As our family has home schooled the past nine years, I have encountered many parents who bemoan the lack of a desired support group. Often, they are aware of available support groups that are not the right fit for them or are located too far away for them to participate. Their frustration and disappointment prompt me to suggest that they start a group themselves. The most common response is “ I could never do that!” But the fact is you can, and it is my hope that this article will remove “never” from your thinking and instead replace it with “if God so wills, I will be open to starting a special needs support group in my area.”[bctt tweet=”Support is Possible! I can build it myself! #homeschool #KeepTXFamiliesFree”]
Step 1: Identify Your Purpose
First, it helps to identify what purpose your group would have. A successful support group will start with a clear and limited focus. Vision helps several common issues:
- Avoids burnout for the leader(s)
- Advertises the group
- Provides unifying purpose for members
For example, if you want to reach out to special needs parents, you should make that point very clear so that you don’t build a group that is too diversified to connect with one another. You will serve your group well if you define whom the group is to serve and what the group will provide specifically. An example of this would be a support group for home schooling special needs parents versus a support group for parents of children with physical disabilities (or even just one diagnosis) that provides information or support on a monthly basis.
Once your group has more than a few committed members, you can decide whether to expand to meet more needs or provide more services. Starting small allows you to grow with the needs of the immediate group and gives you the potential to provide added benefits when you are able to tap into various members’ skill sets and areas of expertise, which will help to facilitate expansion.
Step 2: Choose a Venue
Second, I recommend thinking about the atmosphere and tone you want to set for the group which brings us to the next step: choosing a venue. Will your group be a relaxed, supportive, and processing type of group? If so, you want to facilitate people sharing by providing refreshments and a warm, comfortable environment. Is your group designed to host professionals and disseminate information? You will want a much different environment than the process group. Some groups do both types of activities, but do require more planning from their leader to accommodate varied functions.
Once you have determined the best atmosphere for your purpose, contact several potential places for hosting the group. I suggest finding several for these reasons:
- You may not know how many people to expect until shortly before your meeting.
- Weather can always affect a venue.
- Having a back-up plan is a prepared person’s modus operandi.
Avoiding a stressful last-minute search for a venue will help you enjoy your group more and strengthen your leadership. Few things kill a group’s confidence in its leader more than lack of planning or vision. Don’t let that happen to you!
Some suggested venues if your house is not an option are:
- Local libraries often offer free use of their meeting rooms if scheduled in advance.
- A friend’s home is an option. (Offer to help set-up and leave it clean.)
- Your church might host the group, or you can often find one that will rent space during the week for a modest fee.
- Parks can be a good idea as well if they are free and you are allowing members to bring their children to the meeting; however, the weather, noisiness, and interruptions are potential detriments.
Step 3: Get the Word Out
Third, I suggest evaluating your current contacts who can help with advertising the group at a low cost. When I began a group for parents home schooling special needs children, my boys attended weekly therapy services in our area. Our therapists were happy to share my name and contact information with other parents and post a flyer for me in their waiting room. I had met many moms who were struggling during our appointments there, and it was a natural source of members for our group. You might know friends or relatives who would be willing to advertise your group on Facebook. Have your church post an announcement, put flyers in the places you frequent (with permission of course!), and simply talk to everyone you can about the group. Word-of-mouth is still a powerful advertising tool! And finally, make sure to sign up your group with THSC on our simple home school support group registration form to be added to the list of home school support groups that meet all over Texas.
Step 4: Prepare for the First Meeting
Once your preliminary planning is finished, begin preparing yourself for the first meeting. I strongly urge you to pray as you prepare. Prayer over the first meeting and your newcomers is a great help to you. Fears will be quelled. You will think more clearly and be more peaceful through prayer. Furthermore, what the Lord chooses to do through your prayers will often delight you. Many times, I have seen Him move people to come to a meeting through unique circumstances and timing. I have also seen Him break the fears of struggling parents, bring new understanding or clarity, and console the broken. Much will be missing in your group with the absence of prayerful preparation.
The first meeting should consist of the following:
- Introduce the group, its purpose, and leaders and allow the attendees to get to know you and one another.
- Keep your presentation brief and simple:
- Include what prompted you to start the group.
- Explain your hopes and vision for the group and specifics on what group members can expect and/or are expected to contribute.
- Solicit desires and needs from the group. Take notes or ask them to fill out a brief questionnaire to retain their information and suggestions.
- Make sure that you meet each member and talk briefly if at all possible. A personal contact from you will help immensely in building a foundation for future meetings.
Step 5: Continue Contact with THSC for Support
It is our goal at THSC to serve and work with the various home school support groups throughout Texas so that together we can help and encourage you. Our goal is twofold:
- Help individual families connect to groups in their area
- Assist support groups and support group leaders so that together we will see the home school community in Texas thrive
THSC can come alongside your leadership and group to support your needs:
- Sign-up for the leadership support emails for support, ideas, and motivation.
- Consider attending one of the THSC leaders events for guidance and instruction.
- Encourage THSC membership. If your members join THSC, they can enjoy the many membership benefits of THSC and receive a discount on the membership rate.
I hope that this guide provides some practical and useful helps to equip you to start a home school special needs support group. Moreover, I hope that you feel more confident in doing so. Starting and managing a support group can be a great ministry to others as well as meeting needs in your own life. You can do this, and I pray that you and those you reach will be greatly blessed by your efforts!