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story.lead_photo.caption John Mollenkamp, a volunteer and husband to Common Ground Executive Director Tina Mollenkamp, helps serve ice cream to local community children, Jerry White, 9, and his little brother, Jayar White, 4, during Saturday's ice cream social at the Common Ground Community Building. Photo by Linda Schaben

Dozens of children ran through the close-cropped yard outside Common Ground Community Building early Saturday afternoon.

They chased each other, blew bubbles, and ate cookies and ice cream.

The semi-hard vanilla ice cream — which volunteers scooped from 1-gallon buckets — slowly melted in the warm sun.

It was a good day for people living in the community to get to know the organization and what it had to offer them, said Tina Mollenkamp, who has been the executive director of the nonprofit since June 1.

"We want people to know who we are," Mollenkamp said. "We wanted to start with the people around us."

Michael Ferguson, a Common Ground board member, said he wanted to spiff up a little bit and trimmed hedges outside the building last week. And in the morning before the social event, the Jefferson City Evening Rotary Club mulched planter areas.

"We're off to a good start today," Ferguson said as people began to arrive. "If we can't let people within a mile of us know we're here, how does Jefferson City know we're here?"

Although it could have been a fundraiser, the social was primarily a social event, intended to get the organization's name out in the community.

Common Ground, 1015 Atchison St., came about in early 2012, when a number of downtown churches struggled to meet the needs of the families in their parishes facing poverty. First Baptist, First United Methodist, First Christian, First Presbyterian and Grace Episcopal churches, and the Central United Church of Christ then began supporting an ecumenical ministry and opened an outreach center. Common Ground was a solution to the problems.

People wishing to hear more about what's going on at the nonprofit, should like the organization on Facebook, Mollenkamp said.

In all honesty, Mollenkamp said, she is also just getting to know Common Ground.

She started training with her predecessor in early May. And, on May 22, an EF-3 rated tornado packing 160 mph winds hit parts of East Jefferson City, greatly affecting communities Common Ground serves.

Common Ground has been working nonstop to help people since.

Staff with the organization tried after a few weeks to begin to focus on their regular clients — such as people in the Families Forward program.

Within that program, the organization collects simple "measures" from the clients, like their basic income and credit score. Then, it evaluates them on what it calls a self-sufficiency matrix. So, it asks them how proficient they feel in about 10 indicators — education, housing, jobs, mental health, physical health and similar issues.

The client earns a score based on the outcomes and that score is later compared to a score they receive at the end of the program.

The goal is to get the client's income up to about three times the amount of their rent. But, the program also focuses on the goals of the client — like what the client wishes to work on during the year.

The tornado delayed some of the work with standing clients.

And, Mollenkamp said she hasn't yet worked under "normal" circumstances.

"I don't feel like I have a grasp of what 'normal time' is going to be because we have been inundated with donations and survivors asking for help," she said. "People are just now starting to get back into their apartments and homes."

Some day-to-day tasks have multiplied — times 10.

Common Ground has received more than $66,000 in donations since the storm, Mollenkamp said. And there has been a lot of demand for funds. Distributions have left the organization with about $18,000.

Mollenkamp said the organization has closely vetted recipients.

Normal giving to people, for rent, utilities, deposits and other costs that have not been met through the Federal Emergency Management Agency or the local Long Term Recovery Committee — for which Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri does case management — generally amounts to $100-$200, she said.

But, expenses have been much higher, and those agencies aren't able to help some residents, she said.

"We're serving people who are falling through the cracks," she said. "People who were couch surfing aren't receiving services."

When it can't provide all the services some of the storm victims need, Catholic Charities has directed them to Common Ground, Mollenkamp said.

The organization received three of those clients Friday.

Fundraising will continue to be an important part of her job at Common Ground, even after the tornado victims have been well served. The United Way of Central Missouri has been very helpful, she said.

And, the organization was selected to participate Wednesday in the Missouri State Employees Charitable Campaign.

That is big, Mollenkamp said.

So is getting the name out.

Brittney Young, who lives nearby, said she didn't know what the organization had to offer her. Then, the mother of four boys began hearing hints about the building.

"I saw 'Ice Cream Social' fliers. Cool. I don't have to drive far," Young said. "I realized it's the place where we donate books to the Little Free Library out front."

She said she's interested in several of the programs offered at Common Ground.

Her boys, Javonie, 10, Jacai, 9, Royce, 3, and Ryen, 1, can be tough on books. She asks them not to write in them. And she asks them to care for books.

And, sometimes when she sends them to put books in the library, they come home with more than they took away.

"Boys," Young tells them, "the point is to get rid of them — not bring them back home."

Jacai said he's looking forward to seeing people at school.

"I have a lot of friends," he explained.

Between spoonfuls of ice cream, Javonie said he's returning to Moreau Heights Elementary School this week.

"Everybody at my school knows me because I've been there so long," he said. "I'm going to play basketball and football, and I might do Olympics because I can run fast."

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