Melissa Spear, Executive Director

Melissa Spear is Executive Director at Common Ground.

After 12 weeks of summer camp mayhem, Common Ground was relatively quiet last week. Actually, mayhem is perhaps not the right word to use but it is hard to describe the feeling of having 250 kids and 80 staff actively engaged on site each day — organized chaos perhaps? Playful pandemonium? Whatever you call it, it is spectacular! I have to give the highest kudos to our two camp directors, Rebecca Holcombe and Jill Keating, not just for the graceful way they handle the complex logistics of running the camp but for creating the warm, welcoming, and joyful culture and feel of the camp experience. The quality of the camp is in large part due to the incredible teachers and counselors Jill and Rebecca hire, and the thoughtful way the staff is trained, and the very high performance standards that are set for them. But it is also due to the steady, calm presence of Rebecca and Jill every day, coaching, supervising and trouble shooting. And it always amazes me that on top of everything else, they know the name and status of EVERY child attending camp EVERY day! I hope you will all join me in thanking Jill and Rebecca for their amazing dedication to our summer camp kids and their families.

Now that camp has officially ended it is time to transition into fall programs. Our facilities have been taken over for two weeks to strip and wax floors, clean bathrooms and windows and walls, and get things ready for the return of our high school students and staff. The start of school is upon us! I have already been hearing great things about the new crop of incoming freshman and look forward to meeting them all during this week’s orientation. A bunch of them have gotten a jump on the school year for Math Camp — and seem to be pretty good natured about getting up early to make sure they are ready for what the upcoming school year has to bring. In addition to our freshman, we will be welcoming several new part and full-time staff to the school — a French teacher, a Special Education teacher, a Social Studies teacher, a Reading teacher and a Physical Education teacher among them, in large part thanks to the Education Reform legislation that increased our per pupil state grant from $9,400 to $10,500. We are very thankful to everyone — whether in the legislature, the administration, advocacy groups, or members of the public — who supported that effort. In fact, we are looking forward to honoring our own Senator Toni Harp and Representative Toni Walker at our fall Feast from the Fields event on September 29th in part to thank them for their strong support of education and education reform.

Meanwhile, in the midst of summer camp and school, our farm continues to produce a beautiful bounty of fruit and produce in the capable hands of Shannon Raider and her farm interns and Green Jobs Corps staff. Our kitchen staff, also working with Green Jobs Corps, has been busy using some of this bounty to produce jars of blueberry and raspberry preserves, pickles and relish, frozen green beans and chard, and other good stuff that will become part of school lunches in the coming year. Shannon also participates in Cityseed’s downtown farmers market on Wednesdays, as well as running a market here on site each Saturday. We are also very excited to be partnering with Cityseed to launch a MOBILE market … more below!

Despite all of the other activity on site, our Green Jobs Corps also managed to complete a couple of significant site projects this summer — building a beautiful new retaining wall and fence at the bottom of our educational garden for one. I have to say, our site is looking fantastic these days — please come see for yourself. We love visitors.

And while all this good work is going on here at Common Ground what have I been doing you might ask? In addition to helping plan, monitoring, cheerleading and supporting the work of others, I have been working myself to lay the ground work for the addition of a new school building on site that will add 2 dedicated science classrooms, a dedicated art classroom and a multi-purpose space that can be used for community gatherings, recreation, and performance. This is a critical project for us. It will both alleviate current capacity problems and provide room to grow. The building has been designed and construction documents are nearing completion. We have received City Plan approval of our site plan. We are now working on assembling the funding we need for the project — and we are making real progress. $312,000 in grants was recently awarded by the Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority for a photovoltaic array to generate renewable energy and a geothermal exchange system for heating and cooling. We received a $150,000 allocation of tax credits through the Neighborhood assistance act and are seeking corporations who will donate to this project in exchange for these tax credits. I am in the process of assembling the information that must be submitted before we can receive the $4 million school construction grant for this project included in the school bond package last legislative session. We are getting closer to assembling the funding we need to break ground, but are not quite there yet. If you would like to know more feel free to contact me, Joel Tolman or Kimball Cartwright. All of us are hard at work on this project!

I hope you have had a great summer. Come visit our farmers market on Saturdays! Join us September 29th for Feast from the Fields! Call us! Just be in touch. We would love to know what you think of our work.