I shared in my previous article title Now What? how important support groups became to me as I embarked on the journey of my son’s enlistment in the Marines. Now I’d like to explain the different types of support groups that I’ve been involved with how to started one and the purposes they each serve.
For All Groups:
- You must first find others that are willing to be a part of the group. Stating with as few as 3 or 4 is okay.
- Decide what type of group you’d like to have and then come up with a specific mission statement for your group. This helps to keep the group on track when others want to steer it differently. Important for any attendees to be aware of the mission.
- Find a place to meet. Could be a home, local coffee shop, (although a public place makes it harder to share openly), church, VFW building, etc.
- Decide how often to meet, day of week and time. Groups I’ve been in have been bi-monthly or monthly and have met on a weeknight or Saturday morning.
- Inform others about the group: newspapers, church bulletins, flyers at businesses, word of mouth, radio announcements, or social media.
Group #1: Military Families Supporting the Troops (usually for those from the area)
Purpose: To send care packages, cards, letters, etc. to local troops.
Participants: Family and friends of those in the military or anyone who wants to be a part of serving and encouraging military families.
- Locate a place large enough to sort donated items and put together packages.
- Obtaining and keeping an accurate list of addresses. Because of deadlines for mailing packages, this is especially important for those deployed.
- Printing and distributing flyers about the collection drive; asking churches and/or businesses to be a collection spot; asking businesses to donate items they have available, i.e. hotels- towels, sample toiletries; dentists-toothbrushes, dental floss.
- Will need to collect monetary donations for shipping costs.
- Collecting and picking up items-this is very time consuming and usually requires a large vehicle and lots of muscle.
- Sorting and packaging boxes; preparing customs sheets; and taking to post office.
- As for cards and letters the group could contact schools and/or churches to have their kids do this and assisted living homes have senior citizens that like to send cards. It’s great to add a handwritten card to each package.The meetings for these groups are usually very informal, and vary as to how often depending on whether or not hey are in the midst of a collection drive.
An advantage to this type of group is that it helps fulfill the need to do something while a loved one is deployed and during the entire process of gathering, collecting and packaging relationships are built because of the camaraderie felt among participants.
Group #2: For Blue Star Parents, Military spouses, etc.
Purpose: To meet with others who can relate emotionally because they are enduring the same emotional roller coaster of emotions.
- These groups can have a specific meeting format or be low key and see what happens with sharing. Important to have one person leading to prevent someone dominating the conversation.
- These groups tend to develop close bonds and decide to do things together apart from the meetings.
- These groups also usually have a mixture of what they do which includes emotional support day or night, sending packages for their loved ones, helping with other local military activities such as farewells and welcome home celebrations.
Group #3: Church affiliated group
Purpose: To be an encouragement to one another through short devotional studies and conversations, sharing needs and experiences and praying for one another.
Participants: Anyone with a loved one in the military is usually welcome. However, some of these groups are only for those that attend the sponsoring church or for those that have similar beliefs. Or they could be for a specific group, such as the one I’m a leader of is just for women with a loved one in the military.
- Speak with church leadership to share desire and need for group. It would be best if prior to this meeting you had names of others that you’ve spoken to that will also be involved.
- Decide on the group you’d desire to minister too. It’s best to pray about this and then follow the burden felt inside.
- It’s best if this type of group specifically states that there will be no discussions of political opinions, although there should be prayer for our country’s leaders.
- Have a meeting format which should include introductions, time of sharing for those that are comfortable, reading of scripture and/or devotional, time for prayer and fellowship. The group I lead also did a summer book club with a book written by a Christian author they could relate to.
- Have a leadership team that will decide on outside events such as family picnics, holiday parties, etc.
Military support groups can be exactly as described above or can be a mixture of the types listed. Also, in our community different groups have joined together for events such as welcoming home a loved one or a farewell event for an entire group.
However, the ultimate goal of any group should be to support and encourage. This means the leader needs to make sure that when members share about certain events, struggles or emotions, that the group doesn’t become focused on the negative, which could cause those attending to walk away feeling depressed and or angry.