Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Building Community

At the beginning of the year, I became convinced that a new year's resolution support group was just the thing I needed to help me with some health and relationship goals. I sent an email to all my women friends and asked who wanted to meet. Only a few replied and even fewer showed up to brunch at a local restaurant on January 10, 2009. I figured I'd work with whoever was willing.

To my surprise, this group has now met three times and each time at least one more person joins us. We call it "the '09 group" and we are committed to supporting each others' goals for 2009 (I tried to call it the "Less Whine in '09 Group" but it was just too hokey). I just wanted some support on my goals, but to my delight people are really into this. We started with five women; now there are nine. We've moved from restaurants to meeting at someone's home for a potluck brunch one Saturday a month. This is what we do.

After we've gotten our food and chatted and settled in, we go around the circle and each person has the floor for about 15 minutes. She just checks in with where she is on the goal(s) she has chosen to focus on. Some of us have just one goal we want to work on with the group. Some have many. My goals are to stop consuming corn syrup, reduce all sugar consumption and to reach a feeling of peace regarding my relationships with my parents. I have made surprising progress on these goals and it's just March.

The main challenge of the '09 group is having enough time. Sometimes the person checking in just needs us to listen, sometimes she wants perspective and opinion and sometimes she's stuck on a problem and needs real advice. With nine participants, our last meeting lasted over three hours. But I've checked with everyone and nobody minds the time commitment. It seems that in these times, we need all the help we can get. The best survivors know how to use resources, including support from others. With layoffs and job searches and stress levels increasing, I think everyone is drawing on their survival skills these days. The '09 group women are getting an extra way to practice some of those skills.

We didn't all know each other at the start. I founded the group by calling on my friends, but some of them have invited others that I didn't know. Some people are only familiar with one other person in the group. I love this dynamic because it means we also get to practice friendship. That's an excellent goal for 2009: learning how to be friends with other women. As I said in a recent post, being able to make and stay friends with women is a lifelong challenge for some of us and many women have feelings of loneliness and failure when it comes to women friendship.

So I offer this as a nice, focused, low-pressure way to build community, more important than ever in this economy. It also offers an invaluable chance to practice being a facilitator/hostess. You carefully keep things moving, conscious of the time, keeping people focused, but also doing your best to make sure everyone is getting what she needs. Afterwards people thank me, but I feel grateful to them because of what they're doing for each other. I couldn't possibly know what to say about every person's life challenges, but as a group, we have more wisdom than any of us would have alone. And it works.

Use the upcoming spring as your theme. Invite your friends to turn over a new leaf and set new goals for themselves. Tell them how much greater their chances of success are if they have the support of others. Soon they'll be helping each other with problems they had previously felt overwhelmed by. Everyone can use a support group like that.

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