Common Ground Society

Learn about us

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.

73

Schools Reached

30,103

Approximate Students Reached

69

College + Community Presentations

78

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.

Emily King

Emily King 
Treasurer/Presenter

Emily grew up in Sebastopol and now lives with her family in Petaluma.  Her oldest, Megan, was born with Down syndrome in 2012. Paige was born in 2014 and Evan in 2016. Emily works part-time as a pension actuary. She is a current member of the She is a member of the Sonoma County SELPA CAC and former member of the Marin County SELPA SEAC. She is working to help fill gaps educating the community about disabilities. Emily started as a presenter with CGS in 2021 and became the CGS Treasurer in 2022.

Image of Kathy Alexander

Kathy Alexander 
Secretary

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.

Tayler Hockett

Tayler Hockett 
Board Member

Tayler Hockett has been a long-time advocate of disadvantaged students and families. He started off his career working with students on the Autism Spectrum and soon after finishing graduate school at Sonoma State University, he began working in a group as a Social Worker and later Program Director. With a desire to get back to working directly with students and families he joined the Rincon Valley Union School District as a counselor and currently works with middle schoolers and families. 
 
Outside of work he is on a trail running or cycling, having years of coaching at SSU and in Rincon Valley he has been able to incorporate coaching and counseling to help children and families of all ability levels to grow and progress. Common Ground Society is a place where he can help siblings needing support and work with the board to be a part of this amazing program from different levels

Deborah Ross-Swain 
Board Member

Deborah Ross-Swain, Ed.D., CCC-SLP is the clinical director and CEO of The Swain Center. She has served on the CSHA Board of Directors for 10 years. Dr. Swain has received awards from CSHA including Honors and Fellow of the Association, Outstanding Service and Outstanding Achievement, and Outstanding Alumnus in 2016 from California State University, Sacramento. Dr. Swain was also honored with the Nancy McKinley Leadership award from the Council of State Association Presidents (CSAP). She currently serves as chair for CSHA’s Early Intervention and International Committees.  She also served as the project coordinator for a tri-state ASHA grant which produced five videos on Interprofessional Practice and Interprofessional Education for assessment and treatment of ASD, Literacy and Early Intervention. Dr. Swain has served on ASHA’s Legislative Council, Advisory Committee and is former chair of the Governmental Affairs and Public Policy Board and Perspectives Editorial Review. She is Fellow of the Association for ASHA and Editor of SIG 17’s Perspectives Journal. Dr. Swain is an internationally and nationally recognized speaker and author. Her most recent publication, Confidence and Joy: Success Strategies for Kids with Learning Differences is an Amazon best selling book.
Image of Nathan Heagerty

Nathan Heagerty 
Board Member

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).

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 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.

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 us at hello.commongroundsociety.org.

Let’s Chat