One of the interesting side effects of writing a blog like this one is you frequently meet people who are in the AEC industry who try and leverage their knowledge, resources, and abilities in order to help others. For the third year in a row, I have been asked to help spread the message of a program called “AEC Cares“.
Every year, the AEC Cares event coincides with the American Institute of Architects National Convention, which is taking place this year in Atlanta, Georgia. You can participate in this event as a volunteer on May 13th, 2015 and you can also visit the AEC Cares website and make a donation – people can contribute in several ways and no amount it too small.
To help articulate the purpose and charge of this year’s endeavor, Jennifer Hicks, the owner for WordsWork, prepared this article.
AEC Cares projectAtlanta Secures Foundation for Vulnerable Teens
By Jennifer Hicks
The Covenant House Georgia is a transitional housing and service center for young people in desperate need. It has a “hub” building where the dorms and cafeteria are, and a residential services building, but no community center, where fearful and mistrustful youth – often victims of human trafficking — might come for security and caring.
A community center is “a crucial component to helping at-risk and street kids,” says Allison Ashe, the executive director of CHGA, noting that such centers are also part of the Covenant House model. It wants to turn its residential services building into that needed community space. But it’s an open area in a bit of disarray where the many donations received by the organization are stored. However, there aren’t any dedicated shelves or closet doors, so there’s no room to organize, leaving the space feeling slightly cramped and not yet conducive to feeling relaxed enough to begin to regain the dignity that was stolen, says architect Brandy Koch.
So that’s where the AEC Cares projectAtlanta comes in.
The Community Center
“The Covenant House is doing amazing work in Atlanta, providing safety, hope and a path to a bright future for young people who need a chance,” said Graeme McCracken, CEO of CMD, and board president of AEC Cares. “Thanks to the support of our partnering organizations and volunteers, we will be able to update and modernize CHGA so it can provide better opportunities.”
The volunteers are going to transform the entire space, spruce it up, add paint and flooring and lug in furniture – the kind you want to snuggle into, where you can find comfort, a bit of peace and perhaps a sense of safety.
The goal is to create the center as a welcoming and inviting space, and create the ability care for yet even more children who are victims of abuse and human trafficking.
The hope is that the traumatized young will come for services and find a space where perhaps they can talk, learn basic skills and begin to feel comfortable and build trust and eventually feel secure enough that they might make the commitment to live at Covenant House in a safe environment, according to Koch.
And, after brightening and lightning of the space, the volunteers are going to help organize, by building a vast walk-in closet that has “everything you’d ever dream of,” Koch, the project manager, enthuses. “This will make it look nicer instead of as a mess — walking into space that’s picked up and organized instead of cluttered matters.”
They’ll mount shelving on the walls, add container spaces to help organize the donations and install doors and hardware. This way, the staff doesn’t need to deal with moving stuff out of the way to get what they need, and the kids who go “shopping” for a needed toiletry or pair of pants can again find an aesthetically pleasing space and start to see, perhaps, that she or he is a person of worth and regain some of the dignity that tends to get lost when one has been cast aside, abused or trafficked.
But, there’s a second part of this day-long project, too. It involves the outdoor area between the “T” building and the new community center. The volunteers will clean up the space, install seating areas, and add plantings and flowers – again to help the abused and at-risk young people feel invited and welcomed in a place of refuge where they can unwind and relax and – perhaps – begin to trust.
That’s the whole theme of the project – to give these young people who have been abused, at-risk or victims of human trafficking a chance to find some peace, some security, a little less anxiety and perhaps a bit of hope that their “pasts won’t predict the future,” as Koch puts it.
The Ugly Truth
Human trafficking is a problem in Georgia — and in Atlanta specifically — and many of those whom Covenant House serves and takes in have been victims. Atlanta is at the cross roads of huge interstates and is home to one of the busiest airports in the world, making it easy to transfer victims to another county or state.
“As many as 831 girls are thought to be victims of human trafficking for sex each month in Georgia,” according to the Georgia Governor’s Office of Children and Families, and the “average age of entry into the commercial sex market for girls is [between] 12 and 14 years,” per data complied by the Center for Public Policy Studies. The Polaris Project reports “in 2014, an estimated 1 out of 6 endangered runaways reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children were likely child sex trafficking victims. Of those, 68 percent were in the care of social services or foster care when they ran. “
And this problem is one reason why the services and housing offered by Covenant House Georgia are crucial. That’s why AEC Cares and CMD are working to help them succeed. And that’s why Brandy Koch and the volunteers, sponsors and donors, including Kawneer Alcoa, USG, Holcim, The Container Store and the Vinyl Institute, are giving their time, their money and building materials and products to help bring some safety into the lives of those who need it.
“We have such a unique skill set and gift by being architects, engineers and contractors, we can make a huge impact on people’s lives,” says Koch. “ Some might just say, ‘Oh it’s just a room,’ but for these youth it’s so much more. It’s their hope and where they find comfort. Giving that back to them is fantastic.”
projectAtlanta happens next Wednesday May 13th. AEC Cares is still fundraising for the renovation – click here to help sponsor projectAtlanta through financial or material donations.