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Live from the Support Group Leaders' Summit - Large Groups/Small Groups

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This session was an opportunity to brainstorm. First the leaders were divided up by the size of their groups. Robin pointed out that sometimes the leaders of small groups feel intimidated by the accomplishments of the older, larger groups. So they were divided into small and large groups and each group of groups, as it were, set about to identify the benefits of their type of group and the challenges.

Let's talk about the LARGE GROUPS first:


  • Maintaining attendance when members are too sick or too well (patients in remission want a break), when the weather or the distance works against you.
  • Marketing a group to get new members
  • Raising money
  • Over familiarity
  • Loss of members

 Opportunities to Meet Those Challenges

  • Have a newsletter template available to the groups for their use
  • Disclaimer
  • Check in on patients who have been absent
  • IMF website to feature Support Group of month
  • Possibilities for virtual meetings using Webex, Skype, FreeConferenceCall.com
  • Succession planning
  • Create flyers and distribute to hospitals, community centers, etc.
  • A Meet your Members feature in the newsletter or on the IMF website

Then the SMALL GROUPS had their say

First they talked about the benefits of being a small group:

  • The meetings are more intimate/personal, with more time for TLC
  • More time/more flexible/less structure
  • More time for a guest speaker and for caregivers
  • Easier to find a meeting location
Then they addressed the challenges and how to solve them:

  • Communication/privacy issues
  • Continually remind group if it's a problem
  • Newsletters: no-identification of names
  • Calling Tree
  • Over-familiarity
  • First this has to be acknowledged in the group
  • Meet less often
  • Creativity
  • Create a printed introduction and distribute i
  • Use secure website
  • Limit to full introductions to new people
  • Use color-coded name tags
  • Marketing
  • Use the IMF for mailing help to advertise meetings
  • Print business cards and flyers, and place them in Doctors' offices -Cancer Centers - with Social Workers
  • Use local media outlets (Newspaper, TV, Radio), friends, word of mouth, health fairs
  • Take advantage of the IMF website to promote activities and advertise when the IMF's Patient & Family Seminars and Regional Community Workshops
  • Few members mean fewer volunteers for committees and other activities. How do you encourage involvement so that there is shared responsibility within the group

    • Find one key person to set the positive tone.
    • Survey the group to find out likes/strengths to tap into
    • Consider personal phone calls by 1-2 other members vs. email
    • Consider letting go at times if you can't do it all
    • Consider community leaders to get word out, or the ACS, LLS, list serves
  • How to maintain attendance
  • Newsletters, emails, to announce meetings
  • Survey members on what topics they wish to have presented, and what meetings should "look like"
  • Honor confidentiality of members
  • Create a non-threatening environment
  • For new attendee make a "buddy connection" for him/her
  • Serve food (grant dollars are available)
  • Decent sound system
  • Keep MM focus
  • How to deal with growing pains, such as outgrowing the facility
  • Periodically Divide Retreats + Caregivers
  • Time Limit on Speaking
  • Money
  • Start looking for larger space
  • Break into smaller groups for discussion
  • Lengthen meeting time, but don't go over two hours
  • Create a 2nd group
Solicit group for input regarding solutions for too large a group
  • Dealing with Loss

    • Notify other members
    • Honor at next meeting
    • Leave an empty chair to symbolize the presence sill with you
    • Acknowledge the loss
    • Have a long time survivor speak to group to re-energize them
    • Give hugs! Heart 2 Heart

At this session two support group leaders from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Trish MacDonald and Julie Salsman, said we needed to change the way we hugged. That a true hug should be "heart to heart." They showed us how to do it, and then said that they end every meeting with a "heart to heart hug." No pun intended, but we took it to heart. I heard it repeated by them and others throughout the summit. What a lovely concept from two lovely women.

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