Once a week, year round, a group of men gather in Bloomington to discuss issues of importance in their lives.
Sometimes those discussions are about challenges the men face – be it with their career, health or family – other times the discussions are a celebration – a pat-on-the-back, so to speak – about the successes the men have had with their career, health or family. The loose-knit group is not a faith-based organization, and they’re not united by any one cause, such as support for alcoholism, gambling addiction or the death of a loved one.
The Southside Men’s Group meets Saturday mornings at Bloomington’s Creekside Community Center, and it has done so for than three decades. Each week a group of men – of varying ages and backgrounds – gather for a 90-minute meeting, driven primarily out of an interest in personal growth and support from others seeking the same.
A leaderless model Steve Peer of Bloomington is about the closest thing the group has to a leader. He’s been with the Bloomington group since it spun off from the original group in the north metro more than 35 years ago. There are no officers within Southside Men’s Group, the meetings run each week regardless of who shows up.
“It’s a leaderless model,” Peer said. The model is based upon the group that formed about four decades ago, known as the North Side Men’s Group. It started with just two men, one of whom was Earnie Larsen. Larsen worked professionally with 12-step, recovery and personal-change programs. He held degrees in counseling, education and theology, and lectured, counseled and conducted workshops and seminars on improving interpersonal relationships. He was also the author of 30 books. And it was his sitting down one Saturday morning to talk with another man about the challenges in their lives that resulted in the men’s groups that meet today, Peer explained. Larsen’s group grew through word-of-mouth, and he would often mention his group in presentations he made throughout the Twin Cities. Those presentations might result in two or three men coming to a Saturday morning meeting, Peer recalled.
Peer made the weekly commute to Brooklyn Park to be a part of the group, and as the group grew to approximately 100, Peer and Earl Holdridge of Edina decided there was room for a second group, closer to home. The duo took Larsen’s model and replicated it in Bloomington.
Holdridge learned of Larsen’s group the way many had. “I had gone to one of his talks,” he said.
It was Larsen’s discussion about healthy relationships that resonated with Holdridge and drew him to the Saturday morning meetings. At the time Holdridge had been divorced for about nine years, and he was a year away from remarrying. He was nervous about remarrying, and turned to the group for support while he was dealing with his conflicting feelings. A year later he did get married, and he continued to attend group meetings, he recalled.
When Peer and Holdridge created their Bloomington group, they met at Lincoln Del. When the restaurant closed in 2000, the group moved to Creekside Community Center.
90 minutes A few volunteers gather each week prior to the 8:30 a.m. start of the meeting to prepare the room, which includes making coffee. The meeting begins at 8:30 with a few announcements, including a review of the group’s guidelines. The group also opens up for men to share a few comments about recent accomplishments or setbacks in the lives. At 8:45 a.m., a speaker talks for 15-20 minutes about their personal growth. Those speakers sign up in advance of the weekly meeting, Peer noted. After the presentation, the men divide into smaller groups and discuss personal growth challenges in their life, according to Peer. The small group discussion often includes responses to a question posed by the weekly speaker, he noted. By 10 a.m. the group adjourns, with members sometimes gathering at a nearby restaurant for follow-up conversation, Peer said.
Occasionally group members will gather at other times of the week for a few months as a result of conversations and interests shared within the group, but the group doesn’t schedule much outside of Saturday mornings. There have been a few 24-hour retreats organized in years past, and the group did participate in a fundraising effort to help offset its community center rental and coffee costs, according to Peer. Guests are not asked to contribute to the group’s expenses, but regular members are asked to contribute $7 to offset the weekly expenses, although nobody is turned away if they cannot afford to pay, Peer noted.
Continuing on Larsen died in 2011. The groups he inspired continue on, but they don’t have him advocating for them these days.
Peer, 60, was a young adult when he started attending the weekly meetings. Although the groups attract men of all ages, the average age has skewed higher over the years, and keeping the Bloomington club invigorated is a bit of a challenge, according to Peer.
The group doesn’t actively recruit men to join. The topic may come up in conversation, but pitching the concept to 30 random people isn’t likely to reach much of an audience seeking what the group offers, Peer surmised.
Peer knows the group isn’t the only outlet people have to discuss the challenges in their life. A 12-step group, for example, has an accountability aspect that is important to those in attendance, but that’s not an element of the men’s group, Peer noted. And a faith-based group may not provide a setting that some men will find comfortable when discussing their personal challenges, he added.
Peer thinks that the loosely organized group makes it more challenging to participate in. A 12-step group, for example, addresses an identified issue in a man’s life. The men’s group, in contrast, isn’t about addressing a common issue. And human nature often results in people addressing a personal issue when the issue has reached a crisis level. For most members of the group, their participation isn’t driven by such crisis, Peer explained.
For Peer and Holdridge, there’s always something to be gained. Peer called the weekly group meetings “a healthy 90 minutes each week. “I can’t see not going, as long as I’m able to go,” he added. Holdridge, 82, finds that the group conversations are conversations he doesn’t have with men in other settings. He often sees himself in the men who share their stories, he noted. “Each time I go there I learn something about myself,” he said.