|by Edith Wagner|
To feel that everything is under control on reunion day, you must do lots of visualizing ahead of time. Imagine just what each venue will look like and how each event will work. This is necessary whether your group is large or small or your reunion is one day or many. This also lets you plan for when things don't go perfectly, reducing your harried reaction to glitches or, God forbid, disasters.
Room set-up is a good example of something you can imagine and plan beforehand. If your reunion facility is a hotel, resort, ranch or cruise ship, you will have staff to rely on. Work with them, as a team, to assure your details. Don't hesitate to draw pictures if it clarifies your thoughts.
Leave nothing to chance. Expect nothing to be done unless you do it, delegate it or know who has taken responsibility to make sure it's done. For example, do not leave a registration table to chance. Make sure it is reserved for you and is set up according to your instructions. It is a blessing to arrive in a room that has been properly set up, outfitted and arranged so you can concentrate on more important things.
Don't Forget a Survival Kit
Being a reunion organizer means having your eye on every possible detail. If you do well with the obvious ones, the surprises should be small. Plan to wear a small knapsack throughout your reunion. It's important to have your hands free when a scraped knee requires a bandage (pull it from your knapsack), when someone needs a pencil (pull it from your knapsack), when someone is moaning about a headache and needs an aspirin (pull it from your knapsack) ... you get the idea!
Your survival kit can be personalized for your particular needs but should include some (light weight) basics: Band-Aids, disinfectant, an ace bandage, pencil/pen, aspirin, sunscreen, scissors, an envelope containing safety pins, paper clips, needle and a little bit of white and black thread, small rolls of masking and adhesive tape and a Swiss Army knife. You should also have a well-stocked first aid kit and know where it is located. Make this an occasion to buy yourself a new knapsack match it to your reunion t-shirt!
Registration is an important step for all reunions because it lets you know who has arrived and is ready to the enjoy the reunion. If yours is a reunion that had many ticket and entertainment choices, have schedules, assignments, tickets and programs ready at registration.
Reunion registration depends greatly on the size of your group. If you, like Phyllis Naumann, Seideman Family Reunion organizer, are expecting between four and six hundred people, you'd better organize the registration table very carefully. Phyllis works with several family volunteers who check everyone in and type numbered, personalized name tags. Nearby, family genealogy books, t-shirts and pictures are for sale.
Registration is a perfect place to use your laptop computer. Computers keep records of reservations and registrations accurate, simple, in order and allow you to make changes on the spot. If you can also bring a printer, you've created the luxury of having everyone proofread the information you keep about them. Have them make corrections on paper, but don't worry about making changes in your database until later.
Programs Are Not Pretentious
Just like at the old ball game: you can't tell the players without a program. The size and length of your reunion dictates how you let everyone know your schedule. For a single-day event or reunion in close, private quarters, a bulletin board posted with schedules might suffice. The bulletin could also include chore/work assignments (cooking, cleanup, child care). Large reunions, on the other hand, may require specially printed programs. With many schedules to coordinate this may help assure that everyone knows when their favorite activities will occur. You'd not want to imagine Uncle Welton missing the bus to the golf course.
Most programs must be assembled and printed in advance, so be sure to confirm details early enough. A good and accurate program can be a great helper in making your reunion a success. It also makes an excellent souvenir. Save it in the reunion scrapbook as the introduction to that year's reunion.
The Reunion Scrapbook
A reunion scrapbook is usually devoted to pictorial records, a report and guest comments from each gathering. Some reunions are recorded by a large sometimes VERY large family photo. If yours is like most families, kazillions of snapshots, slides and video tapes afford you great material to assemble exciting scrapbooks.
Include much detail in your reunion rotogravure. Expect reactions of delight from family members recalling those good times as they pore over the books. Kids will particularly revel in seeing beloved relatives as children enjoying fun, good times and family just as they.
Make sure everyone's smiling when they get where they need to go. Make it clear. Lead the way with lots of signage. What on earth is signage? They are the arrows that point to reunion fun and it helps when the arrows point in the right direction. If you're coming to the family farm, place signs in strategic locations on the highway so it can be found easily. An increasingly common beacon of reunion fun appears on hotel marquees: WELCOME! WAGNER FAMILY REUNION. If you're booked in a facility that has a marquee, be sure to ask to have your family's name "in lights!"
Provide signs to explain things to your members arrows pointing the way, directions, instructions, schedules. If you're at home or have run of a facility or a wing or section, post signs. Consider a banner, which can be a permanent reunion fixture. Your choice of materials from a hand-drawn or computer-generated paper banner to cloth and plastic dictates how long a banner might last. If you don't date your banner it'll be timeless and can hang for generations. For professionally produced signs, check the Yellow Pages.
Name tags, buttons, t-shirts there are lots of ways to encourage group and individual identification. Name tags are important at large reunions and can be designed to symbolize many things other than just names. Different colors or designs can distinguish branches and easily identify relationships. Each branch chooses a different color and generations can often be guessed by the age of the wearer.
Gracing McLeod Family Reunions is a brightly-colored tree with different shapes of leaves for each branch and different colors for each generation. The same shape and color name tags worn by reunion members match their counterparts on the tree. Using different colored t-shirts for descendants of branches or individual families also helps make an exciting family portrait at reunions.
Give responsible teenagers a chance to be in charge of younger cousins. Teenage cousins who may not know one another can hang out and become better acquainted. They'd probably rather be playing with the little ones than being around adults anyway. However, don't expect teenagers to be responsible without some reward. Recognition at a reunion event is okay but a bit of cash never hurts. If appropriate, ask parents and grandparents of the little ones to contribute to a cash pool to be divided among teenagers.If you know you're going to ask teenagers to take care of little kids, why not ask them ahead of time so they too can be prepared? Some might even want to devise or assemble games for the little ones; bring books to read, board games to play or make a scavenger or treasure hunt.
Volunteers Make the Reunion
Don't let this be a surprise: you can't be everywhere at once on reunion day(s). However, volunteers can represent you everywhere at once! Hopefully, you've used volunteers throughout the planning and organizing process but on reunion day add more helpers with very specific assignments and responsibilities. There are volunteer opportunities apropos for all age groups and abilities from kids to seniors.
Ask revered senior family members to be greeters, hosts, hostesses who can establish their place of honor as members arrive. Enlist willing teenagers to help out with games for the littler family members as described above. Mix generations for meal preparation, including shopping and clean up and urge persons who have no reunion responsibility to help with clean up. Charge adult sports fans with chaperoning kids of all ages to a sporting event - major league events are always a special treat. Ask anyone with special skills or talents to spend time with others who are interested in learning more; music, art, photography, fishing, dying arts whittling, caning, weaving, horse shoeing. Enlist someone who loves to drive to make sure members who can't, are getting where they want/need to go.Delegate special jobs to special talents! The master/mistress of ceremonies and auctioneers need to have a special stage presence while someone who loves to bake would rather just hear that his/her offering is appreciated. Who will be the song leader? Who will ensure that beach olympics stays on schedule? The person who agrees to be the chairperson for a bus trip (tour, shopping, gaming, sporting event) must be firm enough to herd everyone back onto the busses on time to stay on schedule. Honor special members young and old by asking them (ahead of time, please) to offer grace or a blessing at meals when everyone is together.
Make Rewards a Special Event
Honor all volunteers individually, if at all possible. If yours is a multi-day reunion, it might be wise to recognize volunteers each day. Recognition is one of the easiest and simplest ways of generating growth and one of the least expensive ways of assuring more of the same. And, most importantly, the volunteers look forward to it and are willing to do more because of it. Recognition is a great way to solicit more volunteers.
About the Author
Edith Wagner is the editor of Reunions magazine, author of Reunions Workbook and Catalog and The Family Reunion Sourcebook (Lowell House, Los Angeles) in bookstores now. She collects material for this column and Reunions magazine from family reunions and invites you to share your reunion ideas, concerns or questions. You can e-mail Wagner at email@example.com or visit the Reunions magazine Web site.