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Neutral Ground Support Organization, Inc.
Policy Manual
Adopted by the Board of Directors February 8, 2005
 
Page Section Title
  1 - Purpose, Group Principles and Assumptions
  2 - Neutral Ground Places
  3 I Bulletin Board and Fliers
  4 II Facilitators
  5 III Fiscal Policy
  6 IV Groups
  8 V Membership
  9 - Guidelines for investigating complaints of harassment
12 VI Newsletter
13 VII Office Telephone Message
14 VIII Orientation
15 IX Registration
16 X Social Events
17 XI Special Programs
18 XII Greeter
19 XIII Board Officers and Committee Chairpersons

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Purpose
 
The Corporation is organized and will be operated exclusively for charitable and educational purposes which shall involve (1) the relief of the emotional, financial and social distress experienced by persons who are widowed, divorced or separated from their spouse or significant other; (2) instructing, training, counseling and educating widowed, divorced or separated persons in order to assist them in overcoming the legal, financial and emotional problems caused by and related to their situation; and (3) increasing the awareness of the general public and educating the public regarding the problems of widowed, separated and divorced persons.
 
Group Principles and Assumptions
 
Neutral Ground is founded on several assumptions which underlie our mission of providing peer support. These assumptions are a basic to good group conduct and should be carefully considered by all group members. They are
1. People who are experiencing a marital separation or loss of an important relationship are probably hurting and feeling vulnerable. They may also be experiencing a loss of self-esteem. It is very important to recognize and respect these feelings and to provide an atmosphere of warmth and acceptance for these men and women.
2. People have the ability to heal themselves and find their own answers to problems when they are given the opportunity to express their feelings in a safe and caring place.
3. People will share their feelings and experiences more freely and openly when they know that the group respects their right of confidentiality.
4. People share their experiences and feelings with others only to the degree that they are able at the time; in other words, their decision to share themselves or not must be respected.

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Neutral Ground consists of:
 
Rooms, halls, meetings, and coffee hour on meeting nights.
 
Our reputation demands we keep all these safe and caring places.

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I. Bulletin Board and Fliers
 
A. Major use: information and promotional material for Neutral Ground.
B. Use of the bulletin board is a privilege extended to other groups or individuals by Neutral Ground. Board approval is needed for a posting on the short side of the bulletin board.
C. No stacks of fliers for outside events without board approval; they are confused with and compete with our protected events, especially those carefully planned by our social committee.
D. No solicitation of members for outside events or business, on these premises without prior board approval.

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II. Facilitators
 
A. Facilitators may refuse to accept an individual signing up for their group. Facilitators are to ask each group if there is anyone who has not attended Orientation.
B. Keep group members aware of Neutral Ground sponsored educational and social events. During group, especially closed groups, membership should be made aware of the need for social committee members, and the satisfactions of getting involved.
C. Much group business is at the discretion of the facilitators: group structure and material used, activities, social events, sharing dinners, etc.
D. Keep the facilitator coordinators informed, and if necessary, the board, of critical group conditions.
E. Facilitators are responsible to track attendance and inform coordinators of non-attenders or dropouts.
F. No Food or alcohol in the rooms at the church.
G. Past or current facilitators who remarry may be permitted to continue or resume facilitating upon sanction of the board. Facilitators who have recently ended a relationship or are in a relationship crisis should carefully consider the possible effects of these stressors on their ability to facilitate groups.
H. Any Facilitator who has not facilitated in five years must go through facilitator training before resuming the duties of a facilitator.
I. Prospective new facilitators are to be recommended by any two facilitators who have had them in groups they have facilitated. They are to be approved at a facilitator meeting. They are not to be solicited by general requests for volunteers in groups.
J. Facilitators actively facilitating a group should not date members of their group. Co-facilitators who are dating, should inform their group at the outset of their relationship status.
K. Facilitator Privilege: If a facilitator facilitates for a minimum of 8 times, or facilitates in a open or closed group for that group’s duration in a given membership year (July to June), he or she is eligible for a free membership or free closed group signup fee for the following membership year. Election of this privilege should be communicated to our secretary at or before membership renewal time.

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III. Fiscal Policy
 
A. The president can spend up to $100 but must report this at the next board meeting. If a board meeting occurs before this expenditure is needed, the president will request board approval for expenditure. Non-budgeted expenditures over $100 are to be tabled and action taken at the next board meeting.
B. Committees are to prepare annual budgets, oversee financial matters of the organization, and determine when legal counsel may be needed.
C. Members who submit bounced checks shall be contacted by letter from the treasurer that financial hardship qualifies them for a scholarship, which can be discussed with any board member. A person who has not requested a scholarship, and who makes no attempt to make good on a bounced check, may not be allowed to take a group until a resolution is reached, through a board decision.
D.Our current bank's policy regarding a bounced check is: "If your check is returned for non-sufficient funds, you expressly authorize your account to be electronically debited or bank drafted for the amount of the check plus any applicable fees. The use of a check for payment is your acknowledgement and acceptance of this policy and its terms and conditions."  ( www.checkvelocity.com / 800-430-2370) "

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IV. Groups
 
A. Neutral ground group material is to be related to our issues of separation, divorce, widowhood, and or adjustment to singleness. In order to ensure up to date, quality groups consistent with the philosophy of Neutral Ground, materials proposed as a basis for a new group, are subject to review. Previously used materials are subject to review at a facilitator's request. A New Materials Review committee of three facilitators will be solicited and maintained by the Facilitator Coordinator(s). After reviewing materials, the committee will report within two weeks to the Coordinator(s) their opinion regarding the appropriateness of the materials as a basis for a group. New materials for a group should be submitted to the Committee at least one month prior to the deadline date for the newsletter that contains group sign-up information. This will ensure there is enough time to review the new materials and also enough time for the new group to be prepared before it starts (5/08). Facilitator Coordinators will maintain a file of information about past groups, including title, books or materials used as a basis for the group, date group was last held, facilitators, brief description of group(such as a copy of the newsletter description).
 
B. Facilitators should emphasize the importance of respecting every member's confidentiality at all times. Firstly, group members names and phone numbers are confidential and not for outside use. Group members should be advised that everything that is said in the group is not to be repeated without the permission of the member or members involved. We know that members will continue discussions after group is ended. But such discussion should not be about other members or other members issues or information, without the knowledge and permission of that member. The foregoing is redundant intentionally, because confidentiality is extremely important to the success of Neutral Ground's mission.
 
C. There will always be at least one open group and Orientation group unavailable during registration and special programs.
 
D. Facilitator Coordinators will keep tabs on group members who drop out, have poor attendance, or repeat groups many times. The names of group members not fulfilling their commitment to attend will be sent to the Facilitator Coordinators, to avoid possible repeaters. These people displace others who might benefit. They may be refused admission on an individual basis.
 
E. Starting Over, First Group, Rebuilding 1 and 2 are to be limited to 16 people. At the discretion of the facilitators running psycho-educational and personal growth groups, this number can be exceeded, in general however, it should be kept in mind that making a group larger can be unfair to all group members.
 
F. A group member who misses the first two meetings of a closed group may not be allowed to attend the group. This will be decided by a vote of the other group members.

G. It is common for the same facilitators to stay with their group as they move from First Group through Rebuilding 2. However, if new facilitators are going to work with a previously facilitated group, it helps the new facilitators to obtain some useful information about the group and its members from the group's former facilitators. This will make the changeover as smooth as possible. Facilitators who are about to start a closed or open group composed mostly (or entirely) of members who were together recently in the same group for a long time, are encouraged to obtain the following information about their new members from former facilitators:
  1. Information about members' physical and mental health and related safety issues. This information is necessary in case one or more members health issues require a facilitator action.

  2. Group dynamics information, for example, who are the leaders, quiet members, monopolizers, how bonded the group is, potential conflict between members, etc. This information should not be accepted at face value because our members are severely stressed and their behavior may change or be inconsistent.

  3. How specific members are adapting to their losses. This is, of course, an estimation and also a function of the characteristic stability and maturity of individual members.

    We believe this strikes a good balance between protecting members' privacy and ensuring a smooth changeover when groups change facilitators. Note the above does not include info re: how the breakup occurred, ex-spouses, financial status, separation/divorce status, etc. Such information is not pertinent to facilitating unless such information may adversely affect 1,2 or 3, above.

    In addition, at the first meeting with a new group, when discussing confidentiality, it is good practice to make it clear you have talked with former facilitators and obtained information as described above. (Added 5/11/12)


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H. Coffee before groups is only for people who are coming to group that night. It is not for people coming just for socializing.. Exception: board and committee members on Neutral Ground business
I. Evaluation forms will be handed out in either of the two last group sessions of an 8 -10 week cycle for members to evaluate their group experience and provide feedback to their group facilitators. These forms will be turned over to the Facilitator Coordinators after the final group session.
J. Outside parties asking to observe groups such as college students will be considered for access only if such a request is tendered by letter to Neutral Ground from a teacher, or appropriate authority. This written request will be voted on by the board and given to the group facilitator. The final decision regarding access rests with the group members.
Current open and closed group evaluation forms should be reviewed and updated periodically.

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V. Membership
 
A. The membership chairperson is the only one to accept applications and checks during registration night. He may authorize a deputy to avoid confusion.
B. Newcomers in financial difficulty may not have their membership fee waived except in extraordinary circumstances, but they may request that there initial group fee be waived. Only the president,treasurer, or Facilitator Coordinator have the authority to waive these fees.
C. Complaints of harassment, or general complaints, shall be treated seriously and investigated immediately by one Facilitator Coordinator and one board member, one female and one male if possible. Complaints can be made to any facilitator or board member. Every effort will be made to handle the investigation sensitively, ensuring confidentiality, and seeking a fair resolution of the complaint. (See attached guidelines)
D. The newsletter is sent to new clients free for 3 months. If new clients do not join Neutral Ground within 3 months, they will be notified by mail that they will stop receiving the newsletter unless they join immediately.

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Guidelines for investigating complaints of harassment or general complaints:
 
The Board member of the investigating team should keep a log book summarizing each contact during an investigation, noting date and time. This also would include the resolution of the complaint and follow-up interviews.
 
Conducting an investigation, - general rules to follow:
1. Investigate immediately. Delaying or extending an investigation can make witnesses testimony increasingly unreliable.
2. Treat all claims seriously, even though they seem frivolous, until you have reason to believe otherwise.
3. Keep the investigation confidential. Emphasize to those involved that your discussions are not to be shared with unconcerned parties. Warn of possible disciplinary action, if necessary.
4. Limit the number of persons who have access to the information. Communicate strictly on a 'need to know' basis.
5. Ask questions so that information is not unnecessarily disclosed. For example, instead of asking, "did you see Paul touch Joan?" Ask, "have you seen anyone touch Joan in a way that made her uncomfortable?" Remember, - the purpose of the investigation is to gather facts, not imply allegations.
6. If there is more than one allegation, treat each separately. Getting a member to describe the claim:
 
1. Listen to the charge. Don't make comments like, "you're overreacting."
2. Acknowledge that bringing a harassment complaint is a difficult thing to do.
3. Maintain a professional attitude
4. Gather the facts; don't be judgmental.
5. Ask who, what, when, where, why, and how. Find out if the member is afraid of retaliation. How does the member want the problem resolved?
 
Interviewing the complainant:
1. Find out whether there was a pattern of previous episodes or similar behavior toward another member.

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2. Determine the effect of the conduct on the complainant. Ask questions about feelings.
3. Determine the time relationship between the occurrence of the conduct, its effect on the complainant, and the time when the complainant reported it.
4. Analyze whether their might have been certain events that triggered the complaint.
5. Determine whether there are any possible motives on the part of the complainant.
6. Explain to the complainant that the charges are serious, that you'll conduct a thorough investigation before reaching any conclusion.
7. If the complainant appears to be emotionally upset, spend time with this member, getting the member to talk about his or her feelings. Re-telling an upsetting experience can resurrect the feelings connected with the experience. Stay with the member until it is clear the member is ready to leave.
 
Interviewing the accused:
 
1. Obtain a statement from the accused.
2. Identify the relationship of the accused to the complainant.
3. Was there any prior consensual relationship between the parties? How long and they known each other? Is there a history of group or individual socializing?
4. You can expect the accused to deny the charges. Observe the reaction. Note whether there is surprise, anger, or a disbelief. Describe the details of the allegation, probe further to determine with the accused the background, reasons, and motivation that could possibly trigger the complaint.
Interviewing witnesses:
1. Obtain statements from any witnesses who support or deny any of the complainant's allegations. Be aware that witnesses are often reluctant to come forward.
2. Assure all witnesses that their cooperation is important, that their testimony is confidential, and that we expect them to keep their interview confidential.
Resolving the complaint:
1. Apologize for the incident occurring, if that is appropriate.
2. Consider the severity, frequency, and pervasiveness of the conduct when imposing discipline on the perpetrator. There are several disciplinary options available, including:

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- verbal warning to the effect that if another complaint occurs which is found to be valid, cancellation of membership and prohibition of attendance, for a period of time, or permanently, are possible
- outright cancellation of membership or prohibition of attendance for a period of time, or permanently
- filing of legal charges.
3. When considering the more severe disciplinary actions, the investigators should consult with the president before delivering their decision to the perpetrator. They may request the presence of the president when they meet with the perpetrator to reinforce the disciplinary action.
4. Investigators shall conduct follow-up interviews with the complainant and the perpetrator in 1-2 weeks to assess the effects of the resolution of the complaint. Investigators should report all complaints, related investigations, and resolutions at the next monthly Board meeting.

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VI. Newsletter  
A. The newsletter is to contain Neutral Ground business and sponsored events only, unless an exception is made by a vote of the board. The current President may approve one time additions to the newsletter, such as stories, poems, etc., just prior to the submission deadline date which is usually the 15th of every month (5/08).
 
B. Copies will be made available at Neutral Ground early in the month, hopefully by the first Thursday of the month.
 
C. Group business and education must take up half or more of the number of pages in each newsletter. Social news cannot take up more than half the pages. This includes social event fliers.
 
D. The event calendar included in the newsletter contains the current month. Upcoming future events may be in the calendar or the body of the newsletter.

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VII. Office Telephone Message
 
A. Professional and welcoming message is the key to encourage persons to participate in Neutral Ground. This message should include names and telephone numbers of the members who can provide further information and crisis counseling phone numbers.

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VIII. Orientation
 
A. Orientation is to be facilitated by a facilitators who are experienced in handling hurting people and who are knowledgeable about Neutral Ground policies and history. There is a limited list of facilitator's who may facilitate orientation and new facilitators may be added to that list after receiving special training.
B. All newcomers to Neutral Ground are to attend orientation before registering for a group. 
C. Past members who return to Neutral Ground after five years or more must attend an Orientation and need not take another first group.
D. The Directory of Self-Help organizations and a list of other sources of help may be made available to participants by Orientation facilitators.

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IX. Registration
 
A. Registration dates are set to avoid events and holidays (of all faiths), to avoid inconveniencing individuals. Special arrangements must the made if we create any inequity here.
B. By setting registration dates well in advance we can obtain the use of Hubbell Hall for best registration procedures.
C. To reduce unnecessary work, those renewing their memberships on registration night must stand in the membership renewal line first before standing in line to register for groups.
D. Closed group signup is permitted after registration night until the second week of each group, if space is available. This is to be decided by the groups facilitator's.

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X. Social Events
 
A.. No stacks of fliers for outside events without board approval; they are confused with and compete with our protected events, especially those carefully planned by our social committee.
B. Currently First Friday dances are a fund raising activity open to the public.
C. Solicitation of members for outside events or business without board approval, is prohibited. This includes social events, workshops, seminars, or any type of personal service.

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XI. Special Programs
 
A. Avoid scheduling special programs during the 8-10 week closed group cycles.
B. Special program chairperson will advise the board 2 months in advance of special programs that have been scheduled. The board must approve fees to speakers over $300.

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XII. Greeter
 
A. When the greeter is needed to facilitate Orientation or another group or needs to leave the church for any reason before 8 p.m., he or she is to choose a facilitator or an experienced member to cover the door.

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XIII. Board Officers and Committee Chairpersons
 
A. Elected officers:
President, Vice President, Treasurer, Secretary
 
B. Prospective new board members must attend a minimum of two board meetings before becoming eligible for board membership. Board members reserve the right to interview prospective board members prior to voting on their election to the board. The president will appoint three board members to interview a prospect. Interviews should address the following areas:
  1. Whether or not he/she understands the responsibilities of a board member
  2. Whether or not he/she can show evidence of support for Neutral Ground guidelines and principles
  3. What background and abilities he/she would bring to the position
 
C. Any letter sent to the organization's address, any phone message left on our answering service, any e-mail to our website, or anything said to a facilitator or a board member regarding a matter to be addressed by the board, is confidential to the board and any part of such communication shall not be quoted, discussed, or otherwise revealed outside the Private communications between and among board members (6/08).
 
Appointed board chair positions:
  Church liaison
  Facilitator Coordinators
  Finance Committee
  Membership
  Newsletter
  Public Relations
  Administrative Assistant
  Registrar
  Social Committee
  Special Events
 
Any appointed board chair position may have a co-chairperson appointed. This person must be recommended to the board by a board member and approved by a vote of the board.
 
D. To express gratitude and appreciation to members or board members for special services, the board can approve a free annual membership or closed group fee. (9/08)

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