Common Ground hopes to foster positive changes in Ozaukee County
Cedarburg News Graphic 03/11/2014, Page A03
By Lisa Curtis – News Graphic Staff
OZAUKEE COUNTY — The occasional misconception that the grassroots group Common Ground has political leanings played out quietly at an Ozaukee County Board meeting several months back. Organization members, there to support a vote, stood in the back of the board room, all wearing Tshirts bearing the Common Ground name, when one supervisor kiddingly said to another that the group looked “liberal.”
In fact, that is exactly the kind of stereotype Common Ground is trying to avoid. With the divisive political bickering in Washington, D.C., Common Ground officials are working to unite citizens from all backgrounds and beliefs to work toward a shared goal.
“We try to bring people together to create change,” said organizer Rusty Borkin.
And they already have.
In early April, members will hold a gathering at the county transit center in Port Washington to celebrate their success in helping to expand the Ozaukee County Shared Ride Taxi Sunday hours from 8 a.m. to noon to 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Transit is a frequent concern among residents in southeastern Wisconsin, Borkin said. They know that, because talking to people and organizations is what they do.
They started hitting the pavement in Ozaukee County about a year ago as part of an effort to reach the suburbs, Borkin said. Organizers introduced themselves to county and municipal leaders, church leaders, business groups, parents, educators and whomever else would pick up the phone.
They have worked particularly closely with First Congregational Church in Port Washington and Pilgrim United Church of Christ in Grafton. Their efforts to extend the Shared Ride Taxi’s Sunday hours was a direct result of conversations with church officials, who know of parishioners limited in how much time they can spend at church on Sundays because they lack transportation.
Pilgrim UCC Pastor Franz Rigert has been involved with Common Ground since its Milwaukee launch in 2008. What it does is introduce everyday people into the discussion of effecting change. Without the public involvement, the country is a three-legged stool run by commerce and the government. Ordinary citizens, the third leg, has been cut off, he said.
“It’s (Common Ground) an organization that tries to better the common good, to produce positive effects in our society,” Rigert said.
It is non-partisan, but can at times be political when it has to challenge “the powers that be,” Rigert said.
In Milwaukee, Common Ground has chalked up a number of successful achievements, including the development of a health co-op and a partnership with banks to rehabilitate and sell more than 100 foreclosed homes in the Sherman Park area.
“If things are going to get done, it has to be through a partnership,” said Maureen Squire, executive director of Interfaith Caregivers of Ozaukee County.
She said she was “all in” when she heard about the Common Ground movement here.
Ozaukee organizers have already identified a number of issues they hope to address as a community. Many whom they spoke to have expressed a concern about workforce development issues and giving students the training needed to fill vital job roles, Borkin said. They have also heard from many about youth and family stress, much of it related to technology.
Rigert said they are working with Grafton church and school officials to craft a message that would engage parents and students in the smart use of technology.
“We are just beginning to conceptualize what an initiative would look like around the positive use of technology,” he said.
Organizers are calling it the “tech train,” symbolizing how kids are speeding by their parents in the use and knowledge of smart technology.
(Lisa Curtis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)