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Tips and Solutions Detail

Planning the Ultimate Family Reunion

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Editor-in-chief of Reunions Magazine, Edith Wagner brings you tried and true tips for planning your next reunion. Although some family reunions can involve hundreds of people and take years to coordinate, it’s never too late to plan a gathering of loved ones and relatives. Such occasions are great times to bond with the family, and below are some tips and techniques to help minimize the work and help you enjoy the event as much as everyone else.

Getting Started!

  1. Two 8ft. Lifetime Tables – Put them end to end to form one long banquet table.
  2. Lifetime folding chairs – enough for each guest
  3. Setting parameters – This is your job as host. The first thing you should do is decide:
    • How many family members will likely attend?
    • What type of space is necessary to accommodate that number of people?
    • How much money am I personally willing to invest, and how much, if any, will need to be contributed by others?
  4. Set the date – Poll a sampling of key family members (grandparents, siblings, cousins and other people whose presence is essential) that you have easy access to via email or telephone. Ask if they are interested in a reunion, and if they have any major conflicts coming up. This will help determine if it is feasible, and if interest is high enough to move forward.
    • Once you have a general idea of a date, make sure it doesn't fall too closely to any other major events like weddings, baptisms, graduations, etc.
    • Once a date is selected, stick to it.
  5. Finalize a location – A reunion at home has a very personal and relaxed atmosphere, but not everyone has the space needed for such an undertaking. Every town across America has parks, recreation centers, hotels and resorts, etc. that are perfect meeting places for such events. Just remember that if the event isn't at someone's home, organization and proper planning will be even more important.
  6. Create a budget – When money is spent as needs arise, costs can shoot through the roof. Devise a budget first, and follow it as closely as possible. Also, be upfront with family members about appropriate contributions. Spearheading such an event is a large contribution in itself, and this should be reflected in the level of assistance from others.
  7. Delegate – If you try to plan everything yourself, you’ll produce undue stress. Early on, find family members who are willing and able to provide assistance. Talk to them about what they would enjoy being in charge of, and let them control that aspect of planning. Examples of different responsibilities to delegate are:
    • Site selection
    • Invitations
    • Food
    • Decorations
    • Activities
    • Music & Entertainment
    • Tables & Seating
    • Keepsakes and party favors
  8. Communicate – Once all of the work has someone to oversee it, set up weekly meeting times, and stay in contact (in person or by telephone) to ensure everything is getting done in a quality and timely manner. Be sure to follow up after meetings.

Planning and Logistics

  1. Create a theme – One of the most important things to remember is that a family reunion celebrates who you are, and where you come from. Invest time brainstorming a theme that works for the family. The theme can shine through in many different aspects of the reunion.
    • Invitations – Pick symbols and a color scheme appropriate to your theme, and use them in the invitations and decorations.
    • Food – Serve foods traditional for your family and heritage. Grandparents can be a great resource for this!
    • Games and activities – Do things that your family enjoys, but also try to incorporate something specific, like bocce ball for an Italian-American family, or Jai Alai for a family of Latin heritage.
    • Keepsakes - When creating party favors or other creative items, remember your theme and colors.
    • Music – No party is complete without it, so use it as a way to bring your theme to life.
    • Clothing – Encourage everyone to dress along the lines of the theme. If you do this, you are only one step away from having a costume contest for a fun activity!
  2. Create a Layout – Outdoor spaces are large, so take advantage of it, but plan ahead where everything will go. Lifetime® tables and chairs can be set up in different areas of the party. They are lightweight and easy to move around, making it easy to toy with several different set-up options. Once the layout is finalized, label each table with what will go on it. This way, as guests arrive with their contributions, they will know where to put them. A few areas to think about are a registration area, space for sitting and eating, food and drink service and a keepsake table for displaying articles of family history or photos.
  3. Prepare for the Weather – No matter how much hard work you put into planning, bad weather can foil an event. Have tents on hand, or plan your event adjacent an available indoor area or pavilion so that plans can proceed despite the weather. It may not be possible to tent the entire event, but a few strategically placed covered areas can keep the party flowing. If possible, plan a rain date.
  4. Create a Comfortable Space – If you can’t have the reunion at someone’s home, put time into thinking about what needs this adds. As you go through a day in your home, ask yourself, “What am I doing that wouldn’t be possible outside in a park?”
    • Restrooms: Renting temporary toilet facilities to ensure that everyone can be comfortable throughout the day. Too many guests can cause a strain on septic systems.
    • Shade: The same tents you have on hand for rain can be used to create shady areas if the weather reaches the opposite extreme. Provide sunscreen and bug spray, as your guests will likely forget.
    • Water: There may not be an adequate water source at your event-site, so have plenty of bottles on hand. Factor in how long the reunion will be, and how many bottles each person might consume over that time period.
    • Electricity/Gas: This might be necessary for cooking.
    • Clothing: You never know when someone will catch a chill or overheat, and not have extra clothes on hand. Purchase a few inexpensive sweatshirts, t-shirts and hats to have around, or choose these as party favors.
  5. Utilize Your Family's Talents – This will help everyone feel involved and can save money. Ask the good cooks to provide favorite family recipes, engage teenage participants by asking them to take photos, shoot video or baby-sit. However, keep in mind that everyone, including you, should have time to enjoy the festivities, so distribute assignments evenly.
  6. Plan for Food – Food is often the centerpiece of a family event, but it can also be the downfall if not planned appropriately.
    • Decide if you want to serve one or more full meals or simply provide snacks.
    • Think about how much you would personally want to eat at the reunion. Allow for a little extra, just in case, and multiply this amount by how many will attend.
    • Reach out to local food distributors for quotes to help you find the best deals.
    • Use steam tables and coolers to keep foods at safe temperatures.
    • Always keep food in the shade.
    • Screen attachments on tents can be great for keeping away the bugs.
    • Tag a few family members to help be in charge of maintaining the food, helping little ones get their plates ready, etc.
  7. Create a Schedule – While it is important to relax and not be inflexible during a fun party, if certain time guidelines aren’t set, activities that took a lot of resources to plan might get overlooked. Print a schedule for the day, and run through it with guests as they arrive.
  8. Keep Safety in Mind – Always have first-aid supplies and cell phones on hand. It’s also not a bad idea to call the local police department, and let them know that you are hosting an event with lots of people. This way, if something should go wrong, they’ll be aware, and will know right where to come.
  9. Create a Keepsake – Even after the reunion is over, the fun and memory making can continue by making something collectively as a family.
    • Quilts make great keepsakes. Provide every participant with a square of fabric and set up an area to decorate them on-site. After the reunion, ask a family member who is good at sewing to assemble the pieces. This simple process is a great way to create a new family heirloom that will be cherished.
    • Sign-in books not only keep a record of who attended, but participants can write a short note next to their name to create a simple keepsake.
    • Collages of photos from the day can be compiled and emailed to all participants.
    • Recipes that are featured at the event can be combined into a family cookbook.

The Day of the Event

  1. Set Up – Ask a few family members to arrive early to help set-up. You won’t want everyone standing around as preparations are underway, but a few extra hands (and the muscles of nephews and grandsons) will be welcomed! Have a brief meeting with your helpers when they arrive. This way, there will be no confusion and things will be able to come together quickly.
  2. Make Use of the Last Hours Before Guests Arrive – Timing is extremely important the morning of the event, especially when it comes to food. Here are some helpful guidelines:
  3. Four hours from guest arrival
    • Helpers should arrive
    • Set up of tables, tents, etc.
    • Set up all activities
    • Begin decorating
  4. Two hours from guest arrival
    • Refrigerate drinks
    • Purchase ice
    • Make last runs to the grocery store, etc.
  5. 30 minutes before guests arrive
    • Make sure all sign in materials are in place
    • Turn on steam tables for food if serving hot dishes
    • If cooking out, turn on the grill
    • Transfer drinks and other food into coolers
    • Put out eating utensils, plates, and napkins
  6. Include Family Who Could Not Attend – Have a cell phone dedicated to this purpose and give the number to family members who were unable to attend. This will give them the chance to call in and get passed around to say hello to everyone. Be sure to give those that might call in a good idea of what times would be most convenient.
  7. Plan the Next Family Gathering – Having everyone in one place at one time is a rare occasion, so take advantage, and set a tentative date for the next family gathering. Once you see how easy it is to pull this off, you may want to have another sooner than you think!
  8. Clean Up – Whether the event is at home or in another location, have sufficient supplies on hand to clear trash and other clutter. Before the event starts, find a few younger helpers who are willing to be in charge of collecting trash and bagging everything up. You can even offer them each a few dollars for their help.
  9. Encourage Post-Event Contact – Reunions are great ways to rekindle lost relationships. Create a phone or email chain while everyone is together. This will be great for spreading family news, and to pass along reunion follow-up. After the event, digitize photos, and use the email chain to pass them along to everyone. The next time big family news comes about; it will be easy to get the word out to everyone. This information can even be put together creatively to make a post-event gift to send to all participants.

After Everyone's Gone Home!

  • Thank Key Players – Give yourself a few days for everything to settle after the event, but as the planner, it is a good idea to send a special thank you note to everyone who helped make the event a success.
  • Stay in Touch – If you follow these tips, you’ll have an improved capability to stay in touch with your family after the event. Do your part to keep family bonds strong.

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