As festive music from the Dropkick Murphys fills the room, Lifeworks men’s group leader Chris Olson enthusiastically greets everyone with a smile and a handshake, displaying the kind of rapport that can only be developed over time.
“Self-esteem is really just how you feel about yourself,” Olson said after kicking off a session.
By delving into topics like self-esteem, men’s group participants get a chance to discuss their personal life experiences and receive advice from their peers.
“Exercise at the Y,” one person said after Olson asked participants to share what they do to improve their mood. “Go for a walk,” said another.
After engaging in a discussion about self-esteem with the larger group, participants gathered in small groups to further discuss and enjoy a snack together.
The inclusive, open environment is what keeps people coming back month after month. That, and the soundtrack of thematic songs, including Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song” and “Believer” by Imagine Dragons.
“I see our male [participants] going to staff with their concerns more, which I think is them feeling more comfortable, valued, and that their feelings are valid and welcome,” said Raquel Sidie-Wagner, site manager at Lifeworks Apple Valley. “It seems like it has improved some of the peer relationships as well.”
Following in the footsteps of a similar women’s group called “The Power of Me” that was introduced in previous years, the men’s group at Lifeworks Apple Valley has been far more popular than anyone could have imagined.
“I didn’t really know how it was going to be received,” Olson said. “A lot of people who I would have never thought would have wanted to do this will ask me ‘Chris, when’s the next men’s group?’”
Now in its second year, the monthly group bonding sessions regularly draw 40-50 men to participate in discussions that range in topic from courage and change to respect and dignity.
“We don’t deal with any negativity,” said Service Facilitator Phillip Conley Jr.
In addition to the women’s group that came before it, the group was also inspired by a gentleman named Mike.
“I was over in social enrichment and Mike was in career development at the time,” Olson said. “But I spent a bunch of time in career development and Mike and I know each other pretty well. At the time, there was all female staff in career development, so he’d come over and he’s like ‘Chris, I’m really frustrated. Can we talk?’”
After discussing the possibilities, they ultimately decided that a men’s group where Mike and his peers could build positive relationships was a promising solution.
“They wanted to be able to have some time to talk about things they may not feel comfortable sharing in front of female staff or peers,” Sidie-Wagner said.
The result? A powerful coalescence of inclusion, discussion, music, openness, positive influences, and male bonding.
“I think we’ve all felt like the group has created a sense of community that may not have been there before,” Sidie-Wagner said. “The women see just how positive this program is for these guys, and I think everyone is benefiting from that and happy about it.”