Starting a Support Group - General Suggestions
Having a disabled child brings about a new dimension in our lives. With our challenges come the feeling of inadequacy, loneliness, and the need to reach out. Fellowshipping with others who are working with similar joys and frustrations can be one of the most rewarding aspects of special needs.
Are there other parents around you who could use fellowship with a common bond? Interesting enough, there are some parents who do not feel the need to share and are of a fairly independent sort.
One indication of whether or not to start a support group is the presence of others around you expressing a desire to get together. If there are no other families dealing with homeschooling and disability around (you being the only one you know of) perhaps your need for fellowship can be filled by reaching out.
If you do find yourself in the middle of a group of parents who would like to start meeting together, the first step is to pray. Pray about whether a consistent meeting (with you in charge) is in God's will for your family. Is this something our spouse is fully supporting? Will this just add another burden to an already busy life?
Take the first step and talk to those families that you know of homeschooling around you with special needs. Are they willing to set aside one evening a month or every other month to fellowship with others?
Consider taking out an ad AFTER you have begun meeting to locate other interested families in your area. These ads can be placed on your church bulletin board, at the library or other meeting place where there might be parents interested.
Another idea is to post ad an on NATHHAN's web sight in the support group page for your state to locate other folks.
After establishing that there are parents willing to come, use common rules of social courtesy. Use the phone to invite them to come, and send out a reminder (invitation style) a week in advance. As practical as this may sound, as with other parties or get-togethers, it is your open, sweet hospitality that will make or break your support group. Your home (or other place of meeting such as the church) doesn't need to be decorated or fancified, but clean and comfortable should be our goal. Consider a light snack (that you prepare) especially on the first night. Keep it lower in sugar and something fun to munch on. If there are children present, don't serve popcorn or other foods or beverages that might get spilled if you are concerned about a mess. After all, special needs are special and their brand of disability may be unfamiliar to us and can be a surprise.
Let parents choose between letting their child sit with them or be occupied in another room. If you do have an activity to share in another area of the house, have it be supervised by a competent, forewarned teen or adult.
If the meeting is in our home, people will feel more willing to share if we talk of ourselves first. What are we all doing here anyway? How can this fellowship meeting be of value to them and you? What activities or speakers or information videos would be most helpful to them and you? Write it down or have someone near you taking notes, even if it is very informal and only one or two families with you. This helps us keep the needs of others up-front in our minds.
As for an agenda, depending on how many families there are, you are the hostess and everyone is looking to you to keep the meeting flowing. Pray about a topic theme. Share briefly about your vision for the group. Give folks a chance to talk. Personally ask different individuals for their opinion. Many people will not speak up unless prompted. This is O.K. Some folks need to warm up to each other. Some may dominate the conversation. Strike for a balance by you asking questions of the quieter ones. (Let us not be the ones dominating the conversation!)
With a smile, keep the hours you set in the first place, even if it seems that you could talk late into the night. This will help consistency in the future when perhaps you are not as energetic as at first and are practicing faithfulness. The first meeting sets the precedence.
Also children do get tired around 8:00 PM and parents need to wind them down for bed yet. An hour and a half, plus visiting with snack, is a good time frame for the first meeting.
Don't close the meeting without setting another time to get together. This is important to help others sense your sincerity and acceptance of them. Assign others details that might make your job easier, such as the snack (be specific on how much and what to bring). Then have your snack.
Don't forget to remind people a week ahead by phone or note of the next meeting scheduled. Your kind eagerness will draw folks in, just like a dinner invite or monthly prayer meeting.
NATHHAN really sees the need for parents to support one another. The requests for support groups far outs weigh the groups we can refer people to. Is this something God is calling you to do? We pray it is. May His blessing be on your reaching out in ministry for Him.