Tag: YSA

Quakerism and Design: Creating community – Reblogged

Quakerism and Design: Creating community – Reblogged

Pickett Endowment Grantee Blog: Quakerism and Design: Creating community: By Julia Thompson

In April to mid-June, I was working with an organization called Youth Spirit Artworks (YSA) to support the design and build process of an outdoor art space referred to as an ArtLot.  YSA is an organization that is committed to empowering homeless and low-income youth through art job training in Berkeley, California.

My personal passion is to explore the intersection of engineering and spirituality. I hold a Ph.D., and have researched extensively using service-learning as a way to teach engineering skills. The Pickett fellowship has allowed me to expand on this work, and to work directly with a community on a design project, one that was rooted in Quaker values.

Through this experience, I was able to work with youth, staff, community members, and architects to push forward the design and build of the ArtLot.  We threw out rubbish that had been collecting in the area, weeded, stained benches, stabilized benches, and built trellises.  We had a number of meetings to discuss the space, and volunteer days to get things built.

Personally, the experience has given me a lot of insight into my gifts and limitations. I experienced the chaos, mess, and love that are present through life. Below are three lessons: my problem-solving mindset, me as a community organizer, and a valuable lesson of homelessness and God.

The ArtLot when I arrived (April 2016)


Two youth using the space to practice poetry and music 


My Problem-Solving Mindset

There were a number of things that needed to be figured out associated with building the ArtLot, and I loved putting on my brainstorming hat and can-do attitude to accomplish these tasks.  For example, there were beautiful benches, which had been designed by an architect student, and there had been a series of volunteer days to build them before I got there.  One of the first weeks I was there, a number of volunteers worked with youth to stain them. However, there were a number of structural issues with the benches.  The benches were designed to fold up, yet the front legs would collapse if you leaned back, the bench was wobbly, and the front legs were shorter than the back – each one being different heights. One of the professional architects and I examined them closely and figured out a way to make them stable. First, we measured each front leg to determine how far off the ground it was. Based on this measurement, we cut off that height from the associated back leg. We also attached nylon webbing and made it taught to reduce the wobble and make sure the front legs would not collapse. Currently, all the benches are relatively flat and stable.  This process of identifying an issue, figuring out a solution, and following through with it, was completely satisfying, and I recognize this as something that aligns well with my gifts and skill sets.

The benches
The volunteer day where we constructed the trellises

Me as a community organizer

This experience was a bit more than I expected. I put myself out there on a number of occasions and felt drained when things did not go as planned. Many times I felt like I was pushing the project too fast, and others were not as interested in being engaged. In the process, I learned a lot about myself; however, I often felt that I had jumped into the deep end.

I would like my next experience to be more in the terms of wading. I am opening myself to opportunities to assist in facilitation experiences, working under mentors who have gifts and experience of holding space. Also, I want to work with communities who have a desire and intention to be present.

My current goal is to run retreats in the next three to five years where artists, designers, architects, engineers, and others can reflect on what it means to build the world with integrity.

Raising up the trellises

God and Homelessness

I would say the most profound lesson I learned about homelessness was talking to one young man.  He arrived in Berkeley from New Jersey, following a meditation guru. He spoke of his love for this guru, and his devotion to meditation and yoga.  Up until that point, there was a naïve and arrogant part of me that believed that it was only through my privilege in this world that I was able to seek God the way I have, and strive to live out my vocation. As I talked to this man, I was touched and I recognized how human is this urge which I have, and how it is not limited by wealth and privilege. We are all children of God.

Community event- Voices Unfliltered: An art exhibition of Humanity (August 6, 2016)

Overall, I am extremely appreciative for this opportunity and the incredible support from various communities. Many people supported me in various ways throughout this journey, from holding me in the Light to giving me places to stay.  I am deeply blessed and utterly grateful.

Designing with communities – a bit of advice

Designing with communities – a bit of advice

A few weeks ago a friend of mine told me about Clear Village, an organization based in London that, “provides creative regeneration services to social landlords, local councils, community groups, funding agents and other organisations that work with communities.

Clear village appeared to have completed projects akin to the proposed work with YSA, so I reached out to them and talked with Frank van Hasselt. Frank had plenty of experience working with community projects and was a gold mine of information.  Here are a few things we talked about.

1. Get clarity of the larger aspirations

Way of Being: introspective, sincere

The first advice he gave was to have clear aspirations for the space. Have the community members articulate their core rationale. For example, one of the components is a stage –  What is it about the stage that people are interested in? Is it to have community functions? To give young adults a space to tell their stories?

By articulating these rationales, the project has a clear goal. Different people designing may be bogged down on details, like size or color of an item, and so clarity on the larger goals will create a sense of unity. If everyone agrees that we want a space to come together, we can go back to that goal while figuring out the size and color. Additionally, these larger aspirations can be used to figure out the appropriate monitoring and evaluation protocols (advice #3)

Overall, I see the process of articulating the larger aspirations as an opportunity for the community to reflect on their deeper values. I would hope that we can talk about the importance of creating space for community, sustainability, equality, etc. in our local environment, and then expand this notion to the world. Additionally, the process is an opportunity for the youth to learn project management and professional skills, important life lessons for job training (a desired outcome of YSA).

2. Creative Phase

Ways of being: quirky, fun, joyful

Once there is a clarity in the aspirations for the group, we can start the creative phase. Using brainstorming techniques (with a lot of post-it notes and large paper), along with case studies of other projects, we can think of ways to create those desired outcomes through physical space and programming. To find case studies and potential sources for workshop material, we talked about simple google searches, Project for Public Spaces, and the IDEO.

Honestly, I am more nervous of this phase, and I do not know how much work YSA has done thus far. I perceive my strengths are in the reflective space. I love being creative, and can get there… but it is not as natural. I may connect with friends and colleagues, to get some thoughts on how to harness this type of creativity.

3.Fundraising and Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E)

We also discussed the importance of M&E for fundraising now and in the future. I did not mention this in the conversation, but this was a large interest of mine during my time working for a Jive Media in South Africa. I would definitely like to make a solid M&E plan so that I can have that experience and added benefit to YSA. In our conversation, we went through the things that they gather within their organization and the general importance of data.

Qualitative data: The basic information that should be gathered is the stories and testimonials after the project. How did the project impact the youth’s lives? This can be done through audio recording, through videos, or having them record themselves.

Quantitative analysis: Gathering data over time, such as the impact of the project on the youth’s confidence, teamwork, job prospects, etc. are important. This is where identifying the aspirations from above really help. We are essentially gathering evidence that the project achieved the desired aspirations. Asking the same question over time, or giving surveys are useful, and funders greatly appreciate it.

4.General advice

  • In facilitation, make sure that everyone’s voice is included and heard
  • There is generally more work than it looks like
  • Make sure everyone’s on the same page on desired goals
  • Governance can be tricky – specifically when it comes to juggling different stakeholders desires and expectations
  • Having people hyped about the project makes everything go smoother
  • The community experience will change project to project, sometimes it works well, and sometimes not… its part of the process
  • Have designers and experts in the creative phase to assist in the design phase and provide input on what is feasible.


Image source: “Working Together Teamwork Puzzle Concept” by Scott Maxwell is licensed under CC BY 2.0