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Many caregivers live in isolation. We are isolated because we don't know of, or can't find, a local support group to fit our specific needs. Caregiver workshops are springing up all acorss the nation telling us how to start our own support groups. If you listen closely, you can pick up the hints and tips verbally given for doing just that.

One person with an idea and the need can set in motion an action resulting in a chain reaction effect. A very shy, soft spoken lady, scared out of her wits by the disability of her husband, needed support. She bravely put her fears aside, printed flyers with the time and place, extended the invitation to entire families, and posted the flyers in stores in her area. She was shocked at the first meeting. She expected, maybe, three or four people. Forty people attended the first meeting. Picture this lady greeting and speaking to a crowd this size. Her need was great, and with the support of her husband, she started a support group beyong her wildest imagination.

This lady didn't know there were support groups. No one had bothered to tell her. This lady lives in a rural area where the disabled are usually hidden. She didn't want this for her husband and family. She didn't know there were so many disabled people in her area. Living in a farming area, the group decided to meet twice a month. Every meeting brings more people with more ideas. Her husband calls it a "brag and steat" meeting. She is getting the support she needs, and at the same time, her husband is getting off the farm and back into the mainstream of life. They are learning from others, as others are learning from them.

There are two types of support groups; formal, and informal. There is no right or wrong way to start a group. The group described above is informal. Families sharing the burdens, the laughter and the tears with other families.

The more formal group usually gets started with the help of a social worker specializing in rehabilitation. This is the first contact. The social worker can put you in contact with other key people for a brain-storming session. At this meeting, plans are made; financial support considered; publicity is planned; telephone numbers are given to the person in charge of membership; location and time and dates are set; and decisions made concerning the special focus, if any; decisions about guest speakers; and anything else that may be of concern to the group.

The one common ground in these two types of support groups is the social activities, such as refreshments.

There is no right or wrong way to start a support group. The most important thing to keep in mind is the travel time of your members. If you live in a highly popluated area, try to hold the meeting is a central area convenient to everyone. Should you live in a rural setting, the community center, church social hall, or you own home, if you have enough room, would do nicely. The shy lady and her new friends are looking for a larger building to hold their meetings.

Other things to keep in mind when starting a support group;

    Confidentiality. You need tobe able to trust your support group. Keep private matters

    Share leadership responsibilities. Leadership experience helps build self-esteem
    and will bring more creativity to the group.

    Realistic expectations. Don't be discouraged if only two or three people show up for
    the first few meetings. Learn from those attending.

    Respond to the group members needs. The meetings should be practical and helpful.
    It should not be a gripe session for the more vocal members.

    Don't take yourself too seriously. Some meetings will be serious. Some meetings
    will not be serious. Make time for humor.

The 11th Commandment: Share one anothers burdens.

"Friendship improves happiness and lessons misery, by the doubling of our joy and the dividing of our grief."-----Cicero