The Season of Giving

December 21, 2016
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As 2016 draws to a close, we reflect on the Ayers Saint Gross mission statement: “We engage people and places to create designs that enrich the world.” As a firm, we strive to make the world a better place through our designs and through service in our community. Real change takes real effort, a willingness to get involved and the strength of a team that shares those goals. One of Ayers Saint Gross’ longest philanthropic relationships, now in its 18th year, is our commitment to Beechfield Elementary/Middle School in West Baltimore. In addition to drives for school supplies, canned goods, and books, our firm participates in a six-week introduction to design seminar with Beechfield students. At the last session, the students come to our office to do design exercises and to receive certificates of completion and “honorary designer” business cards. In 2017, we aim to strengthen this relationship even more, by helping students map out the path from high school to college to real design careers. Ayers Saint Gross is also a strong supporter of the United Way. In addition to our financial contributions, we sponsored a Day of Action, during which several staffers volunteered at My Sister’s Place serving women and children in need. One of our most beloved firm traditions is the annual Chili Cook-Off – a crossroads of giving back and strengthening our team culture. We are active in the greater Phoenix community, helping to build a playground for Sunshine Acres Children’s Home, making donations to the Tempe Mission, and more. We participate in (PARK)ing Day, celebrating green spaces in the urban environment. Most recently, we won a Mayor’s Business Recognition Award for planning work in East Baltimore. In partnership with the Southern Baptist Church and other stakeholders, we began with two kick-off workshops in April and continued with a design charrette in September. Ayers Saint Gross designers facilitated these meetings, engaging with community members and teaching the value of thoughtful planning, successful placemaking, and sustainable neighborhood development. A final community meeting will occur in January 2017. We hope that the successful conclusion of that project is the first of many opportunities we'll have in 2017 to engage, create, and enrich. The new year will be full of innovative thinking and problem-solving, as well as investment in people and places. We look forward to the many good things that are to come, at our firm and in the communities we serve.

Drinking Water in Mangundze

May 16, 2016
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Drinking water in rural Mozambique is a luxury. Most of the 30,000 people who live in the Manjacaze district of Gaza Province travel long distances every day to collect drinking water, carrying it on their heads. This system causes major health problems in women and children who are responsible for collecting enough water for their families. Children often skip school to do this important task. When temperatures climb higher, the task of getting water becomes both more difficult and more vital. As a Mozambican national, I always search for ways to help my country to thrive. So, a year ago, my wife and I and the Carlos Morgado Foundation created a crowdfunding campaign to fund, transport, and distribute 30 Hippo Rollers around Mangundze, in the district of Manjacaze, to give the community better access to drinking water. We wanted a tool that would have an immediate impact in the community, and the Hippo Roller was a perfect choice. Hippo Rollers are plastic drums with 90 liters of capacity designed and developed in neighboring South Africa that allow people to collect drinking water and roll it back to their homes with ease. Hippo Rollers are faster and less physically taxing than traditional methods, opening up women and children’s time for education and other activities. We originally planned for five families to share each drum. Beyond meeting basic humanitarian needs, the communal property can instill a sense of engagement, empowerment, responsibility, and accountability among the community members. A year ago, several of my Ayers Saint Gross colleagues contributed to the fund, for which I’m so grateful. Our firm knows the power of community building and ecological sustainability, so the Hippo Rollers were the kind of project I knew my colleagues would support. With assistance from Juan Gabriel Arias of the Mission of Mangundze, a community committee mapped the geographic areas that each drum would serve and its schedule among the five beneficiary families. They also identified community leaders to support the process. Those leaders became responsible for the management of each drum, distributing them on schedule, and providing regular maintenance. In six months, the community committee successfully distributed all 30 Hippo Rollers and provided oversight for usage and schedules. After a short period of skepticism with regard to transporting water in a rolling plastic drum, the acceptance and demand was incredibly high. A few months after the final distribution we did a survey to identify the total impact of the Hippo Rollers on the community. Using an average of 5 individuals per family, the summary of beneficiaries is as follows: HippoRollerInfographic-02 This year, we propose to expand the distribution and affect more lives with 60 more Hippo Rollers around Mangundze. Aside from the crowdfunding campaign, we will also purchase 10 Hippo Rollers to test a rent-to-own solution. We were approached by some families who were interested in buying their own drums, which is a testament to how useful a tool the Hippo Rollers really are. Hippo Rollers do not replace the need for new drinking water sources, but they have made a significant impact in Mangundze. With a lifespan of five to seven years, the drums will continue to benefit the community in the immediate future while alternative sustainable solutions are assessed. If you can, we hope you will contribute to the campaign. All donations, large or small, make a difference. Every contribution helps, and all the money goes directly to a Hippo Roller that will help a Mozambican family. At Ayers Saint Gross, we engage people and place to create designs that enrich our world. Mostly that mission takes the form of design work for our clients, but it also includes support for projects like this one. You can find the campaign here: Drinking Water in Mangundze 2016.

Microhouses with Macro Impact: Volunteering with ACE in Austin

April 28, 2016
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When I began investigating volunteer opportunities in my new hometown of Austin, Texas, I happily stumbled across the ACE (Architecture Construction Engineering) Mentor Program. I had heard of ACE before, as a number of my colleagues in Baltimore have volunteered with their local affiliate. But the Austin chapter was just starting up and I was interested in the opportunities the program provided for both students and mentors. ACE provides a free 12-week program for high school students to explore careers with industry professionals. The program includes guest speakers, construction site tours, and visits to local schools of architecture. It culminates with a final design project that allows students to collaborate with their mentors and peers and put their design skills to use. The final project selected by the ACE Austin affiliate was particularly exciting to me: a 200 square foot microhome to address the challenges faced by the chronically homeless in Austin. Inspired by a recent AIA Austin design competition that asked professionals to perform the same task, the designs would use Community First Village, a 27-acre parcel in east Austin as their site. Run by a local organization, Mobile Loaves & Fishes, Community First Village is building dozens of microhomes. Our work as student-led, mentor-supported design teams fits right into the current events of the city. Microhomes seem far from the large-scale residence halls that constitute much of Ayers Saint Gross’ portfolio. But our skills as designers let us serve everyone in need of a place to live, work, and play. I was excited to share my interest in design and sustainability with the high schoolers in our group, and eager to see how they’d respond to their first design problem. When teaching budding designers, the first teaching challenge is figuring out where to start. To get our students going, we worked together to describe a client. Envisioning someone their building was to serve helped guide our students’ decision-making. Through the process we challenged them to measure their decisions against a budget as well, helping them learn about the real-world constraints that go with working in architecture. It’s been an incredible process, from their first day figuring out where to start to their final presentation hosted at the University of Texas at Austin’s AT&T Conference Center. Our students have come so far, and like every volunteer and teaching experience I’ve had, it’s hard to say who got more out of it – the students or the mentors. Beyond the educational program, ACE also provides scholarships to as many deserving students in the program as it can. At the conclusion of the final design presentation, two of my team’s students were recognized with scholarships and I’m immensely proud of the work they did to earn those funds to support their college educations. Mentors are also recognized, and I’m humbled to say I was named the 2016 Exemplary Mentor of the Year. I’ll definitely be back next year and I can only imagine it’ll be just as rewarding an experience.

Teaching and giving at a West Baltimore school for 17 years

March 15, 2016
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As we move into 2016, the Beechfield team is taking some time to reflect on the past year. In 2015, we taught a class of 4th and 5th graders at Beechfield Elementary/Middle School in West Baltimore about all aspects of design—from architecture, to interior design, to planning, to landscape architecture, to graphic design. We also collected two carloads worth of food and numerous grocery store gift cards to donate to Beechfield students and their families during the holidays. To make sure our good friends stayed warm and well-read during the winter, our colleagues at Ayers Saint Gross rallied to give hats, gloves, scarves, books, and more this past December. All this giving motivates the Beechfield team to do even more! Our 17-year long relationship with the school continues to grow and we are excited at the possibilities for 2016. The team is brainstorming new ways to teach the students, other giving possibilities, and opportunities to expand our influence. We hope to make 2016 an impactful year and start talented young students on a path to a career in design.

United Way Campaign Wrap-Up

February 9, 2016
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It was another record-breaking year for our 2015 United Way annual giving campaign! The United Way team of Adam Ravestein, Meghann Boosinger, and me (Dana Perzynski), with support from Jim Wheeler, worked hard to raise a total of $41,916 to help change the odds for families who need it most. The team organized several campaigns to raise money. The chili cook-off is always an office favorite. The competition is always fierce – each year there is a lot of smack-talking among the chefs, and this year was no exception. We had 13 chili-makers, and each chili was different and delicious! In the end Cormac Phelan, a new employee at Ayers Saint Gross, won with his chiliMAC recipe. Daniel Greenspan’s Sweet Fennel Chili and Samantha Polinik’s Moussaka Chili tied for second place. The winner received Ravens tickets, and the second place winners were awarded $100 Visa gift cards, all donated by Ayers Saint Gross. We also continued our tradition of bringing in breakfasts every Friday in the months of November and December, where all proceeds go directly to the United Way. We added a special “Omelet Day” this year, conveniently held the day after our Holiday Party, which was a huge success. We made almost 50 omelets, specially prepared by aspiring chefs Chi Yan and Daniel Greenspan. There were several raffles that brought in extra money – our IT department charged $50 for old computers, and we raffled off a Kindle Fire (donated by Ayers Saint Gross) at our annual Family Barbeque. The biggest fundraiser every year is the Payroll Deduction, where money is taken directly out of employee’s payroll. The events are fun and help raise awareness, but this is where the bulk of the money comes from. We are proud that we were able to achieve 50% Baltimore office participation, and 40% total participation across the firm. The team offers incentives for employees to donate and even raise their donation from the previous year. Even though the campaign has come to a close, we know the work is not over. There are still people in need. As a result, we have decided to continue the spirit of giving though the winter/spring by collecting toiletries for homeless veterans. We are asking employees to bring back unused hotel toiletries from their travels, and we will put together bags to donate to The Baltimore Station. We are also planning a Day of Action at Helping Up Mission in the spring.