Reporting by Sarah Heart
LaTrell Duncan dreams of creating a space for discovery. One that sparks curiosity in science, technology, engineering, math, and is typically unavailable to children in neighborhoods such as hers. Though struggling to find funding after a promised grant fell through, LaTrell remains committed to her dream, aware of the positive impact it holds for the lives and futures of children in her community.
Bonnie DeLancey wishes to care for every child as her own. She wants to provide for them a loving foundation and establish ways their busy parents can partake in moments missed while at work. Despite suddenly losing her space after 5 years of sought-after service, Bonnie knows it is her calling.
These two women, both long-time childcare providers and D.C. residents, have different approaches but their mission is the same: Provide exceptional childcare, improving current standards and creating the best possible foundation for the children involved. They are determined and enthusiastic, despite few resources and no outside funding. Though more than 60% of American families rely on childcare services during their baby’s most formative early years, the U.S. government allocates no funding to assist them. Many facilities are overcrowded, outdated, or disappearing altogether, as lease rates increase and building owners opt for more glamorous tenants like new restaurants. Nowhere are these issues more pronounced than in our nation’s capital.
Gregory Upwall wanted to address this issue. As an architect, he understood the influence environment has on behavior and performance, and proposed redesigning childcare starting with facilities themselves. He approached Chau Pham, Director of Projects for the Washington D.C. OAC chapter (OADC) with his idea, and upon learning about the situation, she wholeheartedly agreed to help. In the spring of 2016, the Design for Children program was born.
Their mission was multi-faceted:
- Provide design and consultation to those unable to afford such services.
- Improve existing childcare facilities that are poorly maintained or only meet “baseline” standards for code compliance.
- Inform and educate about ways that the design of built environments can positively affect human performance, behavior and overall well-being, and improve efficacy of programs administered in these facilities.
- Empower administers who operate within these facilities and encourage them (through needs assessment, planning, implementation) to adapt their operational strategies to incorporate a holistic, sustainable, and integrated approach to their business.
- Inspire long-term habits, values, and attitudes that lead toward personal development, empowerment, environmental awareness, and social consciousness.
Research and Outreach
The first steps were a call for OADC volunteers and in-depth research, which included meeting with the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) and surveying every childcare provider in D.C.
A Community Convenes
The team then organized a workshop for all interested childcare providers. Providers were introduced to OADC and the Design for Children mission. In turn, each provider shared issues they faced and possible improvements for each center were discussed. The team explained architects’ role in such a process, careful to ensure understanding and avoid creating expectations OADC couldn’t actually meet, such as legal counsel or real-estate acquisition.
(from left to right: Candace Wiggins, volunteer; Angelique Speight, home-based provider; Joann Perkins, World Missions Extension Center; Edna Ranck, Early Childhood consultant; Jessica Verbanic, volunteer; Hannah Pauling, volunteer; Greg Upwall, DfC leader/adviser; Diana Teti, volunteer; Mildred Bing, Little Samaritan CDC; Remeca Mashack, Little Samaritan CDC; Jeanne Keegan, volunteer)
The OADC team decided they had the ability to undertake one initial project, and progress one center at a time, after each subsequent completion. But, being the ambitious, big-hearted volunteers they are, began with four. Another call for volunteers was sent out, and a team for each childcare center assembled. In February 2017, the projects kicked-off and Design for Children was officially underway.
(from left to right: Greg Upwall, Amanda D’Luhy (SMPS), Danielle Bersch, Jenna Maier, Jessica Verbanic, Jeanne Keegan, Candace Wiggins, Diana Teti, Martha Keller, Sandra Plaza, Jennie Black)
Bonnie DeLancey found a room to lease from a local church and OADC volunteers worked overtime to expedite multiple rounds of planning, design and revision. In May, only 3 months after starting, the volunteers provided Bonnie a full schematic design package. She will soon be able to open her newly designed childcare center, Footsteps of Children, and serve even more families than in her previous location.
OADC volunteers are currently helping LaTrell Duncan navigate building codes and design plans to turn an empty space she found into PUSH Academy — a name highlighting what excites Ms. Duncan most about this project “Promoting Universal STEM Hub.”
To see more of OAC DC’s work please visit their website and reach out. Thanks again for Sarah Heart’s reporting and infographics about childcare in DC!