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How to Start a Support Group for Grandparents

Those Dealing With Difficult Issues Need Advice and Comfort

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Grandparents who have been denied contact with their grandchildren rightfully experience a complex mix of emotions. They need sympathetic listeners and contact with others who have been through the same thing. A support group for grandparents is an apt solution. Such groups are scarce, but starting a support group is fairly easy. Other groups that can benefit from support include gay and lesbian grandparents and grandparents raising grandchildren.

1. Check for Already-Established Organizations.

The United States lacks a large organization that has embraced the cause of estranged grandparents; however, organizations do exist in certain areas. Check the list of resources for grandparent visitation rights for contact information. Advocates for Grandparent Grandchild Connection sponsors support groups under the name Lost Access. You'll need to decide whether to ally yourself with an existing organization or remain independent.

Support for grandparents raising grandchildren is easier to find. Check these resources first. Gay and lesbian grandparents may want to work through their local LGBT organizations.

2. Develop a Core Group.

While a single individual can take on the task of starting a support group for grandparents, having some help will make it much easier. Before you actually start meeting, you may want to seek out interested individuals in your area. Try local websites or virtual bulletin boards. The local newspaper will usually include a short announcement for free, and a local radio station may do the same.

3. Locate a Meeting Place and Set a Time

Churches, libraries, social service centers and community centers frequently have rooms that can be used for meetings for a low cost or no cost. Choose a date and set a time when most people should be available. A weeknight is usually best.

4. Advertise Your First Meeting.

Once you have your core group and your meeting time and place, you are ready to go back to local newspapers, radio stations and websites, asking them to publicize your first meeting. In addition, you may want to produce printed announcements. Design a simple flyer on your computer. Half-page or even quarter-page announcements will be cheaper to produce and will take up less space on a counter. Keep the design simple, but proofread carefully. Distribute the flyers as widely as possible.

5. It's Crunch Time!

Sooner than you anticipate, it will be time for that first meeting. Typical first meeting business includes choosing a name and drafting a mission statement. If you have suggestions to offer, the process will go much more quickly. You might also consider having attendees fill out a brief questionnaire, specifying the preferred method of contact and primary concerns. Support groups tend to be democratic rather than rigidly hierarchical, but you may need to ask for volunteers to help with certain tasks.

6. Plan for Problems.

When dealing with volatile issues, you can expect some difficulties, such as individuals who become very emotional or try to dominate the meeting. That's when it's nice if a single person isn't trying to run the meeting. The second-in-command can take the person aside so that the meeting can continue.

7. Allow Time for Sharing.

It's nice to start the meeting by letting the attendees introduce themselves and briefly state why they are there. This is not a time for lengthy stories, and those who launch into such narratives may have to be contained. If you have planned a social time at the end of the meeting, you can ask the member to save long stories for that time.

8. Evaluate and Plan for the Next Meeting.

After a meeting has concluded, it's good if the core group can chat about what went well and what not so well. As the group grows, you may want to bring in some professionals. A lawyer could address grandparent visitation rights. A psychologist or counselor could advise about handling emotional stress. Your group may also opt to take an activist route and lobby for your cause. As the group's founder, you'll need to listen to your members and tailor the support group to offer what they need most.

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