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How to Start a Parent Support Group

Start small, find like-minded members, and grow with your kidsby Jane M. Dalton



Some families are lucky. They simply find and join the local adoptive parent support group. But others find that existing groups don’t quite serve their needs and decide to launch their own. If you choose to go this route, a good way to begin is by picking the brains, as we did, of those who have already founded successful groups. Here are some suggestions—straight from the “experts”—to help you create the group you’ve been looking for:

Think about the kind of group you want. Would you prefer an informal group that meets occasionally over coffee or at a park, or a more formal group that collects dues, distributes a newsletter, and offers annual educational and social events? Will it be a group designed primarily to provide role models for your children or peers for you? Would you like to focus on one kind of adoption or one country?

Get the word out. Create fliers and hang them in places where parents and kids congregate—libraries, churches, and food stores. Take out an ad in a community paper describing the kind of group you’re forming and providing contact information. Prospective members may be right under your nose. Barbara Kalish met one of the women with whom she founded the North/Central New Jersey Chapter of Adoptive Parents Committee (APC) at her son’s toddler dance class.

Investigate your options. Once you have found others committed to creating a group, take time, Kalish advises, to think about whether you’d be better off starting a chapter of an already established group, or founding an entirely new group.

Kalish and her husband belonged to the New York City chapter of APC before they adopted. After Kalish met other moms who, like her, lived in New Jersey, she thought, “Why don’t we try holding a local APC meeting to see if there’s interest?” The response was tremendous, and only two years later, their group became an APC chapter. Donna Fredericks and Linda Greenberg, on the other hand, founded a new group, Our Adopted Kids (OAK) to meet a local need for a group to serve international adopters.

Make it official. The first step is to formalize the members’ relationship with each other by choosing a name, determining the focus of the group, creating a charter and by-laws, and filing for non-profit tax-exempt status. The easiest way to develop by-laws is to adapt those of a comparable group elsewhere. Many groups put off the daunting paperwork involved in obtaining non-profit status, but it’s best to get started on this as soon as possible. If you can, find an adoptive parent/attorney familiar with non-profit law in your state who is willing to assist pro bono.

Divvy up the work. Responsibilities for operating and publicizing the group should be delegated among the members of a core team. “We split the responsibilities based on talents and lifestyles,” says Greenberg. You’ll need coordinators for minutes, membership, treasury, social events, and newsletter. And each coordinator may, in turn, form a committee and solicit assistance from the general membership.

Find a place to meet.  Where can you hold a large family event on a small budget? “We found that churches and temples were flexible and often had coffee urns,” says Kalish. Tap your members to locate or donate space. 

Protect against burnout. Start with a few manageable events and add more as the organization grows. OAK started with three annual events—a Halloween party, a Lunar New Year celebration, and a summer picnic—and one adult discussion night. Over time, Greenberg says, “we’ve added mini-events—Mom’s nights out, bowling parties, monthly playgroups, and family outings.”

Keep in touch. Newsletters, fliers, invitations, and Web sites are key to connecting with members and publicizing your events in the community.

Look to the future. For a group to thrive over the long term, its events and services must change as its members’ children get older. You’ll want to add programs about school and search, for example, to meet the interests of families as children grow

With good planning, strong organization, and, above all, shared enthusiasm, your group will flourish, fostering support for children and their families into adulthood.

Jane Dalton is a writer and mother of two by birth and adoption.


Tips from the Trenches
*
A great way to start out is with a monthly drop-in playgroup. Nothing attracts members more than the chance to hang out with fellow parents and children.
*Although many will attend events, a small core of dedicated members will probably shoulder most of the work. Be prepared.
*Non-profit status is tempting to postpone, but you’ll need it for event insurance and for making members’ donations tax-deductible.
*Waiting parents often have more free time than parents of small children. Sign them up and make them feel welcome with special waiting family events.
*Adoption information meetings are important to members. They want to spread the word about the joys of adoption. You’ll reach prospective adopters as well.
*Although social events are fun, members are usually most interested in parenting tips from fellow adoptive parents.
*Always serve food!
*Make sure your newsletter or website contains information useful to parents, not just chapter news and events.
*The benefit for children is long term. Several of my 11-year-old daughter’s closest friends come from her toddler years in our support group.

Help is Here!
The North American Council on Adoptable Children (www.nacac.org) has federal funding to provide new and existing adoptive parent groups with helpful fact sheets, a support group manual, training for group leaders, technical assistance, and more. Contact Diane Martin-Hushman, NACAC Parent Group Coordinator, at 651-644-3036, or via e-mail at hushman@nacac.org


Copyright 2002 Adoptive Families magazine. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.

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