Open Mind, Open Heart; Helping Hands Day 2014

IMG_2673In memory of 9/11, every year at MVPS we take the entire day of 9/11 to go out and serve in the community. We call it Helping Hands Day, and this year I went to the Mary Hall Freedom House. This is a shelter for women trying to recover from addiction, and sometimes they have children as well. To help them out we redesigned their after school rooms for the 5-10 year-olds.

When we got there these two rooms were cluttered and not efficient for the teacher or the students. We spoke briefly with the teacher and her few request were for there to be more defined station spaces, one of the sets of cubbies could not move (I forget the exact reason), and for the blocks to be more out of the way. From there we started our design thinking challenge.

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(before pictures)

We started the process by observing the space, and then trying to brainstorm a “to do” list. Eventually, we realized that we needed to just start digging into the project and trying to move stuff around. Along the way there were several challenges because of our limited resources and the odd layout of the way the rooms were built (we only had what was in there, and everything needed a space). So we had to come up with some creative solutions.

We discovered that the teachers desk really is only used when the students aren’t there. When the students are there, the desk is just a space for the teacher to put things on. So we moved it into the funny little corner in the back where the book shelves were, and moved the book shelfs to where the desk was because there was more open space for reading over there. When we tried to move it though, there was a bulletin board that they put into the wall by putting nails in the wall and then just jamming the heads of the nails into the board, so it was really hard to get off.

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(This is where the desk was, and where we moved it to. Also the first picture shows one of the students trying to remove the nails in the wall after we finally got the bulletin board off.)

We also had a lot of problems with double sided furniture. There can be up to 25 kids there at a time, so they really need all of the cubbies they have, which meant we couldn’t put this one set of cubbies against a wall. We eventually figured out where to put it, but we had to ponder it for a while. IMG_2662

(The double cubbies in their new home.)

One of the few things that we were told was to deal with the blocks, and that was what we tried to start with, but we didn’t actually figure out where to put the blocks until almost last. It is funny how you often try to tackle your must haves first, but often end up getting to them later.

IMG_2665We put the blocks in the corner behind the door to the second room in the end. This kept them out of the way, but in an area where they could still have access to lots of open space when needed.

We set the rooms up in great time, so we decided to tackle their “if you get to it project” which was to try setting up the easels they had. We had to fail up quite a bit, but eventually we got one set up. IMG_2667

We had a lot of challenges, but it was really rewarding in the end. The teacher came in while we building the easel, so at this point everything was basically done, and she was trilled. She couldn’t believe how we transformed the space into something that she could really work in. She commented on how open and big the rooms looked with our new design, and she loved where we put the blocks in the end. She told us that she would have never come up with ideas like how we arranged the desks in two groups against each set of windows, and was overall really grateful.

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(The end product!)

We wished that we could have been there to see what the children thought of it, but we had to go back to school. Once there we recapped on what we did and it amazes me how uplifted everyone feels when we come back from a day of service like this. We all had a great time and helped enormously around the community. During our end chapel one of the students gave a powerful story of his trip and about how we weren’t just serving them, they served us. We got the experience, we gained knowledge of others, we learned how to act to make a change for others. School can sometimes feel like it is in its own little world, and it is really important to give back to the community when you can.

Our speaker from the beginning of the day also made a good point though; “What will happen tomorrow? What if we were a school that was known for our service and kind hearts towards each other?” With 9/11 people often talk about the unity our country had on that day, but why do we only feel unified during a tragedy? What if everyone helped each other all of the time? Tomorrow I hope everyone can go to school and work with an open mind and heart, and be willing to help serve those around them, because as several people pointed out today, “It is the little things that can count the most.”

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