How to Start a Mom Group for Families with South Asian Connections

Mixed masala- group photo

Mixed masala- group photoWe introduced Brooklyn-based ‘Mixed Masala’ back in 2011 and shared how South Asian moms who had married outside the South Asian culture and moms married into South Asian families, were coming together with families on a regular basis to interact, meet and share cultural celebrations and culture with their kids as well as each other’s spouses.

This group is  all about exploring and promoting South Asian culture and traditions within the community, to help children understand and appreciate many aspects of our rich culture. Mixed Masala hosts cultural activities, organizes playgroups and classes, and has occasional Adults Nights Out.

For many of us moms living outside of South Asia, finding an inner South Asian culture of friends that are like-minded with similar attitudes toward the culture can be a challenge.  That challenge gets even bigger when your spouse is not South Asian. How do you decide how to expose your children to both cultures in a way that is meaningful? For Asha Cryan, that was one thing she was grappling with as a mother in a mixed marriage. Her husband immigrated from Ireland when he was 25 and she immigrated from India when she was just four.

Truly a one-of-a-kind group that many of you had asked about, ‘Mixed Masala’ has grown over the years.  Many of you had asked, how you might be able to start a group like this especially if you live far from family. We asked the founders of the group to share with us some insight and experience on how they got started and how they make it work.

Our interview is with Asha Cryan, one of the founders who had her fellow moms at Mixed Masala weigh in on our questions as well. The group shares their tips on making your ‘Mixed Masala’ group for moms wherever you may be.

 

How did you start the group: a) how many were involved, b) did each of you have responsibilities? c) who developed a mandate?

The group was started by because of another longstanding neighborhood list serve “Parkslope Parents”.  Susan Fox was the founder.   It is a yahoo group catering to families within the Parkslope. I posted a request asking if there were any of South Asian background, and part of a mixed-partnership, who would be interested in getting together in Parkslope Parents.  About 14-15 ladies responded to my post and the group began with a meet & greet potluck evening in our home. I believe it was May 2007.

As we were a small group, we were very much motivated in knowing each other, forming bonds, and getting the word out there.   I think we were more homogenous in terms of socio-economic make-up, so it was a natural fit for all of us to be together.  It was really a fantastic experience to actually meet the people you saw or gazed at in the playground.  About 3 – 4 ladies expressed interest in making this into something.  Right after the May 2007 meet and greet, we had a picnic and then a Diwali gathering.  Now the group is run more of a grass-roots effort and far more diverse. We continue to have a treasurer, myself, and designated owners of activities/events/Ning administration.  It is difficult to figure out what 200 people want and why they are all here!

Initially we had a formal governance structure, e.g. President, Vice President, Treasurer, Secretary, but we’ve moved away from that.  We do have a designated Treasurer, but all the others do their task-oriented portion to the group.  We do need someone who will be the designated leader for proper governance.  This isn’t so bad as we moved away from the formality, because it did encourage more grass-roots efforts…but we’re struggling here on getting the governance right.

Who developed the mandate?  Probably me, Simmi Degnemark, Radha, Sipi Bhandari and Deepa Chand.    Simmi, Radha and I are still active in the group.  The other two are  now dormant members.  The word did spread quickly and we were very active in getting it out there and others found there way to this group.

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mixedmasalabrooklyn.blogspot.ca

How did you keep members motivated?  

We kept the group motivated and expanding by initially having annual Diwali and Picnic, then adding on a belated Spring Holi, and then a Ganesh Chaturthi.  From there, we formed classes for dancing, Hindi, Bal Vihar…some stuck and some didn’t.  The Bal Vihar program has done really well.  The classes seem to a have limited shelf-life, but when they are around they are thriving.

Was there an initial financial investment involved or was it just word of mouth, volunteers, contribution?

We initially did ask for donations to help us have some seed money to run events.  Many of early families were   generous with their time and money. Whereas, I am not sure with broader bigger group. We have enough in our account to fund our annual Ning fee.  We differ in our perspectives on charging a membership fee right now.  As we have money in our savings account, it feels like a mute point.  The money was accumulated by residual extras from the events (Diwali/Holi) and also we ran 2-3 donation campaigns early on.  I personally have lost money on this group, but I figure it is like any small business, though I have started to limit my losses the past few years. When we run Holi and Diwali, we do our best to ensure we cover all the costs.  The biggest risk is for those who pay up front and the event gets cancelled etc – that’s the reason for a savings fund.  Money is always a hot button issue.

How do you decide what kind of events/meetings you have and how often?

We have 4 on the schedule – Holi, Picnic, Ganesh Chaturthi and Diwali.  We have welcomed others to do more. I believe there are now mini-groups that do their own thing.  Also the ones interested more in the education – also have their own groups.  There were Hindi classes (worked terrifically for a few years but now are dormant), Indian dance classes – I think there is one now geared towards children ages under 10, and currently a very successful Bal Vihar (religious) classes.  I am thrilled that the group has been able to go in this direction as well as parties, picnics, group gathering for local events, and supporting our members’ small businesses or hobbies (fashion, food, yoga, jewelry).  One of my goals in 2014 to figure out how we can advertise our members’ businesses with more clarity in our NING platform.  We actually have a volunteer Communications Coordinator who is enthused about this role, so will discuss with her.

Things that haven’t worked are a Couples Night Out and Girls Night Out.  Couples Night Out is dead.  We are trying to resurrect GNO.  We recently had a Girls Night Out on my rooftop..  It was fantastic evening with feedback that ladies prefer informal, in-home potluck GNOs relative to bars or restaurants.  The ability to walk and mingle around seems to be very important.  We are reinstating these every 3-months and will seek volunteers to open up their homes.  Relative to the rest of the world, most of us in Brooklyn live in cramped quarters, so it is a big ask.  The attendance runs to be 10-20 ladies.

MM photo2How do you deal with members who may be far away? 

We don’t.  There’s the Ning Site we use.  You need an invitation from a member to join, but afterwards it is a self-exit site.  I believe we may a member as far away as Boston, but most are local to the NY area.  It is still a  Northwest Brooklyn group covering Parkslope, Carroll Gardens, Clinton Hill, Fort Greene, Sunset Park, Victorian Flatbush, and some from lower Manhattan

How many different cultures are represented in your group?  

We are very multi-cultural and diverse but all with a South Asian connection.  We have single moms, married, lesbian, bi-racial couples, families with adopted South Asian children, Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Jains, Aethists or let’s say a reflection of India itself – a diaspora.

 

Today what are some of the highlights of your group accomplishments and how many are in the group now?

The fact we’ve survived for 7 years despite some difficult times and I feel we are stronger than ever.  People still want to join, and it is exciting to see new faces.   We have new volunteers helping out now, so it’s good that people join and a subset want to become active like our newly found communications director.  Those with older children, such as myself, are not that active from a cultural sense but like the socializing.  Oh one recent milestone was one our older kids (who has an adopted Indian brother) who is now a college student became a Mixed Masala member on her own…our kids are growing up and we’re watching it. How great is that!

Lastly, is there some way you can all give us a kind of how-to on starting a group, tools you used? or documents you developed? online ideas to share your meeting goals? 

The most important resource is another broader family-oriented list serve which gives you access and freedom to post the question I did.
We’ve used yahoo groups and also Ning.   We’re currently on the Ning platform which is visually appealing, but a bit difficult to get messages directly out to the members.  The Yahoo groups are not as nice but provide a better form of message delivery.  We weighted the pros/cons and now have committed to Ning.
Important tools are having 1) another group to broadcast and get the message out there (continuously out there)  and 2) a good social media sight which is secure.  Security is important since members trust that we don’t share their information publicly 3) a handful of people with a true passion for the survival and enhancement of the group  4) being able to go with the evolutionary flow of the group as it develops into something bigger.
For more information on Mixed Masala you can follow them on their blog at: mixedmasalabrooklyn.blogspot.com and on twitter at: @mixedmasala


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