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How to Start a Community Support Group

Guest Blog Post By: Tamara Cole, CTRS


Tamara Cole is passionate about support groups!

She has served as the primary facilitator for a monthly stroke support group at Mansfield Ohio Health for several years.


She recently shared her knowledge about facilitating a community support group at the Ohio Recreational Therapy Association (ORTA) conference on October 4th, 2019.


Tamara shared an overview of her presentation for readers at Rec Therapy Today. These tips could be used to help you create a community support group for people with needs identified in your community or organization.


What you’ll need to do before starting a support group:

  • Signs
  • Costs
  • Time of day
  • Refreshments
  • Population served
  • Identify available help
  • Approval from administration
  • Advertisements for the support group
  • Email contact list for the group members
  • An accessible space for people (and access to restrooms)


Some tips for structuring the group:

Provide a welcoming for group members to recognize:

  • Birthdays
  • Social events
  • Upcoming topics
  • Special group events


Provide an introduction activity:

Allow each group member to introduce themselves and share something about themselves.

Be sure to include a balance of:

  • Support
  • Laughter
  • Education
  • Resources
  • Socialization


Some topic ideas (which would vary depending on your support group needs), could include:

  • AAA
  • Tai Chi
  • Pharmacy
  • Heart Health
  • Healthy Cooking
  • Coping with Loss
  • Memory Strategies
  • Community Leisure Resources


Special Break-Out Groups (to support the Caregivers)

Caregivers for people who’ve had a stoke attend these sessions too.

Three times a year caregivers “Break out” from the main meeting room after introductions. They meet separately with a co-facilitator in a separate room.  The survivors remain with the main facilitator, Tamara.

These “Break Out” groups allow the caregivers an opportunity to talk about their feelings and support each other as well.


Being Prepared for Situations:

Things can happen. Be prepared for:

  • Plan B for facilitator illness
  • Cancellation due to weather
  • Acknowledging a member’s death
  • Creating special funds to purchase flowers for a group member


Be Prepared — Group members may:

  • Become emotionally labile
  • Attempt to monopolize the conversation
  • Experience a medical issue during the support session


The power of support groups:

Members have shared comments including:

  • “I’m not alone.”
  • “We are family.”
  • “I’ve never felt like an outcast.”


Tamara shared, “You can’t make everybody happy; you do your best for the betterment of the group.”