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Before You Begin
Starting a Support Group: Before You Begin

What is the name of our support group?

Select a name that helps to identify your target group. The term "Support Group" should be incorporated as part of your name. If you want to include parents and spouses of all military branches, use "YourTown Military Family Support Group" for a name. However, if you want only Marine Parents, then using "YourTown Marine Corps Parents Support Group" is a more appropriate name.

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What is the mission of our support group?

Is your mission to support and encourage families who have a loved one in the military? Is bootcamp, training, and/or deployment part of your mission statement? Is your mission to have fund-raising projects? Is your mission to gather to share news? Is your mission to actively participate in community events? Will your support group organize local support our troops rallies? Is it a combination? What percentage of resources will be allocated to each part of your mission? Offering a defined mission statement and reading it at the beginning of each meeting will remind members why you are there and help to keep folks on task.

See the link above titled "Handouts and Forms" for a sample of a mission statement.

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Who should attend our support group meetings?

Is the meeting for families experiencing deployment, training, and/or other separations? Is the meeting for parents and spouses only? Are teenagers and siblings encouraged to attend? Is it an appropriate environment for children? Are former military members invited to attend if they do not have a loved on in the military?

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How often should we meet?

Once or twice a month? Every 2nd & 4th Tuesday? Every 2nd Tuesday and 4th Wednesday of the month (for folks that may have a prior commitment on one day or the other)? Will you meet once a month? Each week? Make sure YOU are available that many days a week/month/year.

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Where can our meetings be held?

If you are advertising the support group, you might choose to meet in a public place rather than a member's home. Public places could be a restaurant, or if you don't want feel members want the expense of dining out, perhaps a church, red cross building, VFW building, or other publicly know facility.

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What time should we begin and end the meetings?

Posting a time to begin AND a time to end the meetings will keep people from staying all night. When the meeting time arrives, get everyone's attention and begin the meeting. Waiting on a member who may arrive late is disrespectful of the folks that did arrive on time.

Have a plan for announcing a canceled meeting due to extreme weather conditions.

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What happens at a typical support group meeting?

The group leader is responsible for beginning and monitoring meetings. If your group is small enough and your meeting space will acomodate, arrange the seating in a cirlce so all the members can see one another. Begin the meeting by introducing and welcoming any new members, then read your mission statement. Make announcements at the beginning of the meeting in case someone may need to leave early.

If you don't plan to have a guest speaker each week, offer sharing time. Allow each group member to share news of their military family member. Offer an "emotional barometer" to help folks get started with the sharing process. Your barometer may include words like sad, happy, nervous, afraid, neutral, excited. Sharing should not be required. Some folks may choose not to share, but prefer to listen. Try to allot a designated amount of time for each person to share and remember to discourage side conversations during sharing time.

Example of sharing:

"My name is Jane Smith and my son John is a LCpl with the United States Marines stationed in Afghanistan. On the emotional barometer, I would have to say I'm nervous. The elections are coming up and I'm afraid there will be more targeted bombings. But I'm also happy. I got a letter from John on Saturday and he sounded great. They're looking forward to coming home in about 3 more months."

See the link above titled "Handouts and Forms" for a sample "Emotional Baramoeter".

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What about "Rules for Sharing" at the meeting?

Probably the most important sharing rule is "Confidentiality". If people don't trust what they say at group meetings will stay there, they won't feel safe sharing during meetings. If people don't share during meetings, you've defeated your purpose in having a support group.

Other rules to consider would be:

  • Are political discussions allowed during sharing time?
  • Are religious discussions allowed during sharing time?

See the link above titled "Handouts and Forms" for a sample of "Sharing Rules".

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Will we invite guest speakers to our meetings?

You may find that your group has a lot of questions that could be answered with a guest speaker. You might offer a guest speaker in lieu of sharing once in a while. Make sure the speaker is aware of your mission statement as well as your sharing rules.

See the link above titled "Meeting Suggestions" for some ideas.

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Should we provide name tags at the meetings?

Stickie name badges with the member's name and their loved ones name and branch of service can help members become more familiar with each other. You might ask a local business to donate name tags to your cause. If you meet at the same place for each meeting, you might want to use re-usable name cards instead.

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Should we provide refreshments at the meetings?

Clearly defining this parameter will save some time later. Serving refreshments means there will be clean-up time at the end of each meeting, and there will be costs associated with it. My experience with refreshments has been very casual; if someone wanted to bring homemade cookies to share, then it was encouraged. You do want to announce at the meeting whether or not refreshments are allowed in the building where you hold your meetings. Remember to bring napkins to each meeting if you decide to allow refreshments.

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Should we provide childcare at the meetings?

Again, clearly defining this parameter now will save time and possible heartache later. Define clearly whether or not is is appropriate to bring children under a certain age to the meetings. If you are providing childcare, take a look at the liability issues involved. If you are not providing childcare and the meeting is not appropriate for children under a certain age, define that clearly in the beginning of the your meetings.

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What handouts and information should we have on hand at the meetings?

If you decide to have handouts available at the meetings, you might check with local businesses to see if they will donate copying expenses to our group. Some suggestions of handouts to make available:
  • One-page handout with basic information about your support group, meeting times, mission statement, etc.
  • Ask a local psychologist to compile a list of professionals in the area that may specialize in military family counseling, PTSD, separation, etc.
  • A list of local community resources that people can access for assistance in a number of areas, such as help with food, housing, and health issues.
  • Post a list of local companies that have donated items/services to support your group
  • Offer a suggestion box with paper and pencil for members to make anonymous suggestions or ask questions

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What other supplies should be on hand at the meetings?

You might put a bag together that includes basic supplies for your meetings, and include:
  • Tissues
  • Pads of paper
  • Pencils and pens

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What's an easy, effective way to keep track of group members?

It's a good idea to ask people to fill out an information sheet when they attend the meeting. This will allow you to add them to the contact list to notify them of future meetings. There is an example of a sheet in the link at the top of this page titled "".

See the link above titled "Handouts and Forms" for a sample of "Members Information Form".

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What's an easy, effective way to communicate with group members?

Decide how you will communicate with members about meeting dates and times. Many folks appreciate the ease and convenience of email. For some folks, just getting an email twice a month from the meeting organizer is enough to make them feel more connected to the military community.

With all the junk email on the internet now, you'll want to preserve the integrity of your email list. Be sure if you setup an email list, that you discourage the use of the list as a method to forward "junk email" to make sure folks know the communication that comes from that list is relevant to your meeting dates and information. If a member wants to share news through the email list, have them send it to the organizer only, and the organizer can include an announcement with one of the regularly scheduled email communications.

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How can we advertise the group's existence?

For most of us, cost in advertising will restrict the types of communication used. Be resourceful; use the goodwill of your community and organizations to help you announce your support group. You migh try a combination of the following:
  • Ask school counselors to announce to families they may know that have a military background.
  • Ask local radio talk show hosts to announce your support group or interview you about the group.
  • Ask your local newspaper to announce your support group.
  • Contact churches and ask them to announce your support group.
  • Depending on what is happening with your local television news, they may opt to do story on your group.
  • Add your support group to the, Inc. local support group database.
  • Contact local military organizations such as the VFW and American Legion and ask them to announce your group.
  • Contact your local military recruiter's office to post a bulletin about your support group.

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