Chapter 3 —
Getting the Group Started
As a group leader, one of your first tasks is to find other group members and organize your first public meeting. Below you will find ideas for recruiting new members and strategies to help you plan your first meeting so that members come back to the group. Early meetings will likely involve getting to know each other and providing informal support, while later meetings may involve deciding on your groups direction and goals.
Inviting New Members
When you begin to plan how you will recruit new members for a first meeting, you should take into consideration location, day and time, and how you will publicize the meeting.
Make sure the location you choose is comfortable and convenient and will encourage participation. Although some groups meet in each others homes, most groups use a meeting room in a public library, school, place of worship, bank community room, local agency, or park building for little or no cost. Meeting in each others homes might feel more personal and private, but meeting in the local library might be easier for the members or provide a more equal driving distance for people in outlying areas. Decide what suits your situation, but make sure that the meeting space is centrally located and accessible to as many people as possible.
Day and Time
Holding your meeting during a weekday evening or on the weekend will probably encourage the greatest attendance since most people usually work during the day or have full schedules during the week. At your first meeting, ask attendees what day and time are best for future meetings.
Tips for Setting the Tone
When you plan for your group you want to set the right tone and create an atmosphere that is inviting. Keep the three Fs in mind: food, family, and fun.
FoodSharing food eases group tension and adds a dimension of pleasure to the meeting. At first, the leadership circle will probably take turns providing food and beverages for the meetings, but after that you can have each member sign up for a turn.
FamilyTo attract members, your highest priority is to select a meeting time and space that is convenient for families. Next, think about how your group will accommodate children. They will not only need a space to play but also activities to do while their parents meet. You will also want your meeting content to be relevant to your members and their specific experiences and family issues.
FunFun is first expressed through the attitude of the leadership. As a leader, it is your job to offer activities that are fun and remain open to laughter and joy. Think of the funny stories you have from your own parenting experiences or from your childhood. Sharing one of these stories might be the way to set the tone for the first meeting.
One group worked hard keeping food, family, and fun in mind as they recruited families and planned their meetings. They knew how to:
- make FOOD fun when they asked each family to bring a different ingredient to make tacosshells, filling, sour cream, salsathen topped off the meal with make-your-own ice cream sundaes.
- keep FAMILY needs in mind by providing separate activities for children so that the parents can get the support that the group offers. The kids enjoy being with other foster and adopted children, and value time spent with other families that are just like theirs.
- keep the FUN rolling with door prizes for everyone, volleyball for big kids, crafts for little ones, a trip to a farm, and picnics at the lake.
There are several ways to find potentially interested families for your group:
- Word of mouthGenerate a list of family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and acquaintances of your leadership circle who are adoptive, foster, or kinship parents. You may surprise yourselves by coming up with a list of 10 to 15 potential members. Many groups have formed just by word of mouth.
- Contact agenciesPublic and private adoption agencies cannot legally give you the names of adoptive parents and may not want to give out foster parents names, but they are often willing to post your meeting announcement or include it in a mailing. In fact, some social workers and agencies are willing to help you plan your meetings or provide a space for you to meet.
- Attend adoption and foster parent orientation meetings or training sessionsAsk if you can attend an orientation meeting to announce that you are starting a new group, and start developing a list of interested people.
- Distribute posters and flyersYou can display flyers in supermarkets, places of worship, fitness centers, doctors offices, schools, libraries, stores, post offices, and anywhere else you might be able to reach adoptive parents. You can also canvass the neighborhood with flyers. If you use flyers, make sure they include all the information a prospective member will need: information about the group, date, time, location (with directions), contact names, and phone numbers. The flyer will probably be the only source of information that prospective members have, so it should be clear and thorough.
- Use the mediaConsider a more traditional means of publicity, such as advertising in community newspapers. You can write to the editor of the local paper and include a news release, talk to the program directors of your local radio and TV stations to arrange an interview or ask the directors to make a public service announcement to publicize your group. You can also ask to be listed on the free community calendar that many stations offer.
- Contact professionals who work with adoptive familiesYou may want to contact adoption lawyers, doctors, therapists, and psychologists. Ask them if they will display an announcement in their office or include a flyer in one of their general mailings.
Invitation Letter and Questionnaire
Once you have developed a list of prospective members, you will want to send them an introductory letter and new member questionnaire so that you can gather more information about them. [See a sample letter (below) and download a PDF sample questionnaire.] You can either have people mail the form to you or bring it to the first meeting.
Sample Invitation Letter
Dear [name of adoptive or prospective adoptive parent]:
Last month several adoptive parents from your area met to plan how we could help support adoptive families in our community. We are interested in starting an adoptive parent group and would like you to join us. Adoption is a unique experience, and we would like to provide an opportunity for prospective and current adoptive parents to come together, meet each other, discuss common concerns, build a network of support, and have fun.
To help us to plan our group meetings to best meet the needs of prospective and current adoptive families, we have enclosed a questionnaire. We know that you are busy, but ask that you fill it out and return it to us by [date]. After we receive your survey, we will send more information to you about our kick-off meeting. If you have additional questions, please contact [name(s)] at [phone number(s) and e-mail address(es)].
Thanks. We hope you can join us!
Planning the First Meeting
Arrange the meeting spaceOnce you have found your location, make sure you have enough comfortable chairs and arrange them in a way that invites participation and helps people to get to know each other. An open circle works well.
Have a sign-in sheetPrepare a sign-in sheet to collect attendees names, addresses, childrens names and ages, e-mail addresses, and phone numbers to create a group contact list. This list, once distributed to the group, will help members form relationships and share resources, and provide them with names for child care and respite care trading opportunities. It is probably most efficient to pass the sign-in sheet around at the beginning of the meeting. Make sure you distribute this list to members at the second meeting and keep it updated. [Download a sample sign-in sheet.]
Arrange for child careCommunity service clubs such as Girl Scouts, religious youth groups, and school clubs; retired teachers; or members of AARP may be willing to donate their time to provide child care during your meetings. You can also ask older children to work with an adult to provide child care. Groups on a limited budget sometimes have members trade off as child care providers, which does save money, but excludes a member from the meeting. Members could also agree to each pay a couple of dollars per meeting to hire someone. Plan ahead for children who may have social, emotional, or physical special needs and make sure the child care providers are prepared to properly care for the children.
First Meeting Tips
SmilePeople want to join a friendly group. You may be nervous for the first meeting and dont realize you look concerned. Relax, take some deep breaths, and smile.
Dont move faster than the groupIf your agenda is too long, dont try to rush through it; save some things for the next meeting. For example, if you have a large turnout, dont ever cut introductions to give the speaker more time. Especially early on in the groups formation, group members need to get to know each other. If you have a meeting where the group needs more timeto understand content, ask questions, or discuss issuesslow down. Respect the natural pace of the group.
Give new members something to take homeDont end the meeting without giving the members contact information for the leaders.
Tell people how they will be notified of the next meetingRemember, you are just getting started and people may need a reminder for the next meeting. If you say you will mail an invitation, you must follow through. E-mailing or calling each attendee is cheaper and the duty can be divided among the leadership circle.
End on a positive notePlan to share a joke, cartoon, phrase, or saying from one of your children that will make people laugh or smile.
Develop the meeting contentA general rule when you plan a meeting is to vary your activities to allow for both active and passive participation from members. Keep in mind that people learn in different waysby listening, observing, doing, and interacting with each other.
Sometimes you may want to energize the group by bringing in an outside expert who can show the group something new. Maybe you know an attachment expert who would be willing to speak for free. Whatever you do, avoid the temptation of inviting a well-respected, but boring, speaker and dont let your speaker take all the groups time. If you do have a speaker, assign someone to introduce the person and make sure the introduction and presentation run no longer than 20 minutes.
At your first meeting, you will probably want to start with some kind of icebreakera joke, funny story, or a brief activity to help the group feel comfortable. Then have the attendees introduce themselves by answering a common question or completing a statement, such as:
- How many children do you have and what are their ages?
- Looking back over my week, the bad news is ________________, but the good news is ________________.
This is a good time to let attendees talk briefly about their children and share pictures.
Next, you may want to introduce your leadership circle and have each leader talk briefly (3 to 5 minutes) about why he wanted to start a group. Then give the group a break for light refreshments. The break gives attendees time to socialize and talk to each other informally about what the leaders shared. It also gives them time to formulate their thoughts and think of questions they might want to ask during the group discussion after the break.
Pull the group back together to discuss why members want to be part of a group. The discussion is important and you want to allow ample time for parents to offer and receive support. (Chapter 4, Developing Group Identity and Activities, tells how you can lead your group through a more formal discussion about your purpose at a later time.)
Make sure you leave time for the group to agree upon the date, time, and location for the next meeting as well as future topics. Adjourn the meeting formally and allow members to socialize for 10 to 15 minutes after the meeting.
Write out an agendaClearly identify and spell out the format and goals for the first meeting in a written agenda. Either copy the agenda for each member or post it in the meeting room where everyone can see it. See the sample agenda on the left.
Welcome new membersAppoint someone to greet and welcome people as they arrive and make sure they get name-tags, find the coat rack, and locate the rest rooms. Assign someone to direct the children to their area. A welcome poster and any other information on adoption-related community events make a nice added touch.
Checklist for the First Meeting
- Arrange the meeting space
- Have a sign-in sheet
- Arrange for child care
- Develop the meeting content
- Write out an agenda
- Welcome new members
Evaluating the Success of Your First Meeting
Your leadership circle should take time to evaluate the success of your first meeting and use the information to help plan for future meetings. Before the end of the meeting, ask the group:
- "What worked for you?"
- "What could we do better?" Note any themes.
Right after the meeting, take a few minutes to note:
- the number of families who attended
- the comfort level or mood of the group
- the length and depth of the discussion
- the agenda items you were able to accomplish
- what you might include next time or things to improve
- things you hadnt anticipated and want to address next time
Sample Agenda for First Meeting
Welcome and opening remarks
Introductions (Ask everyone to introduce themselves: name, number of children, and show pictures of their children.)
Introduce leaders (Have each leader tell why they wanted to start a support group. Ask attendees to think about why they came to the group and what they hope to get out of a group.)
Refreshments (Break for refreshments and socializing.)
Discussion: Why Were Here (Allow parents time to share why they came and what they want from a support group.)
Select Meeting Time (Ask attendees to state preferences for future meeting locations and times. Discuss the best time and place and how to remind people of the next meeting. Hand out questionnaires or collect previously distributed questionnaires.)
Adjourn (Welcome people to stay and visit until 9:30 when you should start cleaning up the room.)