At the age of 16, Bryan Kelly was in need of hope and a second chance. He was facing charges as an adult for drug trafficking in his Jacksonville, Fla. neighborhood.
“I was 16, hanging with a rough crowd and I made some very bad decisions,” the 1997 TROY graduate and former Trojan baseball player said.
Kelly’s second chance came in the way of house arrest and community service, but it was that experience that began his trek toward the mission field of the inner city.
Today, hundreds of residents of Montgomery’s Washington Park community are benefitting from those difficult lessons Kelly learned through the ministry Common Ground Montgomery.
Kelly founded the ministry, and with his wife, Delta, a 2001 TROY graduate, moved into the west Montgomery neighborhood to begin what he refers to as “life on life” training of youth. The couple has four sons, ranging in age from two- to nine-years old.
“We live there and are a part of the community,” Kelly said. “It wasn’t uncomfortable for me because it was what I was used to growing up. Delta went to TROY on a Junior Miss scholarship and I worried about how she would adapt. It has been challenging for her at times, but she is there welcoming the neighbors into our home and making a major impact in the neighborhood.”
Kelly said the underlying aim of the ministry is to see the community transformed. This transformation will come, he said, through the “putting together of families, developing and strengthening the family structure and the raising up of leaders both within the family and the community.”
Common Ground seeks to do so through several programs:
- An after-school program that provides a safe haven for children and teaches them character and social and life skills through a variety of activities and study groups;
- A mentor program that seeks to match adults from throughout Montgomery with neighborhood children in a mentoring relationship that runs from fourth grade through high school graduation;
- A program, known as “House 2 House,” responsible for the construction of renovated and new housing for the families of the community;
- A summer camp program to provide children with a positive experience in a Christian environment; and
- A Christmas Store that, through donations, provides toys for neighborhood children that they might not otherwise receive.
“Common Ground focuses on holistic development,” Kelly said. “We do that through intentional training of youth by our staff and neighbors who live here in the community. We also provide relationship-based programs that seek to teach character and life skills. Finally, we seek to connect the kids with Christian mentors in a consistent and caring relationship. The first 15 kids have been matched up with mentors.”
Kelly describes the neighborhood as one that faces many of the challenges common to inner city communities – dilapidated or abandoned homes or businesses, joblessness, a high degree of drug addiction, violence, fatherless children and gang activity. And while the intention of Common Ground Montgomery is to serve, Kelly knows he and others involved in the ministry are being served as well.
“We learn so much from our neighbors,” he said. “You come in here with thoughts of saving the neighborhood and we find that we are the ones being saved every day. We have learned that if you put yourself in a position to serve, God just shows up and amazing changes take place.”
Faith Ward, director of alumni affairs, said the Kellys’ efforts are an example of putting action behind words.
“Bryan and Delta are a fine examples of human servitude,” Ward said. “They are living out their beliefs on a daily basis. Their tireless efforts make the world a better place and we should all strive to live by their example of service.”
To learn more or become involved, visit the ministry’s website at www.commongroundmontgomery.org.
Ellis is a university relations coordinator and editor of Troy University Magazine.