When running a walking group, questions are likely to abound! The following guide may help you field some of the commonly asked questions participants may have about your walking group.
Can I bring friends or family on the walk with me? What about support people?
Participants may be interested in bringing other people along on a walk. Although friends and family are a fantastic support, their presence may compromise the privacy of other participants: other group members may be concerned about “outsiders” seeing them as mental health service recipients. Furthermore, your organization’s liability policy may not permit group nonmembers to join walks.
Formalized supports, such as case managers, counselors, or peer workers, are typically bound by a confidentiality policy, and their presence may have less of an impact on other group members. It is always a good idea to check with group members before permitting a nonmember on a walk.
Can I bring my dog along?
Animals bring joy and energy to groups. However, certain group members may be uncomfortable around dogs or have an allergy. Again, it is best to check with group members before permitting pets on walks.
Can I smoke during the walk?
Some organizations may have a policy that governs smoking while on organization-sanctioned outings. Be sure to comply with the rules of your organization. If your organization does not have rules about smoking, this can be decided upon with input from group members. Participants who smoke may be open to challenging themselves not to smoke during walks. If not, encourage participants to consider the impact they have on other group members when they smoke, and to be considerate. Discuss how to dispose of cigarettes properly. Some conservation areas and other outdoor public spaces are beginning to ban smoking altogether, so be sure you are informed before you walk.
What if I can’t make it to a walk?
Encourage participants to call the group leader if they are unable to make it. This fosters a sense of accountability on behalf of the participants, and also lets them know they are valued group members whose presence is expected. Encourage participants to listen to their bodies if they are feeling unwell and not up to attending, but be sure to let them know they were missed!
Will the group walk ever be canceled? How will I be notified?
At times, you may need to cancel the walk because of extreme weather or facilitator illness. Discuss with the group under what circumstances the walk will need to be canceled, and at what point this will be decided. Be sure you have a way to get in touch with all participants. Encourage participants to use their judgment about attending group in challenging weather, and to respect their limits.
Can I talk on my cellphone or listen to my headphones while on a walk?
Our society is becoming increasingly tied to technology; participants may therefore be in the habit of chatting on a cellphone or listening to headphones while out walking. Although either may be a useful coping strategy for the individual, encourage participants to see themselves as part of the group and contributors to the group’s experience of others. Limiting cellphone and headphone usage can help to increase group cohesion and facilitate social connections among participants. Encourage group members to use their judgment and try to limit the use of technology to times when it is urgent or otherwise necessary for them to do so.
Participants are starting to carpool together to get to group, and I am concerned about accident liability.
Carpooling can be practical and help build community. However, be sure to let participants know that it is their choice to give or receive a lift, and that it is possible to politely decline if they feel uncomfortable. Remind group members that they are responsible for their own safety on the way to and from the group walk.