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It’s All for the Kids

It’s All for the Kids

At Home In Arkansas

Styled By: Chip Jones
Photographer: Rett Peek
Author: Tiffany Burgess Adams

For full photo gallery click here.

Imagine a group of 50 children along with their teachers doing homework, playing games, and working on educational activities in a 65-year-old, 7,000-square-foot ambulance garage that is also shared with an adult learning center. Doesn’t sound ideal, right? Until this summer, that was the situation at Our House, Inc.’s Children’s Center. Not only was the program constrained by a number of safety and design issues, it also lacked the ability to accommodate the ever-growing number of clients who are a part of Our House. The directors and the board knew a solution needed to be found to continue the organization’s more-than-worthwhile work.

A New Game Plan

The project launched in October 2010 when Our House executive director Georgia Mjartan and assistant director Ben Goodwin held their first strategic planning meeting with the board of directors. “We did not have enough space. We were turning people away from our housing programs because we didn’t have enough room in our childcare program,” says Goodwin of the urgency of the situation. From there, a comprehensive plan to construct a new center was put in place, allowing time to raise funds and secure a number of in-kind donations of building materials and volunteer services to bring the project to life.

Building Blocks

Herron Horton Architects, helmed by longtime Our House advocates and volunteers Jennifer Herron and Jeff Horton, were brought in to design a child-friendly structure. “They did a great job of leading the creative vision and incorporating a lot of different needs and viewpoints, and [they] also managed to incorporate all of the donated materials we received and work with a flexible schedule to do so,” Goodwin says. Herron and Horton are also responsible for the five bright colors used on both the structure’s interior and exterior. The palette effectively ties the feel of the spaces together and creates a sense of organization and unity—an effect that is especially important for the young children who study and play at the Center on any day that school is not in session as well as after school hours on regular, in-session days.

Volunteer Effort

As the structure took form, interior design moved to the forefront of the planning team’s thoughts. Our House has a long-standing relationship with the local chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID). “They’ve been one of our best supporters for years,” Goodwin says. So it was a natural fit to approach members about the idea of sponsoring a room—meaning each volunteer team would be responsible for designing and installing an entire space in the building. “Brittany Atkinson [a local member and design team volunteer for the Center’s teen space] in particular helped us develop the concept of sponsoring a room,” Goodwin adds. ASID members were inspired by the project, and a number of them jumped at the chance. The group’s efforts were focused on the spaces designated for use by the two oldest age groups in the building—the teens and the Center’s teachers, and both spaces were made possible thanks to in-kind material donations and/or discounted services (see the resources at right for more info) by local vendors.

Just for Teens

The teen space is designed for children ages twelve to seventeen, so it was imperative that things were “cool and had a lounge-like environment,” says designer Brittany Atkinson, who worked alongside three other designers on the space. While the color palette follows the rest of the building, the room’s furniture is more suited to teens and includes areas for homework, reading, and relaxation. The oversized beanbags and ottomans/stools can be moved easily to allow for various seating configurations.

To create a cost-efficient and low-maintenance piece of art for the back wall, the design team decided on a painted grid with a range of blue-green hues. The ASID members, volunteers from Evo Business Environments, and members of the Our House staff painted the wall themselves. “This gave our team a way to get involved, because for the most part we just had to sit back and watch the construction take place,” Goodwin says.

“Our House was so appreciative. We really tried to work with them to make the room fit their needs, but they gave us a lot of freedom,” says Atkinson, who even upholstered the room’s banquette cushions herself to keep costs to a minimum. “When you actually see how many people benefit, it makes it real and you can see the mission come to life,” she adds.

Resourceful Retreat

The ASID team assigned to the teacher’s resource room made organization and plenty of workspace top priorities. The teaching staff had never had a space to work on projects, write lesson plans, or share resources, so the room was an entirely new concept. The completed space features an abundance of storage and has a light, workable feel. “There’s going to be a lot going on in this space, so we wanted our finishes to be clean and for the room to allow the natural light to come indoors,” says Ashley Crawford, who worked alongside four other designers on this space. Crawford, who recently moved to the central Arkansas area, was not familiar with Our House before this opportunity through ASID. “It was especially humbling for me to learn about their work and to be involved with the mission,” she adds.

Lasting Impact

Now complete, the Children’s Center held their official grand opening on June 7. As for how the kids responded to the new space, Mjartan says: “You can ask the kids what they think, and they’ll say it’s cool, but to watch the kids engage and connect with the building—watch them peek through a glass garage door or window and see what they are going to do next or see them just chill in the teen space, enjoying it the way they wanted to—speaks much louder than what they had to actually say about it.”

The mission of Our House is to provide working homeless adults and children with housing, job training, education, and children’s programs in order to equip them with the skills to be successful in the workforce, in the community, and in their own families.

Our House offers the only licensed child care and youth programs in the state designed specifically for homeless children.

How You Can Help: DONATE

TIME Volunteer to mentor the children.

FUNDS Make a monetary gift to the organization.

ITEMS Our House is always in need of supplies and clothing.

To learn more and see a list of specific needs, visit ourhouseshelter.org or email them atdonate@ourhouseshelter.org.

Design Resources

Architect Jennifer Herron and Jeff Horton, Herron Horton Architects, Little Rock, (501) 975-0052, hh-architects.com

Contractor Nabholz Construction, locations statewide, (877) 622-4659, nabholz.com

Resource Room

Interior designers Emily Babel, Professional Furniture Consultants, Inc., Little Rock, (501) 882-9681, pfcreps.com; Kelli Bailey, Innerplan, North Little Rock, (501) 371-0300, innerplan.com; Ashley Crawford, Evo Business Environments, Little Rock, (501) 244-9696,evoarkansas.com; Michelle Swain, Shaw Contract Group, (501) 733-6568,shawcontractgroup.com

Cabinets Jerry Hill Cabinets, North Little Rock, (501) 374-9250

Flooring Shaw Contract Group, (501) 733-6568, shawcontractgroup.com

Furniture Evo Business Environments, Little Rock, (501) 244-9696, evoarkansas.com

Paint PPG Pittsburgh Paints, locations statewide, ppgpittsburghpaints.com

Teen Room

Interior designers Brittany Atkinson, WILLIAMS & DEAN Architecture | Interior Design, (501) 224-1900, williamsdean.com; Kristen Brown, Kandid Scott, and Meredith Thompson

Flooring bpi, North Little Rock, (501) 490-1924, bpidecosurf.com

Flooring and tile installation River City Flooring, Conway, (501) 205-1519, Mountain Home, (870) 424-9663, North Little Rock, (501) 812-1411, rivercityflooringinc.com

Furniture Evo Business Environments, Little Rock, (501) 244-9696, evoarkansas.com

Millwork—custom cubbies and bench Beard Breeding Painting Co Inc., Mabelvale, (501) 455-1010

Paint PPG Pittsburgh Paints, locations statewide, ppgpittsburghpaints.com

Tile—backsplash ACME Brick, Tile, & Stone, Fort Smith, (479) 782-7974, Little Rock, (501) 812-5574, Russellville, (479) 968-6900, acmebricktileandstone.com

Window coverings Kavanaugh Blind, Shade & Shutter Co., Little Rock, (501) 831-3129

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