By Jenny Rebholz Schrank, Allied Member ASID
As designers watch the world around them, more and more professionals are thinking about how they can best use their talents to support the local and global community. Whether on an individual, firm or organizational level, design professionals frequently volunteer their expertise to support the health, safety, and welfare of individuals in need around the world. Their efforts are making lives better while raising awareness of the power of design.
“There are so many needs in our communities that are not being met, especially during the recession” comments Pamela Portwood, Allied Member ASID, LEED AP, interior design principal of Greener Lives in Tucson, Ariz. “As interior design professionals, we have a unique set of skills that can help fill that gap.”
A Personal Commitment
Pro bono work comes from the heart, but provides clients in need with the same level of service as those who pay for it. Designers involved in this type of work agree that a personal commitment or a connection to the cause creates a solid foundation for successful pro bono experiences.
“The right project feels like a natural fit,” comments Heather Soto, ASID, co-owner of Inhabit Design in Las Vegas. She and her business partner, Michelle DiMauro, Allied Member ASID, recently designed the Ronald McDonald Family Room at a local hospital. In addition, they have assisted with furniture specifications for the new offices of Candlelighters Childhood Cancer Foundation of Nevada and serve on the board of Through the Eyes of a Child Foundation, a nonprofit that provides scholarships to children who are current or former wards of the state.
One of the most memorable pro bono experiences for Desi Creswell, ASID, LEED AP, CID, of DEC Interior Design in Minneapolis, was working with a group called Designs for Dignity to assist former Chicago Housing Authority residents as they transitioned into a new development in a mixed income condo building. The residents’ former housing was falling apart and in a crime-ridden part of the city. When Creswell’s client finally saw the new space that Creswell helped create, she couldn’t believe it.
“It was rewarding to see how a few new items made her so proud of the space she could now call home. It really hit home how a few caring words and actions could mean so much to someone,” shares Creswell.
Part of a Team
While many designers support community organizations on their personal time, firms and organizations often provide the opportunity for strength in numbers. Four years ago at the Los Angeles office of Gensler, Nila Leiserowitz, FASID, and Anne Alexander organized individual and firm efforts through an initiative called gServe.
“It is an initiative to band together and rally our efforts,” explains Charrisse Johnston, ASID, LEED AP, Associate AIA. Johnston was part of a gServe team that designed a school and community center for 700 elementary school students in Jacmel, Haiti.
gServe is a platform for communicating the pro bono opportunities at Gensler and rallying more support, whether for events like Canstruction, the Revlon Run Walk or larger projects like the school in Haiti.
Design porganizations such as ASID also provide opportunities for individuals to come together to work as a team. In fact, most ASID chapters participate in some sort of community service activity, an effort encouraged through the Society’s annual Chapter Community Service Award. Last spring, Tucson’s Portwood participated in ASID Interiors for Habitat, a joint project of the Arizona South chapter and Habitat for Humanity Tucson. She was a team leader for one of four teams of interior designers, design students and Industry Partners who designed and furnished the interiors of four new Habitat houses.
“For me, as an independent designer with a one-person firm, it was fun to work with other designers on a cooperative project,” comments Portwood, who is continuing her involvement with Habitat for Humanity outside of ASID.
A Successful Experience
For those involved in pro bono projects, team camaraderie, educational opportunities and the ability to support the community make for a successful experience. But when it comes down to business, the process and the demands of the project are the same as any other client.
“The pro bono project needs to be treated like any other. Roles and expectations must be defined,” describes Creswell. “Understand what time and resources you are able to devote. The pro bono client is counting on you to deliver just like a paying client.”
Adds Soto, “We treat our pro bono work the same as any of our projects. “We design creatively, respect timelines, and put as much effort into it as a paying job. We have found that you have to roll with the punches … and we have learned to be extremely flexible and creative with the resources that we are given.”
While pro bono projects can make new business connections and gain media exposure, the true professional makes a commitment from the heart. The commitment of design professionals across the country and around the world introduces the power of design to all levels of society.
Jenny Rebholz Schrank, Allied Member ASID, is a writer and marketing consultant with a specialized industry focus. She supports and promotes interior design, architecture, development, and construction businesses