Common Ground Co-operative

Common Ground Co-operative’s mission is to bring together talent, knowledge and expertise found in existing institutions, agencies, businesses and other community groups to support the creation and maintenance of social enterprises in the form of small business partnerships among people with developmental disabilities.

Lemon & Allspice CookeryOur Impact Why We Exist

Common Ground Co-operative exists to provide employment alternatives and opportunities for adults with Trisomy 21 (Down Syndrome), Autism and other developmental disabilities. 

Employment opportunities for people with developmental disabilities are few and far between.  Many employers feel that this population has nothing to contribute to their work force.  Many of the clients that we support have been employed in the past and they've told us that they felt exluded and were not given the support they needed to learn skills so they could do a good job.

Common Ground Co-operative's innovative day programs which operate as business partnerships (social enterprises) and their Foundations Program were created to meet that need and provide the support that each persons requires to become successful in life and in work.

Job Coach & Partner at the Coffee ShedOur Story What We Do

History of Organization

In 1998, Cathy Lemon had a dream. 

After growing tiresome of menial jobs with token pay, and never knowing when she was going to lose her job she decided to start her own company.  With the help of family and community members she was able to achieve her goal by opening the Lemon & Allspice Cookery. 

The business began to grow and funding was acquired to hire a Job Coach who would work alongside Cathy and some of her friends.  In 2000, Common Ground was created as a social co-operative to support the Lemon & Allspice Cookery's growing needs.  Soon after, other enterprises were created to meet the demand for this innovative approach to supporting people who were working for themselves. 

The co-operative consists of members who pay an annual membership fee of $25.00.  This provides Co-op Members with the opportunities that most co-op members enjoy; such as, voting for our board of directors, having a say in how we are doing our job and volunteer opportunities.  The return for members is in knowing that their contribition is helping us achieve our Mission. 

The Co-operative was incorporated in 2000 and in 2004 we received our Charitable Status and began to receive our core funding from the Ministry of Community and Social Services for the support that we provide.

Today we support a Job Skills Training Program and five Social Enterprises,

What started as the dream of one has now turned into opportunities for many others in the City of Toronto! 

Accolades and Accomplishments

Common Ground Co-operative, its partners and their enterprises have been the recipients of numerous awards including the Queen’s Medal, City of Toronto Access Award, Disability Day Award, the June Callwood Award, the International Day of Disabilities Unsung Hero Award, an Ontario Co-op Association Spirit Award and the Vital Ideas Award and grant from the Toronto Community Foundation and the 2014 Council for Exceptional Children's Business, Agency and Community Award. 

Common Ground’s model for business partnerships has gained the attention and support from government officials such as the Honourable David C. Onley, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, and the former Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Kathleen Wynne, current premier of Ontario.

Job Coaches teachOur Programs How We Do It

We have five day programs that operate as social enterprises.  Up to 17 people are supported in each of the enterprises with some people working up to five shifts per week.  Job Coaches work alongside our clients making sure that they are supported daily.  Job Coaches also sit with the partners to create business budgets, create marketing tools and facilitate meetings where the partners discuss issues, concepts and ideas. 

We also provide a job skills training and pre-employment program called the Foundations Program.  This is a 10 month educational program with a co-op placement component.  From September to March each year, new students learn both the hard and soft skills that are required to be successful while employed.  From March to June, students are placed in each of the enterprises where they can apply their knowledge learned in the classroom while learning the hard skills that are needed to complete a job successfully.  This is peer led and directed with the support of the Job Coach(es).

In addition to our Foundations Program, our trained staff also develop and deliver a number of courses on topics of interest such as Resume Writing, customer service, financial literacy, Self-Awareness and Math and Money Skills and prepare Individual Support Plans that address the goals, needs and wants of each person.

Program Impact

Common Ground is proud that our program provides access to best workplace expectations, having such a positive impact on the Partners' lives. Our partnership model provides the dignity of sustainable employment to people with developmental disabilities in Toronto. Our partners, their families, our customers, and other stakeholders tell us that being involved with one of the business partnerships creates a significant advancement in the quality of life for all involved.

Toronto's Vital Signs® indicator(s) addressed by Program

“As a society we can no longer afford to operate in isolation from one another. Our problems are too complex for any one solution alone. Our collective impact can create the kind of change our society, and indeed our world, needs. We owe it to each other and to ourselves, to experiment with the power of collective impact.”(Toronto’s Vital Signs® 2012)

Common Ground Co-operative has a one-of-a-kind partnership model that, through co-operation and support of the community, provides the dignity of sustainable employment to people with developmental disabilities in Toronto. 

Participant Vignette

“Social Enterprise, as an employment approach for (persons with disabilities), is gaining much interest. Common Ground Co-op has the history and experience to provide the type of technical services in Social Enterprise Development that is needed for the sector dealing with workers with developmental disabilities. We support Common Ground Co-op in their plan to provide their (Business Partnership Model) services to a wide outreach to agencies and families across the province of Ontario.” Marge McRae, Families Matter Co-op.

Foundations Program

The Foundations Program is an integral part of Common Ground Co-operative's mission and values. This program provides pre-vocational life skills instruction needed to succeed in the world of work. Participants learn how to become successful entrepreneurs by developing integral hard and soft skills training such as operating a cash register, customer service and conflict resolution, as well as on-the-job training at one of the five Social Purpose Enterprises Common Ground supports.

After the participant completes their co-op placement, they will be asked to become an apprentice. After completing a three-month apprenticeship, existing Partners hold a vote deciding whether or not the apprenctice will become an official Partner. In the Foundations Program, participants also learn about the job market and individual career goals. If one of the partnerships are not the right fit for them, they are encouraged to pursue additional interests and opportunities.

Program Impact

The Foundations Program and the daily activities at our business locations contribute to the individual’s personal and professional development and growth. Some Partners have gone on to present workshops about their abilities and achievements at conferences and seminars across Ontario. Families and support workers credit our Foundations Program and business partnership model for empowering and educating the Partners, helping them to express themselves and experience the pride of business ownership. Most importantly, the adults working towards the goal of becoming a Partner represent the potential of many other people with developmental disabilities showcasing their ability to break the barriers they face each and every day.

Toronto's Vital Signs® indicator(s) addressed by Program

“Work defines your membership in society. Work not only provides an income for yourself and your family, but provides your community a leader whose abilties are being developed through work.” (Toronto’s Vital Signs® 2012)

This marginalized population we so proudly support oftentimes experiences social isolation, segregation in work, school and social activities, are over represented in unemployment, and their role in society is often devalued. Our Partnes who are engaged in the Business Partnership Model work toward advocacy and social change by challenging beliefs and demonstrating the skill and ability of persons with developmental disabilities, while enjoying the stability of self-directed employment.

Partners at the JVS Coffee ShedWhat You Can Do

Program Support

Activities a donation will support

Funding will assist our organization in helping to provide and enhance additional and existing programs and will also assist our organization with administrative and operational costs.  

  • We support up to 65 individuals
  • 7 Front-line Staff (Job Coaches and Educator)
  • 2 Administrative (Executive Director and Finance Manager)

As a small, committed organization our staff team makes a big impact and is dedicated to providing the best services and supports to each person.

Donation impact

Every dollar contributed to our organization goes into our organization and the work that we do.  This means that the people that we support experience the benefits of your donation directly.


Jennifer Hope
Executive Director
416.421.7117 x201
Charitable Number: 884016411RR0001

Finance & Governance

Annual Operating Budget: 
$ 509,225


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