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Construction: Rebuilding an Existing Group

Renáe Schoening
Indianapolis IN USA
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 38 No. 3, June-July 2002 p. 60.

"When a La Leche League Group is thriving—an average of 10-12 mothers at each meeting and three or four newcomers at each series—Leaders feel they are doing a good job. But suddenly there may be few, if any, new faces at meetings and total attendance drops off. Instead of growing, the Group seems to be ‘standing still.’ Every Group has ups and downs in attendance, no matter how long it has been established" (Leader’s Handbook 1998). If this describes a trend you are seeing over a period of time, your Group may be in a slump. If so, there are several things you may consider doing.

Evaluate the Tone of the Meetings

Consider the general tone of the meetings; regardless of how many attendees you have, keep meetings positive and constructive. By creating an atmosphere of acceptance, respect, understanding, and enthusiasm, people will feel good about the meetings. Stay on the topic and avoid controversial subjects. Thoroughly cover the basics that new mothers especially need to hear, but be careful not to overwhelm newcomers with too much information. Of course, be sure to answer any questions the mothers may have. Consider using a gentle reminder that they may hear ideas that are new to them, and they are free to take what works for their family and leave the rest behind. Showing respect for each mother’s right to make her own decisions will help set a positive tone.

Evaluate the Meeting Format and Try Changing It Using New Meeting Ideas

Some good resources for meeting ideas and formats include La Leche League International’s Web site, Area and Affiliate/Division newsletters, and meeting resource packets available from several Areas. Remember to use the Leader’s Handbook, and in particular refer to Chapter 2 for discussion questions and information on the advantages and disadvantages of various meeting formats. Stick to basics. The focus of Series Meetings is on newcomers and basic information.

Set Meeting Goals

Start on time. This lets mothers know we feel they are important and that what LLL has to say is important. When you welcome mothers at the door, consider giving newcomers a welcome packet. Possible items to include are a meeting notice, welcome letter, invitation to become a member, and some tear-off sheets (see pages 78 and 183-184 of the Leader’s Handbook). During the meeting, encourage mothers to participate. Ask open-ended questions. Come well prepared for the topic; but even though you want to be organized, also be flexible. If you have a great nutrition and weaning meeting planned but several expectant mothers or mothers with newborns are present, meet their needs first. It’s okay if you don’t get to the planned meeting.

End the meeting on time. One hour to one-and-a-half hours is about the right length of time for a meeting. Do not skip meetings. Meeting on a regular basis is vital to mothers finding LLL. If there are no new mothers at a meeting, take advantage of the opportunity to discuss subjects on a deeper level.

Keep in Touch with Mothers in between Meetings

Letting a mother know the Leader cares and is thinking of her might encourage her to return to the next meeting, read a little more, or call with a question. Phone or send a letter to the mother attending her first meeting a few days after the meeting (see sample letter, page 82 of the Leader’s Handbook) and let mothers know they can contact you between meetings if they have questions.

Call, email, or send a postcard meeting reminder (See sample postcards on pages 195 and 196 in the Leader’s Handbook). Many Leaders give each expectant mother a stamped, self-addressed postcard to mail to the Leader when her baby is born, then when it is received they follow up with a call.

Try New Publicity Ideas

Encourage mothers you help by phone to attend meetings; send a meeting notice with a personal note. Ask mothers to bring a friend to a meeting. Post meeting notices in public places where pregnant women and mothers of small children go, such as libraries, children’s stores, grocery stores, laundromats, health care providers’ offices, preschools, and other children-friendly places. Be sure to get permission from the public establishment first and remove notices when the information is no longer timely. (Editor’s note: LLL policies and procedures may vary depending on where you live; be sure you check with your Area, Division, or Affiliate for policies and procedures regarding written material available to the public. Also review pages 141-46 in the Leader’s Handbook).

Utilize whatever media and technology you have available. Start a Group Web page. Provide news releases to local newspapers, radio and television stations, and other media. Advertise in a community service directory. Check with the local Chamber of Commerce, Red Cross, public health department, or public library for information.

Start a Group newsletter. Many Leaders find newsletters are a friendly way to keep up-to-date. A newsletter saves phone and meeting time by putting down in print the Series Meeting schedule, topics, directions to the meeting place, enrichment topics, and more (see pages 146-48 of the Leader’s Handbook).

Hold Planning, Evaluation, and Enrichment Meetings

These meetings provide an opportunity to meet the needs of the regularly attending mothers, keeping them interested and involved as their babies grow. The smoothest running and most effective Groups are those that hold regular Planning and/or Evaluation Meetings (pages 119-26 of the Leader’s Handbook). What can planning, evaluation, and enrichment meetings do for the Group, the mothers, and the Leaders?

Planning, evaluation, and enrichment meetings can

  • help fill the gap between Series Meetings;
  • increase feelings of contribution for the mothers in the Group;
  • allow mothers time to socialize and provide an opportunity to get to know each other, and you, better;
  • give you the chance to get to know mothers better, to share Group management with Group workers, and to stimulate interest in leadership.

Utilizing an enrichment topic at planning, evaluation, and enrichment meetings can add enthusiasm to the Group that will carry over to the regular meeting. If you feel you don’t have time to hold extra meetings such as Evaluation and enrichment meetings every month, try every other month or once per series, but plan to hold them regularly.

If You Are a Lone Leader, Streamline Group Work

Make finding and working with Group workers your top priority. Without supportive mothers, there will be no Leader Applicants. Look for interest and potential in leadership. Be sure you schedule regular Enrichment and/or Evaluation Meetings. The greatest value of these "extra" meetings is the support and encouragement they provide a lone Leader in planning and problem solving. The Leader can seek opinions from Group workers and encourage them to share ideas for how the Group can be improved. Combine them with fun activities.

Keep Them Coming Back

Leaders have found when meetings are organized, well planned, and meet the needs of the mothers in attendance, the mothers will keep coming back. Remember to offer each mother a sense of ownership in the Group. At each meeting, give them the opportunity to become a member by purchasing a membership, and encourage mothers to be an important part of the Group by offering them a Group job (see page 131-37 of the Leader’s Handbook).

Keep in mind that the goal of La Leche League is to help each mother achieve a happy breastfeeding experience. Whether one or 20 mothers come for support and help, each mother is important. If just one mother breastfeeds her baby because of the Group, the Leader’s efforts have been worthwhile. "When a Leader is enthusiastic, the Group, however small, will grow." (page 188 of the Leader’s Handbook).

Renáe Schoening is a Leader with the Indianapolis South Side Group in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA. She is also a District Advisor for the Indiana Area. Renáe prepared this article as part of a District Workshop session with Indiana Area Coordinator of Leaders, Teresa Smith. "Managing The Group" is edited by Deborah Wirtel. Send articles or column ideas to Deb at 4246 Robert Koch Hospital Road, St. Louis, Missouri, 63129, USA, or DebMomm at aol.com (email).

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