FORMING A STUDENT GROUP
by Rachael Lutz
As a graduating high school senior from Garrison Forest School in Garrison,
Maryland, I am presently working as an intern with The Vegetarian Resource
Group. Initially, my vegetarianism was linked solely to ecological concerns.
Over the next two years, ethical beliefs and nutritional reasons became part
of my reasoning. Having gained considerable knowledge on the many aspects
of vegetarianism, I am now comfortable discussing the beliefs and thought
patterns which have brought me to vegetarianism.
This year a few friends and I saw the need for an Environmental Awareness
Group at our school. Through careful planning and organization, a small group
of concerned students educated the entire Garrison community on environmental
issues. By the year’s end, practically all students, faculty, and friends
were practicing more environmentally aware lifestyles.
The following Guide to Starting a Vegetarian/Animal Rights/Environmental
Group in Schools is based upon my experience initiating, participating in,
and leading such groups at Garrison, and on my recent work with The Vegetarian
Resource Group. In addition to providing guidelines and suggestions for those
who wish to begin such groups in their high school/college, this guide explores
some problems and frustrations you may encounter and how to resolve them.
Please remember that this is only a blueprint of ideas and should be adapted
to your particular situation. Those who have never started a group will follow
the guide more closely, whereas those with previous experience may adopt
only a few suggestions. The more you incorporate your own ideas and creativity,
the more helpful the guide will be.
I. GETTING STARTED
Before appealing to others, write your own "statement of intent" or summary
of what you would like to do. Address such questions as:
What do you see as the group’s main message?
What would you like this group to accomplish?
What ideas do you have for the group? (activities, etc.)
*Although the answers to these questions will change as you get the input
of others, it is necessary to have an idea of what direction you’re
Find other students as interested in the issue as you are, and who you know
will be committed.
If your school is large, use a poll or petition to see who may be
interested. For example, for a vegetarian/animal rights group, send out a
poll asking questions like, "Do you eat beef?", "Do you know if the cosmetics
you buy are tested on animals?", or "Would you wear fur?". At the end, ask
"Would you be interested in starting a group at school that discusses these
issues? If so, please write your name on this sheet so I can contact you."
In addition to identifying possible group members, such a poll would introduce
thought-provoking ideas to the entire student body.
If possible, invite a speaker who will discuss the issues you wish
the group to address. Notify students beforehand of the nature of the talk.
Afterwards, announce that those students wishing to explore this topic further,
should write their names on the sign-up sheet as they leave so they can be
Contact students who seemed most interested and ask for their help in starting
From the students who seemed most enthusiastic and dependable, form a steering
committee (ideally 4-8 students). Duties of the steering committee:
Review and revise the original "statement of intent" using other members
of the group, allowing their input and ideas to combine with yours. At times
it may seem as if your initial goals are being lost. For example, your plan
may have been to begin a vegetarian group, whereas others want to focus on
environmental issues or animal rights. Remember, it is possible to incorporate
all three topics, discussing each fully and completing a variety of
From everyone’s ideas, identify the group’s main message and give
the group a name/identity. In Garrison’s Environmental Awareness Group,
for example, the message was, "The environment is ours to utilize, not to
abuse. Because humans have treated the earth irresponsibly in the past, we
are now faced with a multitude of environmental problems. If we wish to save
ourselves and our earth, it is our duty to repair the damage done and to
adopt environmentally conscious lifestyles."
Communicate this message to others. Some methods include:
All of the above are effective ways to introduce your group and its message
to the student body. Place a sign-up sheet in a convenient place for those
who wish to join/be active in the group.
II. ONCE THE GROUP HAS BEEN ESTABLISHED
Now that you have a steering committee and group members, the group is ready
to become an active, organized, and popular activity in the school. As the
attitude of group leaders usually affects the disposition of all members,
the communication, commitment, cooperation, and enthusiasm of the leaders
themselves determines that of all involve. The following actions are especially
helpful in instilling these qualities in group members:
Effective, organized meetings-
Make sure all members know "when, where, & why" of each meeting so they
arrive on time and prepared.
Before the meeting, create an agenda indicating what needs to be discussed
and resolved. If each meeting runs quickly and smoothly, you will not lose
members’ attention. Although it is important to welcome and to consider
new ideas, don’t let the meetings go so off the subject that the original
goals are left unattained.
A variety of fundraisers—to raise money for group activities and
Selling related books, t-shirts, and foods. For example vegetarian cookbooks,
foods, or t-shirts with environmental messages on them will raise money while
publicizing your group.
Raffles are highly profitable if the prize is worthwhile.
Garrison’s environmental group found that concert tickets to the Earth
Day Concert raffled amazingly well. A vegetarian or animal rights group might
consider raffling a "cruelty-free" basket filled with vegan foods and cosmetics.
Although some may complain, asking each member to sell a certain number of
tickets is a way to ensure that you will get back the same as or more than
what you paid for the raffle prize.
Keep organized account records of profits and expenses in order to maintain
a safe balance in funds.
Activities throughout the year—
field trips demonstrations, marches
filmstrips restaurant dinners
Filmstrips, outside speakers, and information on demonstrations concerning
vegetarian, environmental, and animal rights groups can often be obtained
free-of-charge from non-profit groups such as The Vegetarian Resource Group,
Greenpeace, and PETA. Such activities should be supported by the group and
open to the entire school community whenever possible to add to the group’s
success and popularity.
In addition, a monthly newsletter or "current events" bulletin board
can be used to advertise what your group and groups like it have done and
are going to do. Garrison, for example, designed several Earth Day 1990 bulletin
boards making them as eye-catching , easy to understand, and informative
III. OTHER SUGGESTIONS
Never let old projects remain half-finished.
Complete or form a solid plan for one idea before moving on to the next.
If you want the group to be well-respected throughout the school, make sure
each group project is done well before another is initiated.
Know when to abandon an old project. If no one is participating in or responding
to a certain activity, you may save the group time and money that could be
Delegate rather than dictate.
By rotating duties among group members rather than trying to do everything
yourself, you give others a chance to participate and to exercise responsibility.
For example, if the group prepares a monthly bulletin board, assign two or
three members to a particular month. The less often they have to do it, the
more likely they will do the job well when given the chance.
Communicate with a faculty advisor and/or a national organization.
A faculty advisor will act as a "link" between students and the
National organizations like The Vegetarian Resource Group, PETA and The Sierra
Club can supply information (speakers, handouts, magazines, etc.) and merchandise
to your group.
Know your audience. (especially if the ideas your group presents are seen
as controversial or "liberal")
Choose projects or issues that will appeal to or interest them. For example,
if you are speaking about vegetarianism to an animal rights group, begin
with and focus on ethical reasons while briefly introducing the other
Always welcome new members.
Be willing to teach them about the group, to listen to their ideas, and to
allow them to participate. The larger the group, the greater your influence
throughout the school.
Recognize and thank members for what they do.
Give proper credit to those who deserve it, through quick notes, public
announcements, or personal thank-you’s. Showing your appreciation not
only encourages them to help again but also urges others to participate.
Often, a few dedicated people end up doing the majority of the work. In order
to avoid this and to get everyone’s participation, pair the workers
with the non-workers so the job will get done. (Though beware not to burn
out the workers if this process is not working.)
When it is time to pass on leadership positions, make the transition
Throughout the year, keep a journal of what the group has done as far as
meetings, fundraisers, activities, etc.
Set up a meeting time in which the original organizers can talk with the
new group leaders. Consider the questions:
What aspects of the group were most successful?
What aspects of the group were least successful?
What problems did the group encounter?
How can such problems be avoided next year?
What goals do the new leaders have for next year?
As a group expands, it is vital not to lose sight of original goals and beliefs.
Once a strong base has been established and mobilized into action by its
leaders and members, its ideas will expand outward. The beliefs and practices
of a few aware students will spread throughout the community, eventually
making others as informed and involved as the students themselves.
An additional thought regarding online groups:
By Rachael Prokop
Facebook groups can be a good foundation for starting a high school or college Vegetarian Club. Somewhere amongst of all the useless in-joke groups that students join, there will likely be one that is titled something like “Vegetarians of *SU.” It will then be very easy to round up a few eager members for a new club by sending out a message to all the members of this online group.
For more information contact The Vegetarian Resource Group, Box 1463, Baltimore,
MD 21203. Call (301) 366-VEGE. You can access a wealth of information on
the website at www.vrg.org. They will be
glad to provide your group with handouts and materials.
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The Vegetarian Resource Group
PO Box 1463, Baltimore, MD 21203
(410) 366-8343 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
August 18, 2000
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