In Cache Valley there are many opportunities to volunteer. One organization in particular offers a unique service. Common Ground, a non-profit organization, provides outdoor recreational opportunities for the disabled. In its’ 16th year, Common Ground serves more than 2,400 people annually, providing activities such as rock climbing, horseback riding, white-water rafting and destination trips to those who normally would not be able to. “The majority of people with disabilities here in the valley that we serve make less than $11,000 a year,” says Bryce Patten, Destination Coordinator for Common Ground. “They’re not able to afford these things the rest of us can do.” Playing sports and physical activity is something many may take for granted, but at Common Ground, you can do anything no matter your ability. One of the many who have benefited from the program is 15-year-old Braiden Parkinson. Born with Cerebral Palsy, Parkinson has had to find alternative outdoor activities he can do. When his school decided to take a trip to Beaver Mountain, he knew he wouldn’t able to participate. But Common Ground changed that by offering him another option: adaptive downhill skiing.”They put you in a chair with a snowboard underneath it and you have skis on the sides or on poles,” he explains. With a Common Ground volunteer in the back to keep the chair balanced, Parkinson had a great day speeding down the slopes with his classmates. “I felt really cool to be able to do that,” he said. “They took me skiing which is something I never thought I’d be able to do but they allowed me to do it.” Kelly Parkinson, Braiden’s mother, has nothing but good to say about the organization. “To let him ride the lift up to the top of the mountain and get the experience other kids have is great,” she says. “The volunteers have such big hearts to put so much time into letting him do what the others kids do.” Through the years hundreds of individuals have donated their time, services, and money to make this program what it is. With only four full-time employees, Common Ground relies heavily on volunteers to provide the man power needed to plan and run their activities. “We have great community support,” says Patten, “and without it we wouldn’t be able to function like we do.” This statement is exemplified by the public participation in Common Ground fundraisers. Their most popular event, the annual ‘Reach for the Stars’ dinner and auction, raised $50,000 last year. All proceeds went right back into the program, keeping the activities inexpensive and funding scholarships for those who can’t afford it. Mainly focusing on the communities in Cache, Rich and Box Elder counties, the program has reached as far away as Salt Lake City, Wyoming, even Hawaii. But it wasn’t always this big. Common Ground began 1993 in Logan when an AmeriCorps volunteer, Kate Stevens, recognized the need for equal recreational opportunities for people of all abilities. “There were so many great resources around that she decided to get this started up,” Patten says. Serving 50 people in its first year, Common Ground helped 2,500 people by 2008. “It’s grown dramatically because there’s just been a lot of hard work put into this.”Because of its growth, Common Ground has expanded to include activities such as snowshoeing, canoeing, cycling, and more, all of which are geared towards those who are physically or mentally limited. Patten, who calls his job one of the most rewarding he’s ever had, supervises a unique aspect of the program called Destination Trips. Leading a group of 10 to 15 people, Patten plans excursions to the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park, and Yellowstone where participants hike, raft, climb, even dog sled for an entire week. “We just took a group to Glacier National Park and the friendships and fun and camaraderie we had was just amazing,” he says. “To be able to see the looks on their faces, to see these beautiful mountains they never would have been able to see before are the things that make things special here at Common Ground.””Just seeing the joy and happiness on their face,” he adds, “I mean, there’s nothing better than it.”To find out more about how to volunteer, visit Common Ground on 335 North 100 East, Logan or visit their website at www.CGadventures.org.
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