People find Common Ground in many different ways: as a child attending summer camp, or as an eager gardener at out Seedling Sales, or as a customer of the mobile market, or as a guest at Feast From the Fields. Some of Common Ground’s deepest connections, though, are with the students and alumni of Common Ground High School. The first graduating class was just two students in 1999 and the network of alumni has grown upwards of 300, now including 2013’s graduated class. Those 300 alumni know Common Ground as a source of inspiration and challenge, an employer, a friend, and a mentor. Each former student has an intimate connection with the organization.
Though our connections to alumni are incredibly important to us — and not a week goes by without some stopping by to say hello — Common Ground hasn’t had the capacity to keep our growing alumni community engaged. That’s why when Common Ground was given the chance to host a VISTA Volunteer for the next three years, we jumped on the chance to grow our connection with alumni. Leslie Lewis had a similar instant reaction when she read about Common Ground. “I liked Common Ground’s mission. I knew if I worked at Common Ground I would be working somewhere I believed in,” said Lewis.
Lewis joins Common Ground from Bloomington, Illinois where she graduated from Illinois State University in 2012. She has been tasked with the job of reconnecting alumni with each other and with Common Ground, and also with helping our young alumni succeed in college. “There’s not really a formal network at this point. There is a presence on Facebook, but the hope is to create something more formal and sustainable,” explained Lewis.
Recently Lewis and Joel Tolman, Director of Community Engagement and Development, hosted alumni back to campus for an informal discussion about how to reconnect with alumni, and how Common Ground can still be a presence in past graduates’ lives. The responses were positive and led to ideas about what a fully formed alumni network would look like. “Obviously we want the alumni to connect on a social level, have social functions and get to know each other again,” reflected Lewis.
But just like Common Ground is not a typical high school, the alumni network would hopefully be more then just a social network. “Having past students come back and be mentors to current students is something that could be a really powerful way to connect with alumni. Or offering professional development seminars to continue to help even after they’ve graduated is another idea we’ve floated around,” continued Lewis. “We want to make sure students know they can always come back to Common Ground.”
If you are an alumni, or know of an alumni who’d like to be back in touch, email Leslie at firstname.lastname@example.org. Make sure to include up to date contact information!