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2018 end of the year letter

Bryan Kelly, Founder and Executive Director

Bryan Kelly, Founder and Executive Director

I am deeply grateful to report that 2018 has been a great year at Common Ground Montgomery. We understand that there are so many wonderful nonprofits that are worthy of your investment, but we are thankful you have chosen us. Your support allows us to transform lives, families, and our community.

Over this past year, while I focused on expanding our efforts to other areas beyond Montgomery’s westside, Justin Hampton served as our local director and worked to make us more effective in our mission.

Recently, he felt a calling to devote his efforts towards the renewal of Montgomery’s Public School system. We are extremely grateful to Justin and look forward to seeing his future impact on our kids’ educational development as he works with the Montgomery Education Foundation. I have stepped back into the executive director role and I am excited to see God continue to use us for the transformation of our city.

This last year we established a new sending and training mechanism, Common Ground Alabama, in Birmingham. We helped establish our first plant, Common Ground Shoals, that is now seeing wonderful things happen in Florence, Alabama. We are on the verge of helping start a new kids camp in Montgomery’s southside (Camp Tenetke). This endeavor will not only provide an affordable camp and developmental experience for underprivileged youth, but will also focus on bringing kids together from all walks of life. Additionally, the Mercy House officially launched in October (as its own 501(c)3 non-profit) to help meet the needs of many through a daily presence that helps homeless families, latch key kids, and families struggling to make ends meet.

We are continuing to see the grace of God shared and shown in our midst, and that’s why I’ve included Quanda’s story from how she went from a parent with kids in our program to working at CGM.

Your giving has allowed us to put full-time people in a distressed community who continually show up and are present in a chaotic context. As Quanda has expressed so well, God loves to be present to us through people. He is using your generosity to show His love.

We are beyond thankful for your love and support because we couldn’t be here without it. Would you please consider a year-end gift and commit to a recurring monthly donation in 2019? Thank your for your prayerful consideration to help change Montgomery and beyond!

meet quanda brown

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“I am a single parent that didn’t want my kids (a 12th-grader, 8th-grader, 6th-grader, and 3rd-grade twins) roaming the streets. CGM was a way for my kids to have a safe experience in the community. I wanted positive role models in a good environment for my kids. The after school program really helped me out because I was working two jobs and it helped them have somewhere to go until I could get home later in the evening.”

“I lived in Gibbs Village for five years with my kids. I saw a guy shot on my porch. And that does something to you...”

“I didn’t want my kids to be out and see that type of stuff. I felt like I had to keep them inside all the time. I was scared for their lives and the impact of all the bad stuff that can happen. So, I found a place that was good for them; a safe place.”

“That can’t be taken for granted. That would have been enough for me. But, then I saw all the amazing adults up here, real role models and caring adults who loved my kids and who helped them every day.”

CGM helped her combat the effects of some of the community trauma that happens during after school hours when so many kids are unsupervised and under the influence of destructive people. But personal trauma is what also brought Quanda to CGM.

The more Quanda came to pick her kids up and interact with the staff and volunteers, the more she experienced the love and grace of God as they were shown to her and her kids. And other kids that recognized her would flock to her as she spent more and more time around CGM. She felt that the safe, loving, non-judgmental environment and relationships were not only drawing her to a place of connection, honesty, and healing that she couldn’t yet put words to, but she began to have the same heart to see those same things happen for the girls in the program.

She began volunteering 15 hours a week to lead a third grade class. She started sharing her life and story with the middle school and high school girls. She was so effective that we hired her part-time at first, and then eventually full-time. Her connection to the kids and the gracious environment she was participating in led her one day, to the surprise of all the staff and kids (and Quanda herself), to share long term betrayals and traumas including a long absent father that once told her, when she finally tracked him down: “I don’t have any money.”

She replied, “I don’t want any money, I just want to know why you don’t love me.”

He had no answer.

She internalized a lot pain for most of her life. Those years of carrying the hidden pain, levels of shame, and the loss of self-love, identity, and innocence had taken a toll in her life in ways she didn’t even understand. She made an incredibly bold choice to share her story with the girls at CGM.

At least three things happened to her.

Contrary to all her fears in life for so long, her new friends and family at CGM drew closer to her in love and support and not away. She also began to find personal healing and started the grief process for all that had been stolen from her, and for the hurtful choices she made for many years as a hurt person. And lastly, the girls began to come to her and open up about their own devastating experiences.

Safe space, honest intimacy, love and acceptance, and shared pain and weakness have begun to create a deeper environment of connection and a process of healing. It has overflowed into mothers of the children as well, as Quanda has chosen to engage them with her presence and story.

God is showing so much sideways grace through this incredible woman.

“Not having a father involved in my life and other childhood pain led to a place of me looking for many years for the wrong type of men to make up for it. You can’t find healing like that, only more pain.”

She wants the girls and other moms to stop that cycle as well.

Quanda has started a track to be trained to lead our lower school program and to be a mentor-leader to our older girls. She is an amazing person and has had an impact on all of us.

Thank you so much for helping support us to help create the space and platform for leaders like Quanda to be transformed and to be instruments of love and transformation for others.

2017 end of the year letter

We close out the year with some words from CGM founder Bryan Kelly and a story from staffer Summer Williams about an experience at the Mercy House.

(A PDF version can be found here.)

A note from Bryan Kelly

Bryan Kelly CGM Founder

Bryan Kelly
CGM Founder

I am honored to be able share the enclosed story with you of one family and their experience of our mission. Summer came to CGM as a volunteer years ago and has poured her life out in many relationships along the way.

You can’t talk with her and not see the deep, life changing, merciful impact this place and the amazing people abiding in our neighborhood have had on her. It is said that mercy is not receiving what you could have received - in terms of judgment, consequences, or condemnation. However, it is also the gift of compassion and help in extreme times of need.

I have experienced great mercy in my life. 

My reckless choices, selfishness, apathy, neglect, and hurtful treatment of others has not met the just consequences from God and others that it deserves. Conversely, in my deepest pain and in my lowest unrecognizable disintegrations, God has shown me overwhelming mercy. And, He has chosen most of the time to do it “wrapped in a person”.

I have come to believe that CGM is a place where all kinds of people come to both give and receive mercy. For some kids from the neighborhood it looks like not being in a gang, carrying a pistol, dying on a front porch, dropping out of school, or starting kindergarten with developmental deficit. For others who give and come from outside the neighborhood, it’s what their life, time, financial resources would be spent on without being connected to their purpose. It’s about how their own lives and the lives of their children can be impoverished or damaged by being in spiritual isolation, despite having great material affluence and influence. 

And then there is the flip side. Kids escape gangs, teenage pregnancy, murder, lack of education, and fatherlessness to be developed into producers: who love others well, who begin a legacy of an intact family, and creatively change the world. And, they will do it better because they aren’t racially, politically, and socially isolated. “Resourced” people who get involved experience God in ways they never thought available to them, and find their story in His story. And the line between mercy giver and mercy receiver becomes blurred as we find kinship, together, in this place.

This is what we get to see over and over again here. Thank you so much for investing in our work. But we still need your help. We are growing in the neighborhood and are excitingly expanding outside our city. Will you help us with a much needed year-end gift and will you also consider a monthly pledge for 2018?

Today I received an amazing gift

Summer Williams

Summer Williams

I went to the Mercy House, one of Common Ground Montgomery’s ministries in the neighborhood, to hear the story of a family that wanted to share their experience. They hoped that God would use it to say thank you to those who had given towards the mission of CGM.

I arrived at the Mercy House and was immediately put to work. By now, I should have known better than to think I could come only in the role of interviewer. That’s not the vision and example of Pastor Ken Austin. There are no other roles than that of a participant. There were already four families in the lobby that were receiving food boxes, a homeless woman that needed to take a shower and asked me to help her pick out something to wear from the clothes closet, and a couple of homeless gentlemen in our neighborhood that were washing their clothes.

I remembered immediately that lines of giver and receiver were blurry and interchangeable in this place. I thought of the many kids enrolled in our leadership programs a couple of blocks away, their parents, and so many others who have benefited from this house of mercy and continued to come serve here. There was and is no culture other than participant here: receivers and givers of mercy.

So I participated. In the same way that I have seen kids, moms, dads, grandmothers, and grandfathers from our own neighborhood come to do when they come to cook, wash, and assemble food boxes and clothes to take to people they know that are having a hard time.

The Mercy House is a powerful space and strangely other experience where people routinely walk in, feeling desperation, chaos, harassed, disoriented, and hopeless. When you and your kids are hungry, have no electricity on, or no access to water, or no place to sleep tonight in the cold - it is terrifying.

In homelessness, you are assaulted minute by minute by depression, the deep pain of unprocessed loss, voices that reinforce the contempt you see in the expressions, words, and actions of others, it has a deep effect. But then there is another effect: when you feel you are invisible. The toll of that is devastating when humans don’t even see you, or acknowledge you are there.

Then, there is the shame and loss of dignity. This is as bad as any other part of it. This is the home that so many of us find ourselves in and struggle to escape. This is the abuser that destroys and that finds fuel in the interactions with even well-meaning givers. 

But today I would get to participate in another gift of Mercy.

Antwan and Janele arrived as I finished my unplanned shift, and we sat down so I could hear a small but important part of their story.

They have four children from elementary age to high school. The house they were living in burned down. The stress of a forced move, along with the losses that came with it, drove them past the slim margins they currently had. Janele was also soon laid off from her job and Antwan was working hard but still struggling to find a well -paying job to support his family of six. They were evicted and eventually made aware that their remaining things were curbside where strangers were already plundering their family’s stuff. They picked up the pieces they could recover, and went first to a hotel for a while and then eventually transferred to an extended stay where they are currently residing. It was in the hotel and this overwhelming place that someone led them to Pastor Austin and the Mercy House.

They next shared of some of the timely resources he helped them secure. From school uniforms for their children to keep attending school, assistance to help out with the cost of the hotel, clothing to keep them employed and in school (Janele is in school to become a Medical Assistant), and food for their family. They didn’t even try to suppress the tears and range of emotions that telling the story evoked. My own tears came as I realized what they were granting me: the gift of intimacy.

Listening to their story, I, in a relatively small but important way, felt both some of the anguish this family had been through and the gratitude for the provision of things that played important pieces of needed relief in their suffering. 

They went on to say that the most important and impactful thing that happened to them at the Mercy House was beyond the relief.  “We were loved, we were prayed for, people walked with us in the darkest times of our life and they are still doing so. Pastor Austin answers the phone every time we call and is always there for us: with help, a hug, a prayer, or a word of encouragement. The other stuff was so big, but that was the most important.”

I was shattered. Mercy was here. Ken, and others, had demonstrated the type of dignity and connection that was the most needed. The lines in his life were so blurry as to giver and receiver that he simply acted as a participant in their life. He was present: not in a role of savior, helper, or giver, but just with them. God Himself transferred His own nearness to both Ken and Antwan and Janele's family. That’s the gift they got. That’s the gift they were giving me. Through them, their intimacy, honesty, and vulnerability, I experienced Him.

I remembered again at that holy moment, that other kind of moment, that this is the gift we get to be a part of: transferring the nearness of God.

The gift Antwan and Janele gave me today is far larger than anything we have ever done or could ever do. They gave me the gift of their story and God Himself was present in it. To know that in the midst of pain and suffering, He is present. He is working through people and placing them in situations to love others. He is using struggles and crazy situations to bring people together that might not have otherwise ever met. He is reminding me that the gift we get to give is love, dignity, and connection, because that is what He has and is giving to us.

Rounding out our interview, they said they were looking forward to being in a home by year's end. Antwan continues to work, Janele is still going to school, and the children are doing well.

Thank you for helping CGM in our mission to love people, to walk with them during the hard times, and to have our lives shattered for the good by these beautiful interactions. You are giving us the gift of time, space, and resources to show up and be in the lives of others: consistently and lovingly present in the right now.

board names justin hampton as new executive director

Common Ground Montgomery (CGM), a youth and community development ministry in Montgomery, Alabama, today announced that Justin Hampton was selected as the executive director by the board of directors, effective July 10, 2017. Hampton succeeds CGM founder Bryan Kelly as executive director. Kelly remains on staff, teaching and mentoring, as well as continuing to develop networking and donor relations for CGM's Montgomery efforts and beyond.

Of his new role, Hampton said: "I can think of no greater pursuit than leading the Washington Park focused efforts of CGM. It’s where I played my youth football. It’s where I graduated from high school (St. Jude). It’s where I attended church services as a child. It’s where my mother and her eight siblings were raised. Its love is deeply rooted in my heart and its success in this season is my calling."

"We believe God is shaping our organization towards expanded and deeper impact where we are in the Washington Park community, but also towards growth into other Montgomery areas and beyond," said Kelly. "By expanding our leadership team, we will be able to pivot our organization and grow our impact towards replication and training other leaders to do transformative works in other areas of poverty."

Hampton, a graduate of Tuskegee University, worked with CGM for five years before leaving to get his Master's Degree in Public Administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Prior to returning back to Montgomery, Hampton lived in Washington, D.C., and worked as a management consultant with Booz Allen Hamilton.

CGM is a youth and community development ministry, whose programs include an after school program, summer camp, college internship program, and student mentoring. It was started in 2006 to serve the Washington Park and Gibbs Village community of west Montgomery.

luncheon series: sideways grace

Please join us for our first of many (we hope!) lecture series by Bryan Kelly, Sideways Grace.

This month Bryan will share ideas of people who are broken together; the theology of walking "with" instead of doing ministry "to".  The discussion will also include how to walk with hurting people, explaining on an expanded view of sin from wickedness and rebellion to include brokenness and the process of sanctification.

Bring your lunch and come ready to learn!!

Bryan Kelly, 334-593-5803

Wednesday, October 28 from 11:30 AM to 12:30 PM

Common Ground Montgomery, 1516 Mobile Road, Montgomery, AL 36108

Please register here on Evite.