support groups, continued

August 10, 2010

Right after I posted the last entry, I got an email from a woman who was looking for help paying for an wheelchair van. I passed it along to the listserv, and within an hour, there were three new messages responding with ideas. It was awesome! And it also confirmed my suspicions about support groups: the people who find out about them tend to be the people who don’t need that much support.

We all need support, of course. And no matter how informed and well-connected you are, there are always times when you need help. The thing is that most of the people on my listserv tend to be the ones who don’t need that much help. They spend more time being answer-givers, not questions-askers. And when they do have a question, the listserv probably doesn’t look like the place to go, since no one else is asking questions there. So where are the question-askers? I suspect they’re in small towns and rural places where the support organizations don’t have offices. I suspect they can’t afford internet access, or don’t speak English very well. How do I reach these people?

Support groups aren’t only about asking questions and getting help, though. And that’s probably the reason they often fade out of existence. When I was busy trying to get groups started, I tended to focus on providing information: speakers, handout, etc. What I realized, though, is that if a group only exists to give information, people will only show up when they need it. Why would you go to a meeting about Early Intervention when your child is a teenager and you want to talk about transitioning out of high school?

I realized that support groups have to be more than monthly speakers, and I thought about my book club. Every month, we have a huge turn-out and spend two or three hours discussing…everything but the book. And that’s what a good support group is–a place to see people you care about and have meaningful conversations. I’ve been on several listservs that worked that way. In fact, I had to drop one of them because my in-box kept getting flooded with messages every time anyone had a birthday. I don’t want my listserv to be quite THAT active, but I would like it to be a place where people share whatever is on their minds.

Is that an environment I can create? Or does it need to evolve naturally? Do I need to be more of a conversation cheerleader? Maybe I just need to find a few other talkative people who can break the ice?

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