I became cast rep at our five-year reunion, and my goal has been to do what I can to keep our cast connected across time and distance. Given that our full cast, with staff, was 163 young people (!) this is a sizable task!
In the lead up to our 25-year reunion this summer, I have been trying to engage more of our cast than has been connected in the past. I’m working to get as many of our “lost sheep” found, and to bring a large group of us together, in person, this summer in Arizona.
For those of you who haven’t gotten to experience an Up with People reunion, there are few things like it in the world; the energy, compassion, and love present in the room, by the pool, and in the joyful hugs is unmatched.
Of course, we have benefited from advances in technology in our quest to reconnect! Our cast Facebook group has 155 members. However, the average amount of views on posts had been dropping and was averaging around 10. TEN! That’s only 6% of our cast.
I’m proud to say our post views and commenting have increased to where recent posts are seen by upwards of 110 people, which is 70% of our Facebook group. This didn’t happen overnight…here are some ways that I have been working to grow our connection and increase the engagement on our cast page, which other cast reps may wish to try…
- Birthday recognition: I decided to start recognizing birthdays after attending the 2019 reunion and have been since September. I am relying heavily on our yearbook and usually share three photos from our year and one current photo of the person. I reach out ahead of time to make sure they would like to be recognized, ask if they have a favorite current photo and invite them to send an update which I include in the post. It’s a LOT of work, perhaps more than I realized at first (big cast!), but the feedback I am getting and the engagement on the posts makes it worth all the effort! It also helps me identify those “missing” from the cast page and gives me an opportunity to slowly update our cast address list! I do know of a cast rep out there who also recognizes castmate’s children’s birthdays too. #castrepgoals!
- Monthly Zoom calls: This is a recent addition, but it’s quickly growing. Our first at the end of December had two of us. In January, five, and in February, nine—there were people on three continents, with four different nationalities represented. It requires a bit of planning and time to participate, but I have scheduled these as “events” in our Facebook group, on a regular day and time so people can plan them into their calendars and join the months that suit! Zoom is free to use and up to 100 can participate in a 40-minute group chat. We love it, are getting little glimpses into one another’s lives, and it’s making us more excited for in-person time in July! Don’t tell my cast, because they need to be there in person, but we will also have a Zoom chat at some point during reunion if I can sort out those logistics.
- Reunion planning: Keep the info flowing, and updates current and relevant. As we have gotten closer to our 25th, I ramped up the posts and continue to share important info out to our cast. Ask questions when you can’t find answers! My era rep knows if I have looked and haven’t found it, I will ask. It requires the IAA/BOG to provide updates to be able to pass them on, but info like the dates of each reunion is usually available a few years out. By making an “event” in your Facebook group, people are able to respond with their intentions. This way you can track and keep up with how many of your cast are considering or able to commit to attending your milestone reunions (5, 10, 15, etc.)!
- Seek out the “lost”: The internet is an amazing thing! Use it to your advantage to sleuth out your missing people. I found our Slovakian cast member by searching for his given name from our cast list, finding a page that I could not read, but knowing his general interests matched what I could tell the page was about and sending an email to the address!! I’ve sent messages that have gone unanswered but so far have found at least four people that we all thought we might have lost completely.
- Engage the cast in encouraging one another to attend: Reunion is not all about seeing me! I GET that! I view it as my job to get as many people in attendance as possible. I know who the friend groups were and those who are still in touch. I have flat out asked people, “who do I need to get to attend to make it a non-negotiable for you?” And then I work that angle. However, I also have found some of my best current-day friends from my cast were not ones I was close to on the road. I share that too. It takes attending a reunion and talking through some of the ups and downs of life to have the opportunity to form deeper and new bonds with one another.
- Have something besides Facebook: We have cast mates who are not on Facebook. Yes, this is true! This may change, but we currently have a Yahoo Group and I email our most important posts and information there. It allows those who do not want to be on Facebook to be connected and receive reunion and other updates as well.
- Try other Apps, like WhatsApp: We have not yet started our WhatsApp group, but I am taking a page from the amazing B91 cast rep (shout-out to Michele Doss Easter!) and plan to start one for our reunion attendees. B91 started one at the last reunion, and it has been going strong for four years now. Advantages are that it operates on Wi-fi, is free to use and is global.
- Other ideas: I’m changing the FB group cover photo monthly. We had a cast calendar, so it has been natural to use those photos and follow it. I also have some monthly summaries of our year that I wrote in the lead up to our 15th. I am now re-posting those on FB and emailing those out. Take minutes at your reunion cast meeting and share with the group so that even those not in attendance can feel “in the know”. ASK for volunteers to take on certain tasks. No one should marshal through cast rep-ping alone! I have a core group of willing helpers, and when I need to start engagement on a post, I will ask a few of them to be sure to comment so that others will see it and jump in.
I encourage all cast reps to be thinking about how best to connect and reconnect, especially leading up to reunions. Even for those cast members who are unable to attend reunion, technology has given us wonderful tools that we can use to stay in touch and see one another regularly! However, NOTHING beats having a huge group at a reunion!! I am so excited to see my cast this summer. They are a-ma-zing, and the reason why I work so hard as their cast rep!!