To empower high school students to become future leaders through programs focused on character development, healthy living, financial literacy, and creative expression.
“I started the Common Ground Foundation because I wanted to help. Most of all help people to help themselves. I always believed that if we started with the youth then we would be planting the seeds for our future to blossom. Give the children a sense of hope, self-esteem, and love that will better the world…I think making a difference in the lives of others is life’s greatest purpose. I walk this path with faith knowing that the Common Ground Foundation will Change the World.”
The Common Ground Foundation’s youth education initiatives were inspired by a mission to expose underserved inner city youth to new opportunities through the creative arts. Over the past 12 years, the program has broadened its focus to include the Dreamer’s & Believers Youth Mentoring Program & Summer Camp, partnering on the Chicago Youth Jobs Collaborative, and creating job-training experiences for underserved youth throughout the City of Chicago.
The Youth Mentoring Program, a 3-year commitment, currently has more than 60 students ranging from 13 to 16 years of age. A dedicated team of volunteers, coaches, mentors, and instructors work throughout the year to make a difference, one child at a time. In addition to monthly mentoring sessions, the students participate in cultural field trips, community service projects, and social outings. Each summer, the students attend The Dreamers & Believers Summer Camp where they travel away from the daily cares of the city for a one-week summer camp experience. During camp, the students enjoy campfires, water activities, yoga, trust walks, team-building and of course, creative arts.
New this year is our college readiness program for students entering their high school junior year. Counselors and college admission experts will lead monthly meetings to help the college-bound students and their parents navigate the post-secondary school process. Through this effort, the students will participate in ACT/SAT preparatory courses, admission essay writing workshops, college tours, and scholarship strategies.
As partners in the Chicago Youth Job Collaborative, Common Ground Foundation, the Chicago Urban League, and several local community organizations are committed to a multi-year initiative, to expand youth summer jobs into year-round jobs. Collectively, we believe expanding and creating new jobs is a critical component of anti-violence efforts. Our goal is to expand 1,000 summer jobs into year-round employment opportunities from 2014 to 2015; increasing the number of expanded and new jobs every year.
In 2014, Common Ground Foundation hosted its inaugural Spring Youth Business Conference for students from the public and charter school community, titled “The Art & Science of Success”. Through career immersion workshops and speed networking sessions, the students learned job readiness skills from professionals in financial services, construction management, marketing, engineering, entrepreneurship, interior design, and performance arts. City Treasurer Stephanie Neely and Che’ “Rhymefest” Smith delivered opening remarks and the keynote address. Members of the Illinois Institute of Technology’s (IIT) African American Alumni Association and Career Services Department gave the students powerful glimpses of how college can help position them for success.
Also in 2014, the Common Ground Foundation is introducing the AAHH! FEST hosted by COMMON. The AAHH! FEST is a one-day community-wide musical celebration that will also provide a variety of job related experiences for students. In addition to youth participation in the COMMUNITY SHOWCASE segment of the festival, the Foundation has created opportunities for students to job shadow in various behind-the-scenes roles needed to produce such a large- scale event. This program provides hands-on training for youth ages 15-18.
The COMMUNITY SHOWCASE is co-presented by Donda’s House, Inc. After auditioning hundreds of young talent around the city for several months leading to the festival, more than 25 Chicago acts will be apart of the COMMUNITY SHOWCASE, including special performances by The Happiness Club and the South Shore Drill Team. Students will also serve in various roles in the production of the COMMUNITY SHOWCASE, further enhancing their exposure and job training experiences.
COMMON’s personal commitment to the Foundation is both in spirit and deed, as he donates significant time, including attending summer camp, mentoring sessions, and meetings and talking with young people nationwide to keep inspiring them to dream beyond their circumstances; in addition to providing financial support to the Foundation.
In an effort to “do something” in order to support youth in Chicago who were being plagued by violence, COMMON lead the drive to create a partnership with Chicago Urban League and other organizations on the Chicago Youth Jobs Collaborative.
Dr. Mahalia Hines, a former CPS Teacher, Principal and a current member of the Chicago Board of Education, and mother of COMMON, serves as the President of the Common Ground Foundation’s Board of Directors. Supporting Dr. Hines’ leadership are Tamara Brown, Executive Director; Jovanne Smith, Director of Programs; Toya Dodd, Project Director and seven fellow members of the CGF Board.
Common Ground Foundation was recognized by CNN Heroes and BET Hip Hop Awards as a philanthropic organization doing great work in urban communities.
Visit www.commongroundfoundation.org for more information.