Common Ground celebrates one-year anniversary, welcomes new learners

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Common Ground
From left: Emily, Martha, and Miguel Gutierrez-Vargas joined Jerry and Jeni Fischer at Monday night’s meeting. The two couples will be Common Ground partners this year. (Photo: Karen Abbott-Trimuel)
By Karen Abbott-Trimuel

LANSING, Ill. (July 28, 2021) – It’s been a year since the launch of the Common Ground pilot program, which started in August 2020. On Monday, July 26, 2021, Common Ground had its first annual meeting hosted by Freedom Church Ministries. Melanie Jongsma — the organizer of the program — and the 2020 Common Ground pilot participants met to celebrate the completion of Common Ground’s first year and discuss the success, continuation, and testimonial experiences of the pilot program.

The purpose

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Dewayne Sutton (left), Youth Pastor at Freedom Church, met his Common Ground partner Al Phillips, Lansing’s new Chief of Police, at Monday night’s meeting. (Photo: Karen Abbott-Trimuel)

The purpose of the Common Ground project is to bring people together from diverse ethnic groups and backgrounds to share and communicate their experiences, cultures, and beliefs in hopes of dispelling misconceptions and misguided perceptions. It also provides open dialogue for discussions generally viewed as difficult or uncomfortable for the participants to understand the views and opinions of others respectfully.

The Common Ground project is a research assignment that bridges the gap for willing partners to understand their differences better, learn to embrace their similarities, and respect the impact each one makes within their communities.

Learning and growing

Common Ground
Sharon Giles (left) and Debbie Zadrozny have become friends after a year as Common Ground partners. (Photo: Karen Abbott-Trimuel)

The partners commit to meeting monthly to build a positive relationship while learning about one another during the process. In addition, Jongsma provides monthly questions to assist with open and honest conversations. For example, one participant, Sharon Giles, stated that she didn’t think her partner Debbie Zadrozny would be a good match as she felt there were far too many differences, but after meeting, she said, “That was far from the truth; we became best friends.”

Although there were minor setbacks and interruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic that affected the expectations of in-person meetings and group gatherings, it paved the way for open and sometimes candid and challenging conversations related to the impact people were experiencing that affected them differently.

Second-year excitement

Monday’s meeting was open to participants who had completed the pilot and newcomers that had heard about the program from others and were excited about signing up now that it is open to the public. There were also observers seeking more information before deciding to join. Common Ground is for individuals, married couples, and groups seeking to connect with the same.

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From left: Friends Jackie Terrazas and Diane Herrera signed up for Common Ground together. They will be partnering with Tina Arteaga and Micaela Smith (not pictured). (Photo: Karen Abbott-Trimuel)

Freedom Church Pastor Thaddeus Searcy said, “On the heels of 2020, we’ve lost a sense of community. Common Ground is helping to restore our communities.” The consensus at the end of the meeting was that many were eager to sign up.

For more information regarding the Common Ground project, email [email protected].

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