Saturday, March 8, 2014

Dwell with Dignity

I know it's been forever since I last posted. School is definitely a factor, but also I've been channeling my creative energies into other projects that don't lend themselves to blog posts (a sewing class that's just the basics -- and thus not post-worthy -- at this stage, and wedding-related things that I'm not planning to post about until after the big day).

BUT, I have to tell you about the amazing design-related trip to Dallas I just took. Obviously I have this interest in DIY and design, but in my professional life I'm 100% committed to social impact work and that doesn't intersect with interior design too often. But I also believe that if you find something that ignites your passion, you owe it to yourself to see if you can build a career around it. So last winter I was googling around to see if there was anyone doing anything in the "social impact interior design" space. And that's when I discovered Dwell with Dignity, a Dallas-based non-profit that transforms spaces for families in need. They explain:

"If we can change a person’s surroundings, we can change their outlook on life. Exposing children (especially) to a nurturing home environment, that includes good design and art, can inspire a standard of living that will carry-over to future generations. Exposing parents to this same environment will allow them to see the positive impact it has on their family; inspiring them to maintain a standard of living they can be proud of and thrive in."

I was fascinated by what I saw online, so I reached out to the founders, Kim and Lisa, for an informational phone call last winter. I learned that working with social service agencies that help families on the road to self-sufficiency, the DwD team harnesses the enthusiasm of designers, design firms, and hundreds of volunteers to make over apartments for families grappling with homelessness and poverty. I loved everything I heard, but since they were in Dallas and I was in Boston, there wasn't much to be done but take inspiration from their efforts and comfort myself with the idea that maybe one day I could be involved with work like this.

And then ten months later, I realized I had the opportunity to do an Independent Project for school and I decided to reach back out. And it turned out that they had a project that they thought I could help on, and before I knew it I was getting on a plane to Dallas courtesy of funding from the HBS Social Enterprise Initiative. And so Friday morning, I found myself here:

Meeting with Lisa, Kim, Associate Executive Director Lisa N, and the rest of the small (but amazingly productive) DwD team was so energizing. It's absolutely astounding what they've managed to do in the last five years. I won't go into too many details, but I snapped some photos of their impressive operation.

As I should have expected, the DwD offices are beautiful -- they're located in a small house, and every room is so unique and full of personality and DIY projects. My iphone photos don't do it justice, but here are a few that I snapped in the room that the front door opens into:

On the wall above the stairs (in the background) of the above photo you can see a painted tree -- it extends up the whole wall alongside the stairs. Here it is at the top of the stairs on the second floor:

DwD has a many-thousand square foot warehouse where they store all the furniture, home goods, textiles, etc that are donated by the design community and people in the community. DwD uses these elements in their project installations, and also in their annual fundraising event "Thrift Studio," a 30-day pop-up event where they sell furniture, homewares, and accessories to raise money for the organization's work. It's a genius take on the typical non-profit fundraising gala approach. The warehouse is simply incredible -- rows of products in every direction that will end up brightening people's homes and lives:

Then there's the studio, where groups of volunteers descend every Wednesday evening to work on painting furniture, DIYing art, and other projects that are personalized for each installation to fit the needs and tastes of the families they'll go to.

From an organizational management, operations, and strategy perspective, the visit was fascinating. But what really hit me -- and what I really hope to keep with me -- was how excited and moved the team was as they spoke about the work they do. Not many people are fortunate to have jobs that so totally invigorate and excite them. I've been thinking about that a lot lately -- about being honest with myself about what really engages me, not just getting caught up in things that intellectually I feel like I should be passionate about even though the fire isn't really there. I'm okay with the idea that my career may not touch all of my passions -- I'm not sure how I can find something that combines social impact, my family, DIY, fitness, good food, urban planning, and all the other things that will interest me as my life unfolds. But my visit to Dwell with Dignity reminded me what amazing things can happen when people find what ignites them and make that their life work. And I hope I can hold myself to forging a career like that.

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