When a unit is given short notice to deploy, many leading military wives desperately cobble together their unit's family readiness group and other networks. Certainly there is no better way to maintain a continuous flow of information from the command to the families, not to mention the incredible benefits for supporting each other during deployments. Here are a few thoughts we've picked up along the way to help community/unit leaders get your spouse clubs established.
* Stop messing with paper newsletters and membership lists in Excel spreadsheets. Start a web site instead, and insist that everyone register and maintain their contact information in their profile. CinCHouse.com's Spouse Club Hubs is free and easy with over 400 spouse groups already hosting their sites. There are other terrific resources including Yahoo Groups and Army Knowledge Online.
* Leading spouse groups by dictatorship is like herding cats. Your spouses will only do what they want to or are capable of doing (i.e. they work during the day or have kids). So start the group by doing a really good survey that determines interests, hobbies, number of kids, and best times to meet. Then have a brainstorm discussion during your first meeting about what you want to do -- and then sign up those who make suggestions to run their own activities!
My spouse club starts the year off by having people sign up to organize one meeting during the year. Last month, we had a basket exchange where everyone brought a meal-in-a-basket to exchange for another via random drawing. Free give-aways attracts people!
* Figure out what portion of your spouse club should be social vs. informational. Sometimes, spouses just aren't going to be very social but they value the information chain. On the other, social events can really bond a unit. Also, ask you spouses how they want to receive information as you get it (phone tree, email, etc.) since some spouses really hate phone trees. Make sure you have a really good roster of email, home and work numbers.
* Given that approximately 75 percent of spouses work, be inclusive of them by holding your meetings at night and offering free babysitting. Options for babysitting include: hiring a teen, rotating responsibilities, or (best of all!) getting the guys together to babysit as a group while you hold your meeting.
* Coordinate messages with your spouse to prevent sabotage. There are always one or two whiny spouses in the group, but don't let them use you to get to command officials. If you can't help them or tell them any more, then stand your ground.
* Find out what other resources are available to you and use them. If you haven't taken a spouse leadership class, then do so. Marine Core LINKS and Navy COMPASS are among the terrific programs for spouse leaders. Have speakers from the Relief Societies, Key Volunteers, Chaplains or whatever come talk to your group about the base community as a whole. It gives your members a greater perspective on their lives and responsibilities to the community.
* Nothing unites a group like volunteering on a project.
* Encourage your group to split up into sub-groups like book clubs, sports leagues, kid playgroups, etc. It allows people to bond even more.
* Make it a rule that no one is introduced by their husband's rank. Our husbands' rank have no place in a spouse club since we do not wear it.
* Nothing breaks up spouse clubs like gossiping, so do your best to discourage it.
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