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Meet Matt Johnson of Common Ground in Huntington Beach

Today we’d like to introduce you to Matt Johnson.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
In 2012, A friend and I were living in South Africa working alongside a couple that was teaching kids in the township areas how to surf, while providing mentorship and restoration through the Gospel. When we (Jake Piering, partner and co-founder to Common Ground) moved back home to California we rather quickly jumped into this community called Oak View, located in north Huntington Beach. Oak View is a low-income square mile community filled with youth that are pressured by gang involvement, drug abuse, and low education. Which plaque much of their community. We decided to step into the community in 2013, going door to door meeting kids and asking if we could teach them how to surf. In 2013, we had 9 kids attend our summer surf camp where we took them each week for a month down to the beach and taught them how to surf, had a Bible study with them, and shared a meal together. After 5 years of pouring into the youth of this community, we birthed Common Ground. An after school community center located in the heart of the Oak View community where hundreds of kids come through each week to find refuge and fun place to be themselves, and be loved by some of our amazing leaders and staff.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
It has not been a smooth road at all. For one, I’m currently 27 and still feel like I don’t know much about running a nonprofit. So there comes a lot of trial and error and reading, and more importantly asking for help. When we first signed the lease on our community center we were given a lease that was cheaper than others because it hadn’t been rented since the early 90s and the agreement was we were responsible for getting it back in shape. Year one (this past year) of having the community center was the hardest year of my life, but in retrospect it’s been the most rewarding and growth filled year of my life. We had to demolish a bunch of walls, fix all the electricity, fix the plumbing, paint, restore the fire alarms, the list went on forever, and that was just to get the center to a blank slate. If it wasn’t for the help of some amazing people from my local church Common Ground wouldn’t have happened. Today, about a year later we’ve managed to restore the facility into a pretty rad space, we have a soccer field and a skate park, and have managed to build a strong community that comes through each day. For me Common Ground has been one of those outlets for me to creatively push forward towards loving people in a real tangible way, and I hope others get to feel that when they walk in our doors.

Please tell us about Common Ground.
I am the Executive Director and Co-Founder of Common Ground. My role currently is dependent on juggling a little bit of everything well. I could be doing our accounting and looking over payroll while knowing I need to head to the warehouse later that day for a full day of janitorial work or to have to repair a skateboard ramp. It’s rather chaotic for me most days but I think that’s why I like it so much. I’d say what sets us apart from most companies is the fact that it is run by a staff and volunteers that don’t have any initiative other than to continue loving a community. We’ve had seasons where there was 1 kid that we regularly hung out with and poured into his life and now we’re in a season where hundreds of people come through each week. To me it doesn’t matter, being genuine as an organization is far better than being cool. I guess I’m most proud to see the community we serve activated in Common Ground and taking initiative in something that is their own, it shows me we’re staying in the right direction.

Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
I grew up in a really small town and the best thing about where we lived was there was a lot of open land. I spent most of my days in the creek that ran behind my back yard, it was at the base of a mountain and it made for endless exploration. I also am the youngest in my family so my 3 older siblings were always my best friends.

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