R.E.A.C.H.ing Out to the Community

Men laying new hardwood flooring

A little more than one year ago, interior designer Mary Ellen Badger had an idea. Simply put, she wanted to share her personal knowledge of interior design with others and do something positive for the community. Sounds simple enough, but of course, nothing is that easy.

Mary Ellen Badger, ASID, who started the R.E.A.C.H. program, dreams of giving back to the community by remodeling and designing for crisis housing.

How R.E.A.C.H. was born

As a professional interior designer specializing in residential remodeling, Badger realized that designers and remodeling contractors had a lot to teach each other. The more she worked with remodelers and the more they worked with her, the more they began to appreciate the success they could achieve with professional cooperation and a good working relationship. Further, Badger realized that this cooperation should not have come to fruition while on the job, but it should have been taught to her before she ever began her career. Suddenly, she had an epiphanyshed figure out a way to teach interior design students about renovations while also teaching remodeling contractors interior design by working on a joint remodel. But where would she find a joint project that would accept students work? It wasnt until Badger took a class by Landmark Education entitled Self Expression and Leadership Program that she learned how to structure her idea into a working format. As she flushed out her thoughts, her mission became obvious: Why not help under-funded crisis centers, such as homeless shelters, meet the most basic needs of their clients? By renovating their spaces, she hoped to provide a positive and uplifting environment for people in crisis and those that serve them, and promote the possibility of hope, healing and peace. At the same time, the missions purpose became trifold: It would provide the perfect opportunity for students and remodelers to work together while serving the community. Why not give back? Badger says. Why should [interior design skills] all go to those who can afford them? And so, the R.E.A.C.H. (Renovation and Education About Crisis Housing) program was born.

Putting the pieces together

In the weeks that followed, Badger began finding support for her mission. The Art Institute of Atlanta and American Intercontinental University (AIU) all committed to involving their students in the R.E.A.C.H. program as part of their internship curricula. However, AIU was the first to offer the 10-week curriculum this summer. I had been looking to support something that would be beneficial to AIU, the students and to me personally, says Liset Robinson, dean of interior design at AIU.
Next, Badger approached the Atlanta chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI). Because I do renovations, NARI was the perfect association for me to get involved with, Badger says. A presentation she gave at a monthly NARI meeting got members interested in learning more. Soon thereafter, students from AIU and the Art Institute of Atlanta teamed up with remodeling contractors from NARI to analyze the needs of crisis centers. They met regularly with Badger to discuss their ideas and proposed plans. In February of this year, the NARI board of directors unanimously adopted the program, as well as the entire R.E.A.C.H. concept by committing to aid in teaching students and offering their own services (labor and materials) to a separate crisis center of their own choosing.
For Badger, her mission had finally become a reality.

Students at AIU, (l to r) Dawn Douglas, Jennifer Peters, and DeMarcus Woodard, stand in front of their final design boards with Rutha Greene, director of the Tapestry Home (second from left.)

Dreams really do come true

NARI was first to begin a R.E.A.C.H. remodeling project for Ministries United for Service and Training (M.U.S.T. Ministries), which houses homeless individuals in a former church. The mens bathroom, which was initially renovated by volunteers, was not properly tiled or plumbed and was in desperate need of a renovation. A team of NARI volunteers, including Lou Alvarado (Handy Husband), Kyle Tripp (Atlas Disposal) and Dale Contant (Atlanta Design & Build) spearheaded the project.

Over the course of several months, other NARI members helped to remove the entire floor, build a new sub-floor, lay new flooring, re-plumb existing pipes, and repair stalls and drywall. The initial project was to remove the shower stalls and replace them, but as we got started, the scope of the project became modified after we saw the condition of the bathroom, Alvarado says. The renovation has made a huge improvement to the facilities. We installed a seamless, vinyl floor covering called Duradek on the floor instead of tile, says Contant. Its not beautiful like you would find in someones house, but at least everythings functional, private and no mold or mildew is growing.

NARI is also involved in the first R.E.A.C.H. class at AIU. Along with professor and interior design dean Liset Robinson, NARI member Peter Bourget (Bourget Innovations Inc.) taught students a cooperative, interdisciplinary team approach to remodeling and provided them with a venue for sharing his skills in the real world. What Im most proud about is that my participation brought the students a perception of how budget can impact design, Bourget says. The creativity of the design is tempered by the reality of the budget and theyve never had to face that in their curriculum before. [The curriculum] is usually design first, then make a budget.

E is for education

There is no doubt that Badger is excited about teaching basic building concepts to interior design students, and her enthusiasm is infectious. I could tell that they were inspired to take the class, Badger says. They were going to make a difference in the real worldafter all, you can apply design principles to a crisis center just as easily as you can a million dollar house.

Therein lies the true lesson: Where else can you get this kind of experience before you actually have a job? Junior DeMarcus Woodard says he took the class to work on a real project and explore a different aspect of interior design. The class fulfilled my expectations and exceeded them. I never would have imagined that we would cover so many aspects of home improvement or project renovation in a 10-week quarter, he says.

This term, students were asked to evaluate the use and design of the Tapestry Home in College Park. The house, the only shelter for unwed teen mothers in Atlanta, is approximately 100 years old and has been added on to three times. It is in desperate need of foundation repair, space for an additional bedroom, common rooms for socializing, private quarters for the house parent, a centralized laundry room and more storage space. Students were required to measure and draw scaled demolition floor plans, research building codes, design furniture and lighting plans, determine cost estimates and establish color schemes.
At the end of the term, the students presented their proposals to a guest jury consisting of Rutha Greene, executive director of the Tapestry Home; Jo Rabaut, president-elect of the Atlanta chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID); and Warner McConaughey, NARI member and owner of Hammersmith Inc. The best design, to be announced at a later date, will win a scholarship (funded by personal donations) and will be recognized in a public awards ceremony. Additionally, the top three designs will also be presented at the October NARI meeting, exposing the students to yet another learning experience in formal presentations and allowing the professionals to provide constructive feedback, which is so valuable to students. Finally, once Greene decides which remodeling plan to use, the Tapestry Home will then bid the project out to remodelers. The final and perhaps most satisfying reward will be for the students to see their plans come to life.

The Tapestry Home, a shelter for unwed teen mothers, was thie first “real” project for many students at AIU. Photo courtesy of Dawn Douglas.

What is next?

Luckily for Badger, the R.E.A.C.H. program is starting to take on a life of its own. Other associations, such as the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), are expressing interest; other disciplines are inquiring whether or not they could be a fit; theres no shortage of crisis renovation projects that are in desperate need to be done; and the program is going to go before the Allied Design Council for review and possible adoption. With the program still in its infancy, the possibilities for growth are endless. My dream is to see it go international, Badger says. If last years success is any measure, theres no doubt Badger will realize that dream soon enough.

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