has a Masters Degree in public policy and management from the Muskie School at the University of Southern Maine.