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One America - Common Ground

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One America

Program: Common Ground, Hartford, CT
Contact(s): Ellen Smith-Bigelow, Director: (860) 241-6161 x 215
Purpose: To enable students from the Greater Hartford Region to develop an appreciation of people from diverse backgrounds

Background Program Operations Outcomes


In 1986, Leadership Greater Hartford and the American Leadership Forum, two established service organizations, along with the Justice Education Center, decided to expand Common Ground, their community service project, to include the youth of the Hartford area. After two years of discussion and planning, this new phase of Common Ground was created in 1988 to teach both leadership skills and multicultural appreciation to children of various ethnic backgrounds.

Program Operations

Since October 1988, 35 to 45 students have been chosen each semester from high schools in Hartford and surrounding communities to participate in Common Ground. During a 14-week period, participants increase their knowledge of people from diverse backgrounds and develop strong personal relationships that bridge geographic, ethnic and class boundaries. They also learn to work effectively in groups, identify specific community issues with which to get involved, develop leadership skills that will enhance their overall academic achievement and participate in a series of leadership development exercises. Meeting once a week after school for three hours, students discuss various issues, participate in exercises and record their thoughts in personal journals. Topics for these workshops have included: conflict resolution and communication, leadership skills, racism, sexism and public speaking. The students are taught to understand diversity as a leadership tool. Once graduated, students extend their learning experiences each year through the alumni association, Common Ground II. Common Ground II provides advanced leadership training for alumni and other student leaders. Participants meet 10 times a year, with committees meeting more frequently as necessary. Students apply their organization, communication, negotiation and public speaking skills as they present their ideas on issues, activities and community service projects.

Outcomes and Significant Accomplishments

By 1998, over 800 students from very different backgrounds have participated in the program. Students have given well over 10,000 hours of service to their communities, led workshops for hundreds of middle and high school age students, sharpened their leadership skills and worked with boards of community organizations. Some graduates of Common Ground now sit on the Board of Directors of Leadership Greater Hartford, Common Ground's parent organization

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