Support Group Successes and Failures
September 1, 2015
Updated October 13, 2015
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I speak from the experience of the rise and fall of a disabilities support group my wife and I initiated during 2011.
To prepare to start a group, I communicated with Mark Stephenson, Director of Christian Reformed Disability Concerns, after noting the resources mentioned in the Spring 2010 Breaking Barriers. Mark provided numerous suggestions, a list of resources including some from the Disability Concerns website, and dos and don’ts advice such as "Walking in Their Shoes: Seven Ways to Love Families with Disabilities". In addition, I sought and received the support of our congregation’s Small Group Ministry Team for backing with any incurred expenses, and met with two other couples from our congregation who were also affected by disability to help prepare for the first meeting. I presented the support group plan to the rehab department of our local hospital who agreed to cooperate by placing promotional fliers in their waiting rooms. We distributed numerous fliers around town too. The meeting announcement read, “SUPPORT GROUP for people with physical disabilities and their families will meet regularly for fellowship, information and encouragement, plus time and location.” In addition, we sent a request to all area churches to print bulletin/newsletter announcements for two weeks, communicated with our local newspaper which ran an article, and ran a two-week ad in the local advertiser.
We chose to meet Sunday afternoon from 3:00 to 4:30 PM once a month in a large accessible lower level room of a senior care facility with ample parking spaces. The local hospital administration granted us free use of this “neutral” meeting place.
At the first (organizational) meeting, 17 adults and two infants attended. We asked people to use name tags and write their names and contact information on a sign-up sheet. Another couple was asked to do an "introductions/get acquainted" exercise. I introduced the “what and why” of a support group using ideas from the Breaking Barriers article referred to earlier. Then we broke into small groups to discuss a couple questions:
What do you want a support group to accomplish for you?
What are you willing and able to contribute to a support group?
After talking in groups, suggested topics, possible speakers, and other activities for future meetings were listed on a marker board. Some people requested that time for sharing be set aside at each meeting. I made a plea for three to five volunteers to help me serve as a steering committee for the first year, to decide on target audience, to craft a mission/purpose statement, and to plan future meetings.
Subsequent meeting topics, speakers, and activities were based on suggestions from support group participants:
Repeated requests were made for volunteers to serve as a steering committee and help plan meetings. The group decided to skip an August meeting and reorganize at a September meeting. However, after a couple poorly attended meetings, we decided not continue.
Evaluation from group members:
Several regular participants of the support group were asked to evaluate what went well and what didn’t, why attendance dwindled, and what they would do differently if we were to start a support group again. Input included the following:
My personal assessment:
It was a good experience, and I believe it was helpful for participants while the group lasted. I believe we did some things well, but once again while the group had the most attendance we should have solicited feedback regularly about the group from those who were attending.
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