About us

Our mission

  • OUR MISSION:  We share the stories of our lives to educate and empower our community to be more compassionate, accepting, and inclusive of people with disabilities. Common Ground Society ensures that all families feel a sense of belonging through meaningful connections and local support.
 
  • VISION STATEMENT: Individuals of all abilities are entitled to belong in every aspect of society. Inclusion is not only a right, but a strength that enables society to thrive. HELLO.BELONGING.
Picture of Melissa and Larkin
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Schools Reached
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College and Community Presentations
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Common Ground Meet Ups

How we started

Common Ground Society all began at preschool. Larkin and Jessica did a presentation on Down syndrome at their children’s preschool for World Down syndrome Day in 2017. Covered in the Press Democrat, news of the presentation quickly spread and many of Larkin’s teaching colleagues asked “Just Two Moms” (as they became known as) to come and present to their classes. They shifted their focus from just Down syndrome to a multitude of diagnoses. The requests quickly became overwhelming for these busy moms, so they decided to try their hand at all-school assemblies. Low and behold, it was a hit! Challenged by the COVID outbreak, they revamped their presentations and are now offering virtual presentations to all different types of groups, spreading the word of acceptance and inclusion.  You can find the news article about their first presentation here. 

Picture of Jessica and Larkin before their first presentation

about our families

Larkin and her husband Peter are Sonoma County natives who have been married since 2010. Since 2004, they both have been teachers in the Rincon Valley Union School District. Larkin has taught various grades from preschool to middle school. She is currently serving as the Vice Chair for the Sonoma CAC and the President and Social Media Director of Common Ground Society. James, their son who was born on St. Patrick’s day in 2014, is Larkin’s inspiration to create change. He is a goofy, fun-loving, friendly, sassy little guy who happens to have Down syndrome. He has a little sister, JuneBelle who we all adore. Larkin believes in the importance of inclusion for all people and is on a mission to change the narrative. She advocated that we are all different, there is no such thing as normal. Her tagline is, “you don’t know what you don’t know, until you know. So let’s learn!”

Larkin O'Leary

CoFounder
President, Presenter

Emily Parker

Vice President 

Emily is an educator with experience working in a variety of educational settings across Sonoma County.She currently works as an early childhood inclusion coach in Napa county. Emily founded the annual Inclusion Festival in May of 2018 when she discovered that no other festival of its kind existed in the United States. It is her mission to spread awareness and acceptance by inviting everyone to celebrate their individuality in a safe space. Emily joined the board of directors for the Common Ground Society to further the conversation and education of diversity, equity, and inclusion in our communities locally and globally. “I believe in the importance of creating inclusive environments for our diverse communities. It is my mission to celebrate the unique differences of individuals, while bringing people together as a community.”

Harmony and her husband, Erik were born and raised in the Bay Area. Settling in Santa Rosa where they are raising August born in 2015 and Lucille, 2018. Harmony has been an educator since 2003 and is currently an administrator in Rincon Valley. Erik left his tech sales job after August’s autism and expressive speech delay diagnosis to be a stay at home dad, so Harmony could continue her education and advocacy work. Harmony has joined the team for our Inclusion in the Community series. She and Larkin have done numerous talks such as Inclusion in Motherhood, Inclusion in parenthood, Inclusive Practices for SLPs and Inclusion in Education.

Harmony Harvell

Presenter

Melissa Staggs

Presenter

Melissa was born and raised in Sebastopol. She and her husband Tim have been married since 2006 and during her first pregnancy she left her job in real estate to help grow her husband’s new construction business. Her son AJ was born in 2014 and diagnosed with Cornelia de Lange Syndrome- a rare condition caused by a random gene mutation. Since then she has become a passionate advocate for the CdLS Foundation serving as a regional coordinator, as well as volunteering and fundraising for other local nonprofits that serve those with special needs. Her daughter Sabrina was born in 2015 and is a sassy, smart, miniature version of Melissa!

Kate Westrich
Secretary

Kate Westrich has been an educator at the middle-school and elementary level for over 20 years, currently as a school site administrator in Rincon Valley Union School District. During that time she has had the great fortune to work at Village Elementary School, where the full-inclusion culture welcomes students with diverse backgrounds and abilities to learn, play, and create community together in a supportive setting that is built on kindness, curiosity, positivity, and genuine caring for one another. Kate’s mission as an educator and Common Ground Society board member is to work toward the day when inclusive, welcoming, full-inclusion schools are the standard educational experience for all students.

Kathy Alexander
co-Treasurer

As a classroom teacher for 25 years, I came to understand the importance of developing an inclusive “community of learners”, ensuring that each child recognized their self-worth and strengths and giving each an opportunity to reach their full potential as a learner, while also acknowledging and honoring the strengths of the other members of the class regardless of ability or disability. As members of our learning community, we worked for the benefit of all. When I was asked to join the Common Group Society, I saw it as a chance to extend this philosophy to a wider audience, helping others (children and adults) learn to see the gifts, rather than the differences, each of us brings to the table, to look beyond first impressions. In addition, it’s a chance to provide help to those families who need support, but don’t know where to turn, and don’t know the questions to ask. As the grandmother of a high-functioning autistic child, I understand the feelings of helplessness when you don’t know where to turn.  I look forward to working to extend Common Ground Society’s message of inclusion in Sonoma County.

Nathan Heagerty
co-Treasurer

Nathan Heagerty is on the  Common Ground Society board because he wants to help people with disabilities have a fair shot in all aspects of life. He recently graduated from Sonoma State University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting and Financial Management. He has also held jobs as a Senior Office Assistant doing office work and as a Stock Clerk at CVS Pharmacy doing customer service related tasks. His involvement in the disability community is through programs he attended at the Swain Center and through the Department of Rehabilitation (DOR). 

Alyssa McDonald
Board Member

Monty Sullivan
Board Member

Jana Adams
Board Member

Meredith Rennie
Board Member

Common Ground Society DEI statement

Common Ground Society reaffirms that our organization, groups, and platforms are safe spaces for all people. We are proud to announce the formation of the CGS Diversity Committee and the adoption of our diversity, equity, and inclusion statement:

Disability is the largest minority in the world. Common Ground Society acknowledges the intersectionality of disability and diversity. We recognize every person brings a unique perspective and experience to advance our mission of inclusion. We celebrate and support the contributions of all people.

We strive to create a safe and equitable space for people from every class, race, culture, nationality, ethnicity, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, family structure, and all statuses of citizenship. 

CGS is dedicated to furthering cultural sensitivity and the equitable inclusion of all people by challenging ourselves and others to continuously expand understanding of the diverse needs in our growing community. 

CGS proclaims with words and actions that ours must be a just community where harassment, intimidation, discrimination, and violence are always unacceptable; that all forms of prejudice and hatred will not be tolerated.

We acknowledge that diversity, equity, and inclusion require ongoing learning and growth. CGS considers this to be a living document, and we welcome and encourage feedback.

We pledge to uphold this DE&I statement and the values it embodies. Please join us in showing your commitment to these ideals by reposting, commenting below, sharing with others, or reaching out to our diversity committee at [email protected]

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