Monday, August 18, 2014

Retreat planning with The MU Crew, Mpowerment Dayton Ohio

Ben T. Adams - coordinator of The Mu Crew Mpowerment Dayton OH kept a running blog from February through May on how to plan for and host a successful weekend retreat. 

Ben's powerpoint presentation "the Retreat" is available here. 

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The Mu Crew is a Project of AIDS Resource Center Ohio 
Comments or questions about The Mpowerment Project?  Let us know!

Ben T. Adams (in green).

February 10, 2014 
So you've always wanted to host an Mpowerment Retreat but you've never been quite sure where to start. Well look no further. I've organized and hosted 3 successful retreats with The Mu Crew in Dayton, Ohio and I'm just getting started on planning my 4th. Each week (Or so... lol) I'll be making a post and sharing some documents we use to host and plan our retreat. If you have questions, I'm more than happy to answer them!
This week I'm uploading our Retreat Team Application. While we as coordinators are tasked with bring things to fruition, an event of this scale requires a strong member supported team to be a success. Each year our Retreat Team is made up of around 20 individuals who lay the groundwork and help build buzz to make our Retreats successful. Give the Application a look over. In order to be on our Retreat Team we do require that applicant's have attended a previous retreat, but if you're just starting out you can certainly waive that requirement.
You may still be wondering, why the heck would I want to have a retreat? That looks like a ton of work. Well. It is. However, here is what we got out of our last Retreat, in terms of grant objectives:

54 individuals educated on safer-sex practices
20 individuals completed M-Groups
35 MSM HIV tests performed
54 ecstatic voices eager to share their experiences with the community.
Ben A.

February 20, 2014
Back again with another Retreat update! Last post I put up a copy of our Team Member application, but when I looked back at it I realized it would probably be helpful to pull back and give you the big picture view of everything that goes into planning. Attached is a simple timeline outlining what happens when.* I'll be posting about each of those markers as they come up and adding in detail and a file or two for you to look at.
While we now have our Retreat in May, back many moons ago (2007) when we started up we actually did two Retreats in one year! One in April and a second in September. The group was on a real high from the first event and just couldn't wait a year to get back to The Retreat. That second Retreat was also successful for the group but as you might guess burnout hit like a brick afterwards. The group discussed the second Retreat after the fact and from that point on decided it should just be an annual event in May.
May was selected because at least in Ohio, by May everyone is stir-crazy and ready to be outside and in the sunshine. May also allowed us to use the Retreat as a great springboard for Pride season, giving people the information on all of our Pride activities and planting seeds in their minds to volunteer with our group and march in the upcoming Parades with us!
Until next time...
Ben A.

Ben's powerpoint presentation "the Retreat" is available here. 

Retreat volunteers apply by application
February 25, 2014
Well, Monday didn't happen but luckily a fellow coordinator messaged me some questions that spurred me to create this post! We may love camping, fun, meeting new people, and of course hitting grant objectives, but none of that matters if something costs so much that it's not feasible to implement.
That being said attached you'll find the official budget for last year's Retreat VIII*. As you can see The Mu Crew puts on the retreat for a total cost of less than $3,500.00. That's right. We house, feed 6 meals to, and give t-shirts and other incentives to 50-70 people for less than $3,500.00. Feel free to look the document over for all the details and by all means post questions here if you have them.
Online registration is what folks pay to attend out of their own pockets. Greater Columbus Mpowerment Center (GCMC) and Toledo Mpowerment represent payments from those groups for their members. CAPS surveys represent cash from our good friends at CAPS for participating in their study. Cash is from individuals who couldn't do the online payment. and lastly Moo Money is our in-house incentive money that members earn at Mu Crew volunteer events and can redeem at Mu Crew functions.
You may also notice our donor list. That list is comprised of individuals who are current/past Mu Crew members who make an out of pocket donation to give back to the program that gave to them. They are all literally my angels and without their support we would without question have to do additional private fundraising to make this event happen.
We've always been a 'copper' funded program but with a little relationship building and a strong desire for success it's amazing what's achievable.
Ben Adams

RELATED:  The Mpowerment Project: The Mu Crew Core Group structure 

Ben's powerpoint presentation "the Retreat" is available here. 

February 25, 2014 
Double Post Tuesday!!! 
As I mentioned, I received a few questions so here's the answer for number two which was regarding a schedule/agenda.
Participate Don't Anticipate!
The ideal life: good friendships.
That is the mantra we've used for the last eight retreats and we'll be using it again for The Retreat IX. It speaks to the core of what the weekend is: a break from the other stressors of life.
Fact of life: Many people hate being told what to do. With that in mind, participants are informed each Friday night at the Welcome ceremony that the Retreat is 100% optional. No one has to do anything they don't want to do. If you want to take a nap during the breakout sessions you can take a nap. Not a fan of the night hike? Then stay back at the lodge and play games instead. If you're not interested or grumpy your presence will only hinder the experience of everyone else. Period.

That being said, we also encourage everyone to participate as much as they possibly can and to take part in activities even when it might push them outside of their comfort zone. Anyone who has been on a Mu Crew retreat can tell you that by Sunday they are energized, excited, and a little tired. But, they also usually say they wouldn't go back and change a thing.
I'll be diving into specific schedule items over the course of the next two months, but go ahead and give it a look over. If I end up leaving out any posts and you want to know more just message me and I'll be happy to fill in the details.
Ben Adams
Ps. The blue notes are for the retreat staff just to help facilitate things and give reminders. They are not included on the participant schedule/name badge.

Taking care of our community.

March 13, 2014
How does the time fly by so quickly!!!!
Planning for The Retreat IX is in full swing and I'm overdue for a post. Our Team Application process closed out on the 21st of February and then we began the process of pouring over those applications to construct the strongest retreat team possible. For the Mu Crew's Retreats I enlist the help of a long time Retreat Co-coordinator to serve as a second set of eyes when looking over the applications that we receive.
This year we had 23 people submit Team applications and it is always a juggling act to make sure we are able to put everyone on the team. We always find a role for everyone, this helps build in a base of core retreat participants and increases the number of people who are out there telling their friends about our event. After several hours on a conference call the "Ideal" team list was constructed and later in the week I started sending out welcome letters and job descriptions to all 23 individuals.
We publish the date that applicants will hear back from us by on the application (This year it was the 14th of March; Yes I was early!) and then give them one week from that date to look over a job description for the position and decide if they're willing to make the commitment to be a member of the team. Once all of the potential team members have responded yay or nay (the nays are rare) we then send out a Team welcome email to everyone letting them all see who else is on the retreat team.
If you remember in order to be a Retreat Team Member you must have previously attended a Retreat with us. We find this allows people to gain a healthy feel for the weekend before tossing them in on leadership team. This year we have Retreat IX team members coming from Dayton, OH, Toledo, OH, Columbus, OH, Cincinnati, OH, Bloomington, IN, and Raliegh/Durham, NC. This diversity does several great things for us. One, it gets buy in and excitement from numerous projects, who then tend to send additional members for the weekend. And two, it really does make the Retreat a unique social experience for the guys where they literally get to meet people from all over the country.
Another Exciting note is that this week we received word that Charles and core group members from Haven Mpowerment in Springfield MO will be attending the Retreat this year for the first time!
I'll leave you with two files: one of the general welcome email we send to our HoH's and a second containing the HoH job description*. There are about a dozen sets of these letters we use for each of the roles on the Retreat.
Cheers until next time!
And if you'd like to join us this year on the Retreat IX please let me know! We'd love to have more groups join in on the experience and I'm happy to do whatever I can to help you get here!

Q and A: 
John H:  This is a great idea. Charles A. and Matthew G coordinators of Haven Mpowerment Project and MLAN Columbia, MO - asked their agencies to cover the registration costs of their participants to attend the RETREAT in Dayton - ! #MpowermentUnited
Charles A: Haven also got the transportation cost covered as well  #SCORE
Charles A:  Best advice: make a strong case, get your agency and supervisor(s) familiar with Mpowerment's evidence based HIV prevention program. As well as details about the Retreat. I let my agency know that our core group are dedicated volunteers that are helping with our community HIV prevention goals in a way that is relevant and innovative. This will help with volunteer/leadership development, getting more buy-in within the young gay/bi men community...and a cost effective staff development. 
It's $50 for a weekend with food, lodging, a shirt, plus transportation. (Thats CHEAP) 
Have a BUDGET ready to give. Be assertive and confident. For us to send 6 dedicated volunteers plus staff to a HIV prevention event for less than $1,000 is a value.  Hope that helps!

Ben's powerpoint presentation "the Retreat" is available here. 

March 31, 2014
Hello Hello Hello!
The Team is built and registration is live!
The last time we spoke we were in the process of notifying the Retreat team members of their job offers. Out of 25 offers made, 24 were accepted which was fantastic! The one spot that wasn't accepted was quickly filled with one of our other team members.
The next step is registration, both for the team and the attendees. An important note to make is that the Retreat Team still pays the same $50 everyone else does to attend the Retreat. They are volunteering there time with no monetary benefit in return. They all just want to help people and be a part of an amazing experience. Did I mention I am continually overwhelmed by the level of response and commitment we receive from our Retreat Team?
Here is our registration link if you want to see what it looks like and what information we collect from attendees: Editors note: this link has since expired.
Creating social alternatives.
Each year we pick a theme to represent the Retreat, get people excited, and have a bit of fun 
Truth be told it's mostly unnecessary, but it's a simple addition that lends itself nicely to decorating, creating activities, and themeing skits to.
This year for The Retreat IX we've settled on Greek Gods and Goddesses. Check out these pictures of our core group guys building the family Mailboxes that the Retreat attendees will pass and receive notes in throughout the course of the weekend.
May 23rd can't get here fast enough!

April 1, 2014 

Hey All,
I realized I missed a chance to share our "lessons learned" the other day when I posted the registration for this year's Retreat. We used to do paper registration for our Retreats. See the last one we used, attached to this post*. It was convenient for guys to fill them out at meetings, socials, anywhere really. But handling $3,000+ cash became a huge headache.
Managing to keep track of that much money in cash and check form was a hassle for me and for our agency's finance department. The bigger headache came when guys would say "Here's my registration and $20.00...I'll get you more next week". This led to me tracking money for 60+ people and that money came in the time; meetings, socials, non-work social functions, etc.
By having registration 100% electronic there's no need for me to get the guys a form and they can register almost anytime and anyplace where they have internet access. It allowed us to easily dump the participant info into excel which minimized data entry on my part (A huge plus!). I can honestly say it saves me 10 hours+ of work each year.
Now I also realize that not everyone has a credit or debit card (But lets face it 95%+ of people do). And for those folks we keep it nice and simple. They bring their money to an event and we register them in on the computer using a promo code that doesn't require payment so we can still capture their information with everyone else's.
Anywho, this update popped into my head this morning in the shower and I thought it was worth adding to this ongoing discussion.

Ben's powerpoint presentation "the Retreat" is available here. 

April 16, 2014
Hello Again!
On this Retreat update I wanted to talk about Retreat team roles that has one of the largest impacts each year. The Speaker.
The Speaker was one of the first roles created when the Retreat was initially developed 8 years ago. The idea was that multiple people would share a part of their own personal story with everyone who attended the Retreat. The topics covered would vary, but the content would be deeply personal in nature, exposing a part of the Speaker's self that the group knew little about.
Over the years we've had stories that have run the gamut. We've heard stories of great relationships and of abusive ones, tales of great coming out stories and of horrible ones. Eating disorders, death, loss, failed marriages, Grindr hookups, you name it someone's talked about it. While the tone of these speeches can be quite serious the intent is to have them be relatable. We have all experienced things in our lives that have formed us. The Speakers bring those topics to the forefront so that attendees of the Retreat can know that they are not alone, and to give them perspective.
After the Speaker is done talking (20 minutes on average) they play a song for the group that speaks to them and their talk (Played off a CD). The song lends a few minutes for both the speaker to re-group and the attendees to gather their thoughts. Then a Q&A takes place for as long as the questions keep coming, so that people can delve deeper into the story and share their own personal experiences if they choose to.
Important Note: Always do a run through with your speakers. Last evening myself, my co-coordinator for the Retreat, and two past speakers sat and listened to this year's speakers share their stories. This allows the speakers a trial run through and gives the listeners the opportunity to offer constructive feedback that can make the speeches even better.
Well. That's all for this time. Registration is moving right along, if you'd like to join us feel free to register.

Q and A:
Q:  John H:  I'm glad you brought up a few of the 'behind the scenes' details on how to successfully bring speakers to The Mu Crew RETREAT. Can you give a few examples of the type of feedback your panel might give to a RETREAT speaker? Also, is it a multi-media experience ... is powerpoint used?
A:  Ben T. Adams:  Usually the feedback focuses on clarifying unclear points/thoughts, streamlining the speech. Speakers know all the details of their story but sometimes they'll leave important connections out when giving their speech. Our job as the review panel is to let them know if they lose us at any point and then help them connect the dots so it doesn't happen in the final delivery. With a 20 minute time frame, we also sometimes make suggestions on what can be left on the cutting room floor. That material is usually stand-alone details or back-story that doesn't really add anything spectacular to the overall final product. No multimedia aside from the music played at the end of the song. we have a set of candles burning during the talk and lower the lights so that all eyes are only on the speaker.

Total freedom to be oneself.

April 29, 2014
I'm late, I'm late, for a very important...Part of the Retreat IX!!!!
It seems like our lives are ruled by a schedule. While the Retreat is meant to be a break from the stress of everyday life, we also quickly discovered that without a schedule the weekend could quickly dissolve into sheer and utter chaos.
So in their wisdom our Retreat forefathers planned a schedule for the weekend. Over the years that schedule has shifted one way, then another. It's been added to, subtracted from, and had bits and pieces moved here and there depending on the feedback we receive and how things flow from year to year.
Attached you can view the official Retreat IX schedule (Including Retreat Team notes on things they should be doing during certain activities). While it might look intimidating, their is some free time built in and we do really try to make sure that people have breathing room.
Friends make you laugh. (think, play, give).
It is important to note that the entire schedule is voluntary. We encourage everyone to participate in every activity because we truly feel that the best way to get the most out of the retreat is to be present for the whole event. That being said we realize that people often move at their own pace and sometimes just need a break. For that reason we tell everyone from the get go that the weekend is 100% optional. If they want to attend everything awesome. If they want to sleep all weekend, they're welcome to do that too.
We may encourage them a bit to try to make the most of the weekend, but we also learned long ago that is someone really doesn't want to participate, they are very likely going to bring down the mood of the whole group if they are forced/coerced to.
Feel free to let me know if you have any questions about things on the schedule!
-Ben A.
The Retreat IX
3:30-4:30         Retreat Team Set Up/Decorate           Encourage Testing     
4:30-7:00         Registration/Unpacking                       Make sure people feel welcome
7:00-7:30         Welcoming Ceremony                         Be energetic!!!!!           
7:30-8:00         Meet your Family                                
8:00-9:15         Group Activity - Speed Meeting
9:15-9:45         Speaker 1                                           
9:45-11:00       Free Time/Snacks
11:00               Night Hike                                            No flashlight or cell phones
Midnight           Lights Out at cabins                                                                                                                 
8:30-9:00         Breakfast                                           
9:00-10:00       Group Activity – Step into the Circle   HoHs - Make sure your family is up!  
10:00-10:30     Family Time                                          Debrief on first speaker
10:30-11:30     Breakout Session 1
11:30-12:00     Lunch 
12:00-12:45     M-Group                     
1:00-3:00         Family Activities                                  Take lots of Pictures!
3:00-3:45         Speaker 2                                                       
3:45-4:45         Breakout Session 2                                                    
4:45-5:15         Free Time                                            Work on SNL skit
5:15-6:00         Family Dinner                                      Clap Your Hands!!!!!
6:00-6:45         Speaker 3                                           
6:45-7:30         1 on 1 Walk
7:30-8:00         Free Time/SNL Prep
8:00-10:00       SNL                                                     Wow us!
10:00-10:30     Free Time
10:30-11:30     Wish Log Ceremony                           Be there for people after they share 
11:30               Snack/Fire/Free
Midnight           Lights Out at cabins

8:30-9:00         Breakfast                                           
9:00-9:30         Family Time                                         
9:30-10:00       Pack/Clean-up                         Make sure everyone is helping          
10:00-11:30     Final Large Group                    Feedback Survey and Retreat VII Interests
11:30-12:00     Family Pictures                        Large Group and Each Family Individually
12:00-12:45     Lunch and Lodge Clean Up    
12:45               Young’s Dairy
The Retreat IX  schedule is given to you for your reference; all sessions are optional.
In order to enhance your overall Retreat V experience, we encourage you to participate in each event and refrain from anticipating later events!  

As we like to say: Participate, Don’t Anticipate!

April 29, 2014 
Hello, Hello, Hello!
Friends make life a lot more fun.
The Retreat IX is fast approaching and things are really picking up speed! As the weekend gets closer we traditionally hold a Retreat Team meeting about a month before the event to make sure the team is on the same page. This meeting gets the Team on the same page and makes sure that everyone knows their role.
In years past we've tried to video conference this meeting, but due to technical difficulties and my status as a techno peasant, we've reverted to a good old fashioned conference call the last few years. We have everyone call into the party line and then go over an agenda for the meeting (Which you can see attached to this post).
We also use this as the final recruitment push for registration as we usually cut registration off about 1-2 weeks prior to the event itself.
Give the outline a look and let me know if you have any questions!
Cheers!   Ben A.


The Retreat IX
Training Meeting

The Team  - Ben
House Lists  - Matt
The Schedule - Ben

Activities - Andy Macy/Matt Perry

Meals  - Ben              

HoH Overview    - Matt
            Mailboxes      Goodies                       Keep Folder With You
            Punctuality     Decoration Help           Contact your family/know them beforehand
Family Time   Preparation (Questions/Games/etc.)    

Breakout Sessions    - Ben/Jesse/Bryan/Josh
            Jesse Z
            Bryan S
            Josh S
Wish Log Ceremony - Matt P
SNL - Lee H

Important Pieces  - Ben
            Encourage                  Positivity/Energy            Watch for Loners                   
            Refer                           Conflict Resolution        Issues to Ben 
            Experience the moment                                   Avoid Criticizing Jokes


Ben's powerpoint presentation "the Retreat" is available here. 


May 13  - 10 Days away.
That's how close we are to this year's Mu Crew Retreat!
It’s up to us to protect our community.
The T-shirt order has been placed, the badge order (quarter sheet calendars that go on lanyards) will be placed this afternoon, and the family list is about to be mailed out. The Family list is a hectic document that represents all 60+ attendees being dolled out to family units for the weekend. For this retreat we're at either 7-8 people in each of our 8 families.
The goal of the process is to mix people up and get them interacting with new people or folks they don't often mingle with. No set of friends goes into the same family, and no couples. For our event I go through each geographic pool of attendees and deposit them one by one into the families in order. For instance if we have 13 Toledo guys attending I put one in each family and then go back to the top depositing a second in each family until I run out. I do the same thing with Mu Crew Guys, Illumentate men, M Club guys, Haven Mpowerment men, GCMC guys, etc.
Then I sprinkle the remaining guys around and then do a double check on the list to make sure it looks right. When I say it looks right I mean looks balanced in the sense of:

  1. Even if the guys are from different groups are any of them known "besties"? 
  2. How does the age range look? I don't want all the 18 year olds in one family and all the 29 year olds in another. 
  3. How about racial/cultural background? The families should be melting pots, not homogeneous groups. 
  4. How about our body-type distribution? It may sound silly to some but I don't want all the Size small people in one family and all the 3XL individuals in another.
After the list is filtered and checked it goes off the the HoHs so they can contact their family members and start getting things moving 
Cheers to you all and may you all have a great week! I'll do my best to post again on Friday or early next week!
-Ben A.

August 13 - Post Retreat blog.

Well, I'm about three months late on this but better late then never. The Retreat IX was a smashing success with 60+ guys in attendance for the weekend. The major outcomes were as follows:
43 guys were tested for HIV 22 of which went through RESPECT
24 guys went through M Groups
60 guys went through Mini M Groups (Targeted one-off topics)
The numbers:
Total cost for the event: $3,837.20
Total revenue from selling spots: $3,100.00
Difference: $737.20
Additionally $174.75 of the cost for the event was incentives for M Group participants which is covered by our Public Health Dept. so the actual cost of the event was only $562.45.
Each year we do an ask to alumni and champions of the project to help us cover those uncovered costs. This year we actually over shot the need and raised $850.00, meaning we actually had money left over that we used on outreach items and a few new things for the Pi House (our project space).
The Retreat remains and incredibly efficient and effective event for us. It is our agencies largest MSM testing event annually and also gives us an opportunity to get a lot of guys through M Groups and the RESPECT intervention. When you're working to gain support in your agency and from funders to host your own Retreat focus on those concrete deliverables. Most public health people I meet would love to get behind an event with those outcomes.
If you ever have questions please don't hesitate to ask me and I'll do my best to get you a good answer.


The Mu Crew is a Project of AIDS Resource Center Ohio 

Ben's powerpoint presentation "the Retreat" is available here. 

Comments or questions about The Mpowerment Project?  Let us know!