Hosting Community Conversation in Your Own Backyard

Holley wasn’t worried about what she’d serve for dinner. She considers herself a competent party host and loves having people over to share a meal. But this meal was going to be different because Holley Martens and her husband, Rob, were signing up to host a Common Ground conversation.
Launched by the Cleveland Foundation in 2017, Common Ground is a one-day event bringing thousands of Greater Clevelanders together around tables to share a meal and conversation – connecting in a way that nurtures familiarity, encourages understanding, and inspires action. The idea is that for one day thousands of neighbors are committing to having a shared conversation about a topic that helps build community.
“We saw a story in the Plain Dealer promoting this event, and I had heard about Open Table and other efforts about having dinner to break down barriers, so I was hopeful that by participating I would meet people from all walks of life,” said Holley.
While some people might be hesitant to open their home to strangers, Holley was excited. “Because of the way it was promoted, I didn’t feel pressure that I had to go to great lengths to worry about party planning. I felt more like a steward.”
And that’s exactly what the Cleveland Foundation is hoping others will feel—an excitement to get to know neighbors from around the corner and across town over a meal and good conversation. Anybody who can fit at least eight people outside or inside in their home for a meal can host a conversation—that’s the only criteria because you don’t even have to cook.
“I was hopeful that we’d get a bunch of strangers in our house, and I knew if I happened to burn the potatoes no one would have cared. This year I’m going to do a potluck so we have diversity in what we eat. I highly recommend going with a potluck or a simple cookout because it can be cost prohibitive and overwhelming to cook for a larger group.”
For Holley, the evening in her backyard turned into a party. After the conversation, it went from half of the guests knowing each other to all of them knowing each other. And one couple even set up a blind date between their daughter and Holley’s son.
“I highly encourage people to do it because it’s a fun thing to do. If you are at all worried about your entertaining skills, set that aside and do it. It’s so cool.”
What tips does Holley have about hosting a Common Ground meal?

  • If you want to meet new people, have your dinner posted through the Common Ground website. If you prefer to have friends around the table, then try posting it on your Facebook page.
  • Don’t feel the pressure of being the entertainer. Everyone who comes, chooses to come because they want to be part of the conversation.
  • Even introverts can host, because you have a lot of help with the materials, including conversation prompts, that are provided by the Cleveland Foundation.

This year’s Common Ground will be held Sunday, June 24 in more than 100 homes, workplaces, and community organizations in Cuyahoga, Lake, and Geauga counties and the conversation will focus on the question “Why does place matter?”
Want to sign up to host a conversation in your home? It’s easy. By becoming a host, you’re agreeing to have at least eight people to share a meal and discuss the future of our region. You choose the meal, the style, and the location. The Cleveland Foundation provides support for guest registration, conversation facilitation, and participant recruitment.
For more information and to register to host a conversation, visit