Group created to assist all affords new group only for dads

At the end of the picnic and after the hike, the boys gathered for a group photo – something the young group could post on social media for fathers with children with developmental disabilities in hopes of growing membership.

But a father begged.

Organizer Bobby Payne didn’t care too much and smiled for the photo. The man who did not want to be in the picture later explained to Payne that nobody in his social circle knew that his son was living with a disability.

He had never told anyone before.

“That broke my heart. That poor dad never got the help he probably needed, ”Payne said. “But he came to this group. The fact that this one man came made it worthwhile. Besides the millions of other things … that alone was worth it. “

“There are so many people out there who feel alone”

“It” was the founding meeting of such a new group that doesn’t even have an official name, but only has one purpose: to offer fathers of children with developmental disabilities a place to be together. They can talk about their children or not. They may or may not talk about their struggles. You can safely let go of the weight of everyday life.

It’s the brainchild of people from the Common Ground Society, a larger group that started about three years ago to support families with children with disabilities.

Ask the folks at Common Ground and they all say the Dads group addresses an obvious need for so many men.

The Common Ground Society started out as a casual affair, with mothers meeting up mostly to chat and show a little compassion, share resources, and support one another. Co-founders Larkin O’Leary and Jessica Hunter called themselves “Just Two Moms” and started giving presentations that focused on inclusion and acceptance for any group they wanted.

The Common Ground Society now has 400 members and the group is a registered not for profit. The Instagram account has more than 10,000 followers and her Facebook page is followed by nearly 3,000 people. Their list of volunteers has 25 members.

As the group has grown, the focus has expanded. In addition to presentations – the lecture schedule in classrooms and boardrooms was jam-packed until the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic – Common Ground also enables meetings for parents, children, Spanish speakers and caregivers.

“Our goal is to join our arms and go on this journey together,” said O’Leary. “There are so many people out there who feel alone and don’t know what the next steps are.”

Next steps or first steps. Common Ground is reaching out to parents asap, starting with that confusing, puzzling, and harrowing moment they receive a diagnosis about their child, O’Leary said. The group hopes to help parents find resources, tap into help and support, and not reinvent the wheel.

They have care packages for new parents – a bag of baby clothes and goodies. But the most important thing in the bag is a letter, according to O’Leary. In it, the people from Common Ground Support and Contacts and Resources list, but first and foremost a message: We have you.

“Above all, I want people to know that they are not alone and that they have a community behind them,” she said. “I want people to understand when you get a diagnosis, or when you hear that someone has had a baby or is about to be diagnosed, Common Ground is there for you.”

O’Leary said there are support groups in Sonoma County for families with children who have different diagnoses, but these can be limiting. Her 7 year old son James has Down syndrome but is also dealing with various other problems, some of which have kept him hospitalized for long periods of time. And children with autism can have a wide variety of things to do with. For the families of children with extremely rare diseases, there are seldom local groups for them, O’Leary said.

And let’s be honest, no child is the same. Plus, with their message of inclusion, it felt better to welcome all comers regardless of diagnosis.

“I wanted to catch it all,” said O’Leary.

O’Leary said their support system – family, friends, former coworkers – was amazing. But there is a connection between parents of children with different needs that is almost impossible to explain.

“You get it,” she said

But even in this safe space, O’Leary noticed in the past few months that something was missing from the fast-growing group – there was no place just for fathers.

“I felt like I had failed”

Payne recalls when he was diagnosed that his son William, now 9 years old, was autistic.

He and his wife lived in the Azores where he was with the US Air Force. William was their first child, so little did they know he was missing some typical developmental milestones.

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