Maybe it’s the time of the year or simply the climate of the country, but it seems now more than ever the world needs a little extra TLC. Here at SWBR it is our privilege and, in our opinion, our responsibility to pitch in and help out where we can.
It seems only natural that an architectural firm would gravitate toward towards construction and design projects – areas that we can apply our collective expertise and the individual talents of our people. Like Flower City Habitat for Humanity and the Urban League’s YouthBuild Rochester Program, which teaches young adults aged 18-24 construction skills along with leadership training and job preparation all while building a house for a low-income family. Project Manager Tim Zigarowicz,AIA, was the volunteer designer on YouthBuild’s current house.
“It’s great to be a part of this,” said Tim. “It’s so good to see young folks from the neighborhood volunteer to work on this and gain a sense of ownership and accomplishment. And, these kids are learning real world skills that are really needed in the work force today so they can use them to go on and get great jobs.”
Not all projects are as tangible as a finished structure. For example, we helped 441 Ministries plan and design their New City Café, a new coffee shop coming to Rochester’s Beechwood neighborhood that will serve area residents while giving jobs and training to the community’s teens and adults. To date, we’ve provided code analysis, assisted in getting City approvals, and developed floor plans. We also performed an overall site analysis to help 441 Ministries convert an unused parking lot behind their building into a grassy play area for neighborhood kids.
The School of the Holy Childhood Special Touch Bakery is another example of a project that needed a helping hand long before it could get off the ground. The bakery, part of the Jimmy W. Wilmot Adult Day Training Program, provides training and employment opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. If you live in Rochester, chances are you’ve had a Special Touch Bakery pie, as they produce 16,000 annually and are available at many stores, shops and restaurants. With this kind of demand, the bakery has outgrown its current facility and needs a full-blown commercial bakery to significantly increase production. We were happy to help them come up with a strategy and create a vision for the project, providing initial concepts, visuals and renderings that they will use to communicate with potential investors and create excitement during their capital campaign.
Volunteering brainpower also made a big difference for the Last Days Harvest Christian Fellowship, Inc. in Rochester. Matthew Lupiani, AIA, our Syracuse Office Manager, used his knowledge of codes to help the church convert an old warehouse into a place of worship. Normally, this change of use would require a series of hearings and variances. But, Matt was able to find certain impracticalities in the code and make a case to the code enforcement office that resulted in them issuing a C of O, and subsequent building permit, to renovate the warehouse. “This made it possible for the church to congregate right away, while carrying out their renovations,” Matt was happy to report.
We also applied strategic thinking to Teen Empowerment, a program that trains inner-city youth as effective community leaders through a series of initiatives, programming and events. The kids then get employed as community ambassadors, building relationships with elected, business and law enforcement leaders. This creative program is gaining momentum and popularity, and as such, is outgrowing its space. We pitched in, measuring their facility, creating accurate CADD drawings and floor plans. We then helped them analyze these drawings and plans, and concluded their current space would not be able to accommodate their expanding programming. So we provided strategies and options they can use in their planning, and are ready to assist when they’re ready to move forward.
We also do for kids in a more direct way, through local mentoring and education programs.
Like the Architecture, Construction and Engineering (ACE) Mentorship Program of Rochester, which works with high school students, inspiring them to pursue careers in design and construction. Nationally, ACE Mentorship is the construction industry’s fastest-growing high school mentoring program, reaching over 8,000 students annually. We volunteer as mentors and help with their fundraising efforts to fund scholarships and grants for local kids. Architects Jamie Bucci, AIA and Ryan Zegarelli, AIA, are just some of our many architects who have participated in this program over the years.
Kristin Schuster, AIA and Architectural Designer Caitlin Ellis assist with Explorers Post 511, a joint program between Seneca Waterways Council (BSA) & AIA Rochester to provide an in-depth course allowing high school students to explore the world of Architecture.The program teaches about opportunities in architecture and design, and has seen an increase in enrollment under leadership from our volunteers. “I enjoy giving back to the community in many ways, and especially enjoy giving my time to mentor future architects. And it isn’t one-sided; I learn from the students just as much as they learn from me,” says Kristin. “I find it incredibly rewarding to impact others’ lives in a way that will hopefully improve their future.”
Caitlin agrees, “when I was in high school, I joined the Exploring Program to learn more about architecture and it ultimately led me to pursuing my degree. My first mentor wanted me to love architecture just as much as he did, and when he passed away suddenly in 2013, I promised myself that I’d become a mentor for someone like he was for me. Volunteering for the Exploring Program brings it all together for me.” Caitlin goes on to talk about the impact she feels she makes. “I love exciting the younger generation about my profession and guiding them through. I too want them to love the profession as much as I do, and to know they have an ally as they progress throughout their careers.”
Don Naetzker, our Planning Manager, also enjoys working with students. Don was part of the SWBR team that served as lead consultant for the Seneca Park Zoo Master Plan, and had the opportunity to teach first- and second-graders at Council Rock Primary School in Brighton about planning and the behind-the-scenes process of the projects at the Zoo. The students presented new programs they wanted to see in the Zoo and Don helped them understand the steps needed to make those ideas a reality.
Don was inspired by the kids. “They had creative ideas for one of their favorite places, the zoo. It was a great experience showing the students that their big ideas are very similar to the County’s actual plan, and that some of these thoughts and concepts will actually come to life.”
A less conventional and highly innovative program for students we’ve had the opportunity to be part of is theEast High Teaching Garden. The teaching garden is 2,000+ square feet of fruits, vegetables, perennials and more, providing the school’s culinary students a hands-on farming experience. The food they grow will be used at RYCE, Rochester Youth Culinary Experience, a student-run restaurant expected to open next fall. This new initiative lets students understand and participate in the whole farm to table cycle first-hand, while learning nutrition education and health literacy, quite literally, from the ground up. We were happy to design this teaching garden, and some of our staff even volunteered with the planting.
Many projects we volunteer for are involved and in-depth. But some are simply single-day events, yet just as important and personal to our staff. The reasons we participate are as varied and unique as we are – from simply wanting to support an organization we feel makes a difference, to honoring the memory of a family member, friend or colleague. Some of these events we participate in throughout the year include the United Way Day of Caring, the Cystic Fibrosis Ride for Life and the American Heart Association™ Heart Walk and Run.
Another way many of us get involved is by collecting donations for organizations helping others in our community. Each year, we collect food for the Small Business Councils Thanksgiving Baskets. We create holiday cards and collect donations for DePauls Holiday Helper Program too. DePaul is a private, not-for-profit health and human services organization that provides quality programs for their senior, supportive and affordable housing residents that help them achieve independence and success in the environment of their choice.
We also hold a winter clothing drive for the Open Door Mission. Our receptionist, Debbie Smith, who organizes the drive, puts it this succinctly, “It’s rewarding knowing that we’re helping people right here in our own community. I’ve noticed that those who participate feel good about it. I know I do. And it sure makes me more appreciative of what I have.”
We’ve collected much needed supplies for Willow Domestic Violence Center as well. Deborah Barletta, our Records Manager, organized the drive and personally delivered the donations. “Providing support to the survivors of domestic violence has always been in my heart to do. Willow is right here, in our community, doing good work to provide comfort and normalcy during a time of transition and upheaval to survivors of abuse and their children. I wanted to do something positive to help and it’s something I hope to do again.”
Whether you’re ready to make an impact as an individual, or develop a company-wide culture of giving back as SWBR has, we offer the following advice. “Find a cause that touches your heart. Take stock of your talents. Figure out how to apply those talents to help solve a problem for that cause. Then, commit to do it. Put skin in the game. The gesture doesn’t have to be grand, just genuine. And that will make all the difference in the world to those you help. Our community deserves all of our best talents. If everyone gives back we can collectively have a huge impact.”
Enjoy the season!