Human beings are social creatures—and that fact remains true even when life deals an unexpected hardship.
Common Ground Alliance is a nonprofit membership organization providing social, recreational, intellectual and creative opportunities for persons with traumatic brain injuries. Founded in Plainview in 2010, it supports long-term wellness and boosts quality of life for the survivors of brain injuries, as well as their families.
Deborah Benson, PhD, ABPP, the organization’s founder and director, developed the program out of a perceived need in the community for a brain injury support system that reached beyond typical physical therapy. She said that after patients are all done with medical treatments and rehab, there is still a long way to go in the recovery process.
“They still have residual challenges,” said Benson. “There are emotional adjustment challenges. They have difficulty either getting back into their pre-injury routine or reengaging socially. Often they are not able to go back to work or school on a full-time basis and their pre-injury friends have moved on. We fill the gap and provide many outlets.”
Some of the outlets provided by Common Ground Alliance include creative arts and writing classes, exercise groups, musical and performance activities, game nights, discussion groups, computer skills training, movie nights and guest lectures. Benson said that brain injuries can result in a harsh combination of physical, cognitive and emotional changes—and her organization provides a release for members, easing the transition to a post-injury life.
According to Benson, successful recovery involves the opportunity to regain one’s skills and abilities and in the process reclaim a sense of meaning and purpose, while developing new social and support networks.
“The goal is to provide a safe place and a supportive place where they can socialize and network with their peers,” she said. “They engage in normal activities that we all like to do in our leisure time, but that they can’t because of their limitations. They might want to go to a yoga class, but they can’t go to one in the community because they wouldn’t be able to keep up—we adapt to their needs so they can experience everyday life.”
The Alliance also promotes support for the families of these brain injury survivors. Benson said family members are often stretched incredibly thin and cannot provide the support their family member needs.
“They need their own support and respite just as much as the survivors do,” she said, adding that survivors’ families often engage in their own social opportunities at the nearby Coliseum Kitchen. “Whenever we go out into the community, the family is invited.”
And the families are immensely grateful for the organization’s support and its general existence. Benson said she hears from families that there isn’t another organization that matches the Alliance when it comes to programs offered—especially not at the affordable prices it offers.
Benson said that the Alliance charges $120 in annual dues—that is a once-per-year payment covering all that the Alliance provides.
“I specifically designed the organization to be a resource that would be affordable to virtually everyone in the long term,” she said. “We are volunteer led, with each member working with us in their spare time. That’s one way we are able to keep our costs down.”
Another way, according to Benson, are the numerous fundraising efforts the Alliance engages in throughout the year. In an effort to raise funds, the organization holds events at comedy clubs like Governor’s in Levittown and McGuire’s in Bohemia. One of the organization’s largest fundraising events is just around the corner. Bowling for Common Ground takes place Sunday, March 13 from noon to 2 p.m. at Plainview AMF Lanes, 500 Old Bethpage Rd. Attendees are invited to register with a team to bowl, at $10 per bowler, which includes two games, shoes, pizza and soda. Bowlers must commit to raising a minimum of $100 in donations.
“That is what we rely on so that we don’t have to operate solely on membership dues,” said Benson. “When we first started, we were at $100 a month and people thought that was a great deal. The goal has always been to get to a place where we could be sustained in other ways and make it affordable for everyone.”
Common Ground Alliance services adults ages 18 and up, with no age limit. What separates the Alliance from other treatment centers, according to Benson, is that fact that it goes beyond day programs. They tend to cater to a younger crowd that wants to go out at night and on the weekends to engage socially—something that Benson believes everyone deserves, despite any injury.
“Social isolation is a damaging thing in terms of recovering from an illness, as well as long term health,” she said. “It is tremendously important.”