Quaker Design Process: Making Place and Space with Youth in Berkeley, CA

Quaker Design Process: Making Place and Space with Youth in Berkeley, CA

I have had a spiritual leading (i.e. calling) to look at the intersection of spirituality and design for some time. One of my interests is exploring a communal design process that is grounded in Quaker values.

This leading integrates my dissertation research and my spiritual convictions. My research was on the motivations, structures, and the nature of engineering community engagement partnerships. Specifically, I analyzed the interactions and activities between engineering service-learning programs and communities. The nature of interactions can be described by the Transactional, Cooperative, and Communal (TCC) Framework. In transactional interactions, there is a heightening of the boundary between the community and the program; an “us” and “them” relationship is present. In Cooperative interactions, the boundary between the community and the program were intentionally blurred, and the community members and program members came together, each offering skills and expertise to the project. In Communal interactions the roles of the individuals are transcended and different participants groups are connected through deeper needs of the individual and community as a whole. In these interactions and activities the individuals saw beyond an “us” and “them” and recognized the process as a “we,”developed friendships, and gained a sense of ownership.

As the title suggests, my spiritual convictions are connected to Quakerism (I also have a mindfulness meditation practice). For those of you that do not know Quakers,  some of the fundamental testimonies are: Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality, and Stewardship of the Earth (note: there is discussion among Quaker spaces that these testimonies simplify an integrated experience of God, and should not be categorized, yet I believe the categories do help in the understanding of Quakers). There is also a tradition of going inward to listen to that of God within each of us.  So when thinking of design, I am wondering what technology may look like when we take these Quaker values, within a community, and design something. What beautiful things can we create together!

A few months ago, I reached out to some Quaker connections to see if anyone was interested in exploring the intersection of Quakerism and design. I was introduced to the Director of Youth Spirit Artworks– an interfaith organization that supports over 50 low income and homeless youth in green job training. She is a Quaker and well known as a homeless activist in the San Francisco Bay Area. The community has identified a number of projects they want to build, and interested in working with me. From there, I submitted an application for a Pickett Fellowship, an endowment that supports Young Quakers to follow their leadings.

In early April, I will be attending Strawberry Creek meeting as a Pickett Fellow. During this time, I hope to (1) educate youth on professional skills and sustainability concepts, (2) build communal art space in an under-resourced community using repurposed and sustainably sourced materials, and (3) strengthen community through empowerment, networking, and relationship building.

More specifically, I have identified three projects that I will work on during this time:

  1. Supporting and mentoring youth through a project-based learning experience that integrates sustainability concepts into the design of an art lot (a community outdoor art space located in the picture below). The youth have already identified components, including an art fence, gate, stage, barbecue pit, and a tiny home that they would like to build on a lot they lease. Through this project, the youth will be divided into groups to lead and manage the design of one of the components. They will be asked to: reflect on what sustainability means within the scope of their work, use participatory design brainstorm methods, and research environmentally sustainable materials. When appropriate, the youth will practice mindfulness in nature and contemplative practices for design inspiration. Based on their research, youthful leaders will make design decisions for the projects.

    20150312_182132
    Future home of the community outdoor art space
  2. Plan, coordinate, and organize volunteer days to build the designs initiated by the youthful leaders. The YSA is affiliated with a number of other religious groups who have already stated that they would like to support the construction of an outdoor Art Space (i.e. the fence, gate, stage, tiny home, and barbecue pit) through volunteer support. I will work with the youth and contractors to plan and support these build days. This includes clarification of which steps can be done through volunteers, and what needs to be done through licensed contractors to ensure the safety of the builds. Members of Strawberry Creek, Berkeley Friends Church, and Berkeley meeting will be asked to volunteer for these builds.
  3. Connect with Quakers to host a series of gatherings on weekends and/or evenings where we will worshipfully design a project together. Members of BFC, Strawberry Creek, and Berkeley meeting will be invited to attend. This process will include: sitting in worship, listening to what we are guided to build, discerning, seeing if the design holds true to our values, and working together to build the design.

Reflection

I am excited about this opportunity, and also saddened to leave my partner who will be staying back and finishing her dissertation. I hope that this opportunity feeds my deep hunger to be in vibrant spiritual community, and that it will open more doors for me to find a job and be able to move back to the East Bay. Leaving my partner is hard, and there is an emptiness to think about being there without her.

Would you like to help?

The Pickett Fellowship was able to support my travel and part of my cost of living. A Friend has also said I can stay with her from April 23rd to May 17th. I am in need of a few things: (1) a place to stay near Berkeley, CA from April 5th to April 23rd, and from May 18th to June 10th, (2) volunteers to help build the designs that the youth create, (3) Quakers to participate in a Quaker design process, (4) insight or suggestions based on experience of doing communal design process, and (5) funding for the materials for the projects that the youth design.

Personal Background

I grew up in the South Bay, and have an undergraduate degree from UC Berkeley in chemical engineering. In the pursuit of this degree, I had a personal epiphany that engineering curriculum did not include the social context. I realized that this was detrimental to our society because students were trained with highly technical skills, but were unaware of the social implications. Since that time my personal leading has been to contribute to our society by bridging the gap between technology and its social impact. After working for a few years as an energy consultant in Downtown Oakland, I decided to further my education. As a Ph.D. student in engineerign education at Purdue University in Indiana, I found Quakerism and became a Convinced Friend. I started to get involved in the wider Quaker community, including Quaker organizations that focus on the environment and lobbying at the federal level. My dissertation research focused on the partnerships that formed in engineering community engagement programs at three sites in the United States. I am using this fellowship as a way to explore my passions, and see opportunities to move back to the Bay Area.

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