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Creating Fabulous Family Reunions

by Rose Hoene

As the long winter months settle in around us, it’s the perfect time of year to start making plans for activities next summer. Hosting a family reunion, whether it is a one day picnic in a local park, or a long weekend at one of the many great resorts in our area, can be highly rewarding and the highlight of next summer’s activities.
As a 25 year “veteran” of organizing successful family reunions, here are a few tips I’ve picked up along the way that I hope will inspire you to get started on creating your own fun family gatherings…

Don’t Do it Alone, “Delegate”
One of the first things that helped me be successful at planning my own family reunions was drawing on the ideas and strengths of my relatives by recruiting a few volunteers (but not more than two or three!) who were willing to be the “Planning Committee.” This process, in an of itself, can be a “mini” reunion where you can gather a variety of ideas and, often, get reacquainted with, family members you may have lost touch with. As the saying goes “many hands make
light work” and, having a small core group of people willing to work cooperatively together to get things done is truly essential for making your family event a success.

Start Planning Early
Many venues, including parks, campgrounds, hotels, and resorts, require reservations far in advance. In many instances, you will need to plan your reunion up to a year in advance. A year, or more, may seem far away, but you will be amazed at how fast time will fly and, before you know it, all your planning and organizing will pay off. Having enough advance notice is also important for many families
due to the distance they may need to travel, the money they may need to save to make the trip, and getting enough time off from work and other summer activities in order to attend. Having enough advance notice also gives you the opportunity to really promote your event by building up the momentum and anticipation that will keep everyone excited and interested in attending.

Location Matters
Take some time to think about what type of location would be best for your family gathering. Make sure that it is accessible and affordable as much as possible. Help people plan by providing them with a list of lodging possibilities in the area and setting up rides for people who may need them. Whether you decide to go to an amusement park or a remote camping area, make sure to consider who may want to attend and do all that you can to include everyone’s interests and needs into your plan.

Keep it Simple
Although creating lots of fun options for activities during a family reunion may be tempting, experience has taught me over the years that there’s a lot to be said for not over-planning to the point where your family members don’t have lots of time to “just be” together. If you are having a one day event, having a few interactive games and a barbeque may be just enough or, if you are planning a
longer event , having just one main activity each day, such as a fish fry in the afternoon or a banquet or dance at night, can work very well for most families. This allows ample time for everyone to meet and greet, reminisce, relax, and “hang out” together. This “free time” is often what will add new memories and spontaneous fun to your family reunion.

Odds & Ends
Here’s a short list of miscellaneous things (in no particular order) my own family has done at our reunions that you may also consider doing: Have a “50/50” raffle, hold an Art Show or Auction to raise money for the “Reunion Fund” for the future, have a “check in” table where people can get an agenda of activities, ask people to wear name tags (at least for a while!), wear per-assigned colors to identify various family branches, hire a photographer to take a Family photo, play “capture the flag” and have a balloon toss, hold a talent show, hire a DJ or local band for a dance, set up a “hospitality room” and hire a couple of well recommended “baby sitters” for little ones so parents can have a bit of fun on their own if they like, plant a memorial tree to honor those who have passed away and take time to honor them and welcome the new members of your family too, sing together, tell stories around a campfire, have a religious service (or make a list of local churches for people who may want to attend), create a family email list (or website) for future communication, take the kids fishing for a few hours and tell lots and lots of stories!