Barb lead a successful MS support group for several years. She understands the challenges and frustrations of maintaining a thriving group.
Why Do People Attend Support Meetings?
People who attend support meetings usually have something in common; like having the same disease or health condition such as aids, bereavement, cancer, depression, diabetes, lupus or multiple sclerosis. They may be fighting for the same cause of homelessness, poverty, hunger or something threatening their local community. Perhaps it’s a struggle with an addiction to alcohol, cigarettes, drugs or food. Or maybe it’s as simple as sharing a common lifestyle, such as having twins,triplets or quadruplets which has its own obvious reasons for needing a support group.
So we understand the importance of meetings. It’s a way of getting important or vital information out to those who need it or who want to stay informed. In a business setting, meetings are used regularly in brainstorming for profitable ideas and strategies that give a competitive edge in the marketplace. From the viewpoint of an employer, meetings are utilized to keep employees updated on day to day operations, concerns and changes in company policy. In a community setting meetings are an effective forum to voice concerns and put power and support behind one idea or plan over others on the table for consideration.
A Different Type Of Meeting
Support meetings are a few steps beyond the usual idea of a meeting where the norm is that of information being disseminated, or of just updating colleagues on what’s going on in and outside of the office or organization. In support meetings information is not only disseminated, but information and experiences are shared with other sympathetic hearts with the goal of encouragement, and the hopeful possibility that certain ideas might also work for and be adopted by others in the group experiencing similar situations and problems.
For support meetings to be effective, they have to have elements that contribute to the idea of being a help or support as its name implies. Support meetings are one of those entities in which there is an unwritten rule that there should always be a meaningful take away for everyone present; something that will add lasting value to their store of knowledge or to their current quality of life.
Enriching Support Meetings
Have your support meetings been in low attendance lately? Do your meetings seem to be missing or lacking a certain spark or something else that you can’t exactly put your finger on? Consider the following suggestions for infusing life, interest and quality back into your meetings.
1. Meeting Topics
Talk about and choose a topic to discuss ahead of time for the next meeting. Suggest that each present in the group do some research on their own, choosing something they found relating to the topic that was interesting and that they feel is worth sharing with the group. Not everyone will feel comfortable doing this right away, but a few might step up and help out, making it easier for others to brave it the next time or at a later date. The important thing is to try to engage everyone as much as possible by giving them a chance to contribute to the group.
2. Invite A Professional
Although most groups have a leader or facilitator, it helps to occasionally use outside sources and voices to allow fresh insight and prospective to be free flowing. It also gives the leader an opportunity to just be a part of the group for a change. Befriend and ask a local pharmacist, physician,nurse or other appropriate expert or representative to come to your group periodically. Ask that they come prepared with statistical data and other information on the current methods,trends and helpful strategies or drugs being used for the particular disease or reasons that those in your group meets. If it’s a twins or multiples group, bring in a nurse or older women who’ve had multiple births to speak, encourage and share tips. If it’s a Lupus, Aids or similar health group, a pharmacist could be a valuable asset to keep your group informed and to clear up questions about drugs, interactions and common complaints from regular pharmacy patrons and users of a particular drug.
3. Play Games
Games, like food also has an element that breaks the ice and makes it easy for people to loosen up, be themselves and share themselves with others. Because these are support meetings, the group is free to do anything they feel will liven up things and give everyone what they need. And if playing a few board games, Wii bowling from a chair or cards a couple times a year prove to be helpful in your group, use them as often as the group decides. An alternative activity might be a picnic in the summer or a night out together at a local play or musical.
4. Provide Food
Food is usually a big hit at any meeting, even if you can’t please everyone. Food has always brought people together. Food has a bonding enhancer like no other. If your group has no working operating funds to consider food; consider making the various eating establishments in your community an ally. Many donate to what they consider a worthy cause and are easily able to write it off. Approach about a dozen or more restaurants or deli’s in writing or in person or both about donating lunch, dinner or light snacks for your group’s regular monthly or bimonthly meetings. Your goal is to get as many yes commitments as is needed for your entire year of meetings. It saves a lot of time. Make note of those who say yes, following up and arranging which eatery will provide meals for which month, along with need to know pick up or delivery details. Then make your own arrangements depending on what was discussed as the meeting date gets closer. And don’t forget to thank them all in a letter by mail, your organization’s website and in the local paper. They may be delighted to do it again next year.
5. Your Meeting Space
Where do you have your meetings? Has it been ideal and suitable for your purposes? Is there anything about it that you wish you could change? Do you ever hear any complaints regarding the size, atmosphere or accessibility of the meeting room? Is the location and driving distance convenient for everyone? These are questions you should address with your group periodically. Don’t assume there isn’t a problem because no one has said anything. People are complicated and won’t always complain unless asked, and even then some won’t admit their discontent.
Make Room For Growth
Keeping any support group up and running and interesting on a long-term basis is a huge challenge. Anyone who tackles such a task is to be commended. If your support meetings are thriving you probably don’t need the suggestions given in this article but if your meetings seem more suitable for the dead than the living, then you haven’t a thing to lose. You can go back to the drawing board, to when the group first started. Try to regain the lost enthusiasm. Pick the brains of those in your group, begin again with one or two suggestions, work out the details and add a few of your own.
Going back to the beginning is not a bad thing.
Barb Johnson (author) from Alaska's Kenai Peninsula on April 23, 2015:
My Very Gracious Thanks Kenneth!
Not a one of us can have enough encouragement. You always hope you know your audience. We have a VERY Big audience these days. Again, thanks!
Kenneth Avery from Hamilton, Alabama on April 23, 2015:
This was one fantastic read! Loved every word. I voted Up + all of the choices. Your graphics usage was superb. I like hubs like this. I urge you to keep up the great work and may you have a world of success on HubPages.
Your Friend for Life
Barb Johnson (author) from Alaska's Kenai Peninsula on April 14, 2015:
That's disappointing Denise. Especially when you're trying to provide an outlet to help others. Perhaps it was just bad timing. Periodically it felt like that in a group I facilitated for several years. I always had to stop, regroup and remind everyone why we were there in the first place; to meet the needs of everyone in the group, not just one or two. So then we'd brainstorm about what we wanted to do next. We also had to commit to a little compromise. It always helped. Denise, if you and your friend still see the need, I wouldn't give up. I'd keep my eyes and ears open for opportunities or fresh ways to seek out those who could truly use the support.
Denise W Anderson from Bismarck, North Dakota on April 14, 2015:
A friend and I tried to start a support group in our area. We had trouble with people coming once and then never coming again. It seemed that everyone had a different idea of what the group should be. We eventually dropped the idea, as we were the only ones there!