Events, People

SOM Designs a Bright Space for Children of Families Facing Homelessness

From October 2017 through March 2018, staff from SOM's offices in Washington, D.C. and New York partnered with the Bright Horizons Foundation for Children and the Virginia Williams Family Resource Center (VWFRC) in Washington, D.C. to design a special project: a "Bright Space" for children. Bright Spaces are warm, enriching places in shelters and community agencies where children and youth can form caring relationships, recover from trauma through play, and experience the joy of childhood.

VWFRC provides emergency assistance and housing services for families who are homeless or are facing homelessness. Its new Bright Space—which officially opened with a ribbon cutting on March 9th, 2018—offers a safe environment for the children of families visiting the center. The Bright Space serves approximately 70 visiting children each day.

"We wanted to participate in an outreach effort that would have a positive impact on both the Washington, D.C. community and SOM's culture," said Kristopher Takács, Director of SOM's D.C. office.

The objective was to develop a space where VWFRC staff could positively engage with children experiencing household trauma and displacement while parents tended to case matters during the intake procedure. Sustained dialogue throughout the six-month process—from pre-design and design development to final procurement and installation—allowed the team to achieve the project goals. Through training sessions and videos, SOM staff learned about the impact of trauma on children and families, the longterm effect of toxic stress on children, the cultural and socioeconomic circumstances of the local area, and the needs of staff and the parents who visit the center.

The final Bright Space design allows flexibility for multiple uses while requiring minimal additional maintenance from busy staff. Design solutions included interactive toys, easily cleanable surfaces and furniture, a reading area, a quiet play area, better visibility between parents and child play areas, and inspiring graphics and signage.

The Bright Space partnership in D.C. serves as a pilot for a larger initiative to design community-based projects in SOM's various locations. Spearheaded by SOM Managing Partner Laura Ettelman and Chief Human Resources Officer Suzanne Pennasilico, the project included several key SOM staff from both Washington, D.C. and New York. It was led by Dita Bittenbender, Office Manager of the D.C. office, and Ally Delgado, Assistant Benefits and Immigration Manager in the New York office. Minerva Labrador, Program Manager of the VWFRC, played a central role throughout the process. Upon concluding the pilot project, Bittenbender said, “This civic engagement was a great experience and an example of how to implement successful workplace strategy to inform design.”