Speak Easy Singles of WV – written by Linda Geronilla, Ph.D.

On May 20th of 1985, two friends, Carolyn Stevens and Linda Geronilla, Ph.D. started Speak Easy in Charleston, WV at the John XXIII Pastoral Center. Carolyn had gone through a divorce and hated the bar scene. Linda trying to be a helpful friend said that she had a conversation with another therapist at a Reality Therapy Conference who had a successful single group. Linda said she would contact Doug Walker in California who was very willing to share his materials as long as she agreed to call it the same thing.

The original group in California was called “Speak Easy” and was designed for anyone who was single, separated, divorced or widowed. Doug started the group in 1981 at the First United Methodist Church in San Monica as part of his ministry to single people. He felt that there was a need for single people just to get together to socialize and to talk about something meaningful. He designed a list of questions on different topics (such as listening, friendship, fun, etc.) and started the discussion group which met weekly. He called it “Speak Easy” because he wanted a name which would catch people’s curiosity and would also be true to the nature of the group in that it was a place where people could relax and speak calmly and easily about different subjects. The original notion of “A Speak Easy” was from the prohibition which was an establishment where people drank boot-legged alcohol. Although rather paradoxical in nature to a group of tea-drinking Methodists, the name did get people’s attention and appeared to work in bringing people to the group.

Dr. Linda Geronilla and Carolyn Stevens started the original group by using Doug’s questions to start the first group. Over 90 people attended the first nights’ meeting. Dr. Geronilla helped the group for the first year in a variety of ways, but she knew that she needed to attend to her own husband and family of four children. She has served as an occasional speaker and advisor to the board when requested. Carolyn stayed with the group until she moved to Kentucky to be closer to her twin sister and family. The group has honored them about every five years on the group’s anniversaries in May.

Speak Easy is based on the idea that there are four Reality Therapy “needs” which are important to all human beings: love/belonging, empowerment, fun and freedom.

Everyone should have a place where they fill a sense of love or belonging. Too much isolation is not good for people. People generate good feelings and energy when they are attached to other human beings. Having conversations and sharing common interests should be daily tasks. A “greeter” is an important job in the group. The greeter is someone who greets the person at the door with the first hello. Their job is to help the person understand logistics and agenda (like what to do with their coat, where the bathroom is, and what is going to happen for the next hour) and invites the person to get connected to others. The objective is that no one should be sitting by themselves. Constant effort should be directed into “inviting” others to get involved, but not forcing. Control, conflict and criticism are the evil “c’s” which are frowned upon and avoided.

Empowerment has two parts: internal worth and external recognition. The notion of “worth” is that people see their own unique talents or gifts that they can use to help the group. Speak Easy tries to help people see their own internal individual “worth” and promote good self esteem. When people become isolated they sometimes lose their ability to see any value in themselves. The second part of empowerment is that people in the group give them “recognition” for their uniqueness and what they have done to help the group grow in some fashion. That is why it is important to recognize people in public and thank them for what they have done.

Fun is important element in our daily life in that it generates good feelings and energy. We all need to have things which bring a smile to our faces and good energy to our hearts. A good joke and fun activities help rejuvenate our spirits. Speak Easy has constant fun activities so that people don’t have to sit at home 7 nights a week. Staying home and look at four deadly walls constantly can be detrimental to people’s energy. People need to stay active with things they like to do. Traveling, sports and hobby activities are constantly on the schedule with a minimum of three in a week. Dancing is not only a good social activity but has been shown to be good in preventing a number of both physical and mental disabilities. Sharing holiday time celebrations with other members is another important thing especially if individual do not have family close by.

Freedom in speech and activities is the fourth need that Speak Easy was designed to meet. Freedom of speech is encouraged as long as it is done tactfully and does not put down someone else. “I statements” are used and “you” statements are discouraged. Time talking is also shared so that everyone can have a say in what is happening. All activities are strictly voluntary. People are welcome to join or refuse any activities they want. If they do not like what is on the schedule they are encouraged to be the organizer or committee chair for a new activity which is run through the board for approval and then introduced to the group in the newsletter and put on the net. People are encouraged to rotate being on the board or a committee chairman for a couple of years, so that no one overpowers or monopolizes the board. No one should ever feel coerced into doing something. The only thing that is mandatory is the annual dues for membership which is done at minimal cost level so that all can join if they choose.