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By Suzanne Ripley

Should I join one of these groups?

When considering membership in one or more parent/disability groups, it is helpful to review your personal needs. Are you looking for moral support or advocacy training? Do you want to get to know other families who have a child like yours? Do you need a course in sign language or a playgroup for your three-year-old? Are you interested in hearing speakers on special education and disability topics? Are you interested in becoming involved in local decision-making processes for school and disability issues? Would you like to receive a newsletter on disability topics?

The answers to these questions may help you decide which, if any, group you should join. You may need to join only one group (such as the local chapter of national parent group such as United Cerebral Palsy Association or The Arc) to get all the information you need. Or you may need to join more than one group, if you have more than one need or interest. For example, you might wish to join a national parent group and a local preschool parent group. The national parent's group may provide you with a newsletter concerning local, state and national issues. The preschool parent group, on the other hand, may have established a child care co-op and hold birthday parties for each of the children. The goals of these two groups are different, but together they may meet the variety of needs you have identified for your family.

Ask yourself, what kind of a "joiner" are you? Are you more comfortable with formal organizations or do you prefer less structure? Consider the types of groups around you and decide where you would feel most comfortable. In the process of exploring parent organizations, remember that you can always attend one or two meetings before agreeing to join. If you are interested in joining but can't afford the dues, most groups can offer reduced fee memberships or free membership to those who need it. These are all people who can understand unique situations; talk to them about any special arrangements you might need to participate. Also remember that sometimes the best way to get involved with a new group of people is to volunteer to take an active role in some activity. By being a participant you will meet other members and learn more about the goals and functions of the organization.

What if there isn't a group in the area that meets my family's needs?

Many times there is no local group that meets your family's needs. While it may always be worthwhile to join a far-away group to get its newsletter or other information by mail, you may still want to have a group of local people to work within your community to address the needs you have identified. When the need for a group is identified, and there are people who want to see such a group in their area, then it's time to get together and start your own organization. This takes work, but it can certainly be done.

How do we decide what kind of group to form?

Start by answering these questions.

  • What is the primary purpose of this group?
  • What other purposes are there?
  • What schools, disabilities, age groups, and geographical areas would you cover?
  • Who would join this group?
  • How will you communicate with or reach these people?
  • What is the underlying philosophy of the members?
  • What are your goals for this year? Can you list them in order of importance?
  • When do you want to meet?
  • How often do you want to meet?
  • Where do you want to meet?
  • Who will lead the meetings?
  • Will you need to raise any money and charge dues or solicit contributions?

In answering these questions, you may think of additional questions, but this list should certainly get you started.

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