On Wednesday, May 6, the Amputee Coalition hosted its first videoconference with 30 Support Group Leaders from all across the country. Replacing their every-other-month phone call check-in, the Coalition moved to video platform Zoom so that these volunteer leaders could have a stronger connection to one another and see each others’ faces —something we know that can help combat feelings of isolation and loneliness. This was the first time Support Group Leaders have gotten together in this way since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On these calls, Amputee Coalition staff members update Support Group Leaders on the organization’s activities and new resource offerings. Moving it to video made it more collaborative and gave the call a whole new level of connectedness and interaction. Rather than Coalition staff leading the entire call, the Support Group Leaders stepped in to run discussions that were lively, helpful, and provided a whole new level of knowledge sharing and support.
“It was so heart warming and gave me so much energy to hear them encouraging and supporting each other,” said Susan Tipton, Amputee Coalition Peer Support Coordinator. “For so many of them, this was the first time they could put a face with a name, and they were so eager to help find new ways they could connect with their communities and pull more people together.”
These Support Group Leaders are volunteers and, in our community, are in their 30s all the way up into their 80s. In many cases, they are balancing a full-time or part-time job, family obligations, social activities, and other priorities alongside their commitment to serving people with limb loss and limb difference. They saw a need in the community and wanted to fill it. Support Group Leaders don’t want anyone living with limb loss or limb difference going through their experience alone.
On the call Wednesday night, Support Group Leaders shared different ways of managing their outreach and group sessions now that they can no longer meet in person. Some have moved to telephone meetings or phone-tree check-ins on group members, and others are using video technology like Zoom and other platforms. Some have canceled the group sessions and, instead, are making individual calls to each member regularly to check in and offer support. Now that they’re not tied to geography, some are even reaching out to former members who’ve moved and inviting them to re-join if they haven’t found support in their new city or town.
And, Support Groups are making their meetings about more than just talking about living with limb loss and limb difference. Some are playing games like bingo, others are doing video karaoke with one other, and others are developing other activities they can do to strengthen their bond and keep group members interested and engaged. Most groups that used to meet monthly in person have now increased their meeting frequency and are getting together weekly. These Support Group Leaders are concerned about people with limb loss and limb difference not having access to support and resources, and are doing everything they can to make these online meetings interesting and compelling so that people feel welcome and will continue to stay in touch. The value of connection and community is proving important for all of our support group leaders even if meeting formats are shifting to keep people engaged.
“When the pandemic hit the U.S. and state stay-at-home mandates began, we were worried about the health and well being of people living with limb loss and limb difference,” said Amputee Coalition President and CEO Mary Richards. “While we remain concerned, we are also activated. The Coalition is seeking new and creative ways to stay connected and provide support. We’ve moved programs online and we’ll continue working to address social isolation, which is consistently a top concern for our community members. And, our Support Group Leaders are helping to lead the way across the country. We applaud Support Group Leaders and volunteers who are finding new ways to connect, help others, and protect against isolation and loneliness. We are excited that all levels of our team – volunteer leaders, support group members, and Coalition staff – are sharing ideas and information to help our community thrive in these challenging times. Stay tuned for news about how we’ll be offering other ways to be connected with people in our community,” she added.
The Amputee Coalition has more than 400 support groups in its network. While these support groups may not be officially affiliated with the Coalition, we are continuing to work on a support group certification program that would further enhance our affiliation. Our network of support groups are also able to use Amputee Coalition materials and resources for people living with limb loss and limb difference.
You can find a support group near you by using our Support Group Locator.
You can learn more about becoming a Support Group Leader on our website.
If you need support or want to learn more about how you can volunteer in the community, check out our Peer Support Resources.
If you need to talk to someone or need support or information about living with limb loss or limb difference, please call the National Limb Loss Resource Center at 888-267-5669 ext. 1, or fill out this contact form so an information specialist can help you.