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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.

53

Schools Reached

21,666

Approximate Students Reached

52

College + Community Presentations

44

Common Ground Meetups

Picture of Jessica and Larkin before their first presentation

How We Got 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, so they decided to try their hand at all-school assemblies, and they were a hit! You can find the news article about their first presentation here.

Our Team

Image of Larkin and family

Larkin O’Leary 
Cofounder, President, Presenter

 

Larkin and her husband Peter are Sonoma County natives, and have both been teachers in the Rincon Valley Union School District since 2004. Larkin has taught various grades from preschool to middle school. She’s currently serving as the Vice Chair for the Sonoma CAC, and the President and Social Media Director of Common Ground Society.

James, their son, 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. Her tagline is, “you don’t know what you don’t know, until you know. So let’s learn!”

Image of Jana Adams

Jana Adams 
Vice President/Presenter

Jana was raised in Santa Rosa and now has the opportunity to raise her 4 children (Luke, Max, Faith and Brooke) in the same area with her husband Jon. Brooke, her youngest daughter has a rare type of epilepsy, called Dravet Syndrome. Jana became the unintended advocate for her daughter, and has a passion for spreading awareness and providing education about acceptance and disability rights.

She is a past member of the Sonoma CAC (Community Advisory Committee) and Board of Directors of North Bay Credit Union.

Image of Harmony Harvell and family

Harmony Harvell 
Presenter

Harmony has been an educator since 2003 and is currently an administrator in Rincon Valley. Erik, Harmony’s husband, left his tech sales job after August, their son, was diagnosed with autism and expressive speech delay. Erik is 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.

IMage of Melissa Staggs and family

Melissa Staggs 
Presenter

Melissa was born and raised in Sebastopol. 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’s 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.

 

Image of Kate Westrich

Kate Westrich 
Secretary

Kate Westrich has been an educator at the middle-school and elementary level for over 20 years. She’s currently a school site administrator in Rincon Valley Union School District.

She’s 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. 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.

Image of Kathy Alexander

Kathy Alexander 
Co-Treasurer

As a classroom teacher for 25 years, Kathy came to understand the importance of developing an inclusive “community of learners”, ensuring that each child recognized their self-worth and strengths regardless of ability or disability. As members of our learning community, we work for the benefit of all.

Kathy joined the Common Group Society to extend this philosophy to a wider audience. As the grandmother of a high-functioning autistic child, she understands the feelings of helplessness when you don’t know where to turn. She looks forward to working to extend Common Ground Society’s message of inclusion in Sonoma County.

Image of Nathan Heagerty

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.

His involvement in the disability community is through programs he attended at the Swain Center and through the Department of Rehabilitation (DOR).

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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