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Secrets to a Stress-Free Family Reunion

Getting those far-flung branches of the family together in one place doesn't have to be difficult. Here are some tips for making the event easy and memorable.


Move over, Madea. Cue the O'Jays. It's family-reunion season. Every year since the 1970s TV movie Roots helped popularize the black family reunion, the event has been growing in numbers, sophistication and interest. Today family reunions can be a lucrative niche for hotels, airlines and caterers vying to attract family-reunion-goers.

For those who want to leave the planning to others, there are the long-standing reunion events hosted by the National Council of Negro Women in Washington, D.C., in the fall; the 23rd Annual Midwest Regional Black Family Reunion Celebration Aug. 19-23 in Cincinnati; and the Tom Joyner Family Reunion at Disney World in Orlando, Fla., during Labor Day weekend.

But for others, like Linda Hairston Diggs, planning is less than the warm, fuzzy kumbaya feeling she expected. In fact, Diggs says she is worried that her family reunion in Charlotte, N.C., may not come off as anticipated. A member of the huge Hairston-Dodson clan that gathers every year in Columbus, Ohio, she wants something similar for the second and third generations of cousins on her late father's side of the family.

Diggs' concern is not for lack of planning. The reunion committee has conducted a survey of family interests using Survey Monkey, has lined up the hotel and the caterer, and has even started to put together the program. There's a Facebook page with family photos and a video of Charlotte attractions to juice the folks lagging in their RSVPs. She says she's worried because fewer than 20 relatives from a family tree that stretches from Seattle to Syracuse, N.Y., have indicated that they will attend.

That's par for the course, according to experienced family-reunion planners. Lack of advance notice from attendees is just one more factor to consider when planning a reunion. Most planners say that you should make sure you budget for family members who may show up without notice.

Family-Reunion Planning 2.0

The budget. Whoever oversees the budget should take into consideration the costs of food, facilities, printing, ostage and souvenirs in developing the fee for attending the reunion, which may or may not include the hotel. The fee can also cover the T-shirts or even a bus to chauffeur family members from one venue to another, as well as costs associated with creating and maintaining a family website.

The budget should have some leeway for those who will pay at the door as well as those with financial hardships who may show up with children in tow. Some families will hold bake sales or create and sell a family cookbook and souvenirs to keep costs down. Also, some may ask local companies for a donation. After all, the reunion brings in some out-of-towners who will spend money all weekend.

Advance reservations. Don't forget to make reservations for recreation or picnic sites months in advance, since other families may be planning their reunions for the same date as yours. Committee members may negotiate hotel rates but make family members responsible for their own hotel reservations.

Reunion committee. Is Uncle Joe a shutterbug, or Aunt Sarah the keeper of the family tree? Enlist them as part of your committee. Also select those with the talent and skills to help with the planning. Don't forget younger members, who may offer a youthful take on events and help lure those elusive Gen Xers and Gen Yers, notorious for their independence. A far-flung committee can make use of Skype for long-distance conference calls.