Support Groups: Cultivating a Garden of Friendship
- Monday, May 16, 2011
The Trellis: Organizational Framework
Though NHE was planted as a ministry, Shelley developed an organizational framework, a trellis, to guide leaders and members as the group grew. Intentional about helping leaders and members understand their roles and responsibilities, Shelley and I specified essential leadership qualities, defined prerequisite membership requirements for leaders, and outlined membership expectations. Our finalized operating policies were forwarded to our church liaison.
Gardener's Guidelines: Keys to Membership
The operating policies were the keystone of our membership packet. Organized in a three-pronged pocket folder, potential members were expected to read the contents, complete the Membership Application, and sign the Code of Conduct for Families and Field Trip Guidelines.
Membership packets were available at the first meeting of our inaugural year. Beginning our second year, packets were distributed to returning members at the last monthly meeting of the school year. This pre-registration process allowed leadership to devote time and attention to welcoming and registering new members during the first meeting of each new school year.
A membership fee was determined by a projected budget. Line items included church usage, office supplies, postage, guest speaker honorariums, materials for special events (Science Fair, History Fair, Fall Festival, Christmas Tea, Couples' Night Out, and Fine Arts Fair), and a leaders' dinner. Membership fees increased with the needs of the group and included membership to the state homeschool association. We waived NHE membership fees for single mothers (or fathers). Hardship cases were confidentially considered prayerfully by the leadership team.
Garden Activities: Support Services and More
Registered members received a Service Task List describing the support services and activities NHE offered. Each description included the type of help needed to carry out an activity and the coordinator contact information. Members were required to select and complete at least one task during the school year. Families who completed their task were offered a discounted membership fee the following year. Grace was given to moms with newborn infants or families facing crisis.
Our goal was to find a volunteer for every task we projected. After our second monthly meeting, any offerings without a volunteer would be eliminated until the following year. This system worked well. Members appreciated the support services and welcomed the relationships that blossomed as a result of serving alongside another family.
Grafting: Welcoming New Members to the Garden
New members were grafted into the garden with special care. Our Membership Coordinator welcomed each family with a personal phone call, answering questions, addressing needs or concerns, and asking how the new member could contribute to the group. The Membership Coordinator encouraged newcomers to serve with current members, thus creating a venue for friendship and mentorship. Returning members valued new energy. New members gleaned seasoned wisdom.
Fragrance: Reaching the Greater Homeschooling Community
NHE grew. In the first three years, membership tripled. Previously known only to the members of the sponsoring congregation, NHE now spread fragrance to the greater homeschooling community.
Beginning the fourth year, Shelley and I prayed about expanding the leadership board. Two members immediately came to our minds. Both had exemplified servant-leadership qualities during our first three years and were asked to prayerfully consider the board position. They graciously accepted.
A four-member board was better equipped to lead and serve the rapidly growing group. Each leader provided oversight to a specific area: Administrative Duties, Member Services, Special Events, and Meeting Coordinator. The original operating policy was amended to establish leadership term limits, providing rotational leadership to the board and protecting leaders from weariness and burnout. We voted on and approved a three-year-on, one-year-off clause.
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