FFA is committed to giving back to the communities we serve and to raising awareness for systemic issues that are important to our region. Over the years, we’ve supported our local communities in a variety of ways – from donations to clothing drives to volunteer days. Earlier this year, we found a new and unique opportunity to give back through a connection between our Interiors Lead and Associate, Téjara Brown, and her former coworker, Hosheman Brown (no relation). Hosheman is currently the ‘Know Me Now’ Program Director at The Contingent, a Portland-based nonprofit whose mission is to “empower leaders and mobilize community for the common good.” This venture non-profit works to identify injustices and disadvantages facing Oregonians today, and fill those gaps by empowering new leaders to face those challenges head-on. They do so with a variety of initiatives, focused on issues from increasing racial and cultural diversity at leadership levels, to supporting vulnerable children in foster care. FFA was able to contribute our skills as designers, pro bono, to The Contingent’s initiative ‘Know Me Now,’ a program that creates welcoming spaces for children to visit and bond with incarcerated family members.
We began our work in February 2020 with an office-wide design charette. This initiative, led by Hosheman Brown and Brooke Gray (Executive Director) of The Contingent, was in its early fundraising stages. Hosheman and Brooke came to us with photos from the prison that they were considering for the first deployment of this project. FFA was asked to think about how we can improve the children’s experience. The existing space was the outdated prison cafeteria, which was not set up to be supportive of family interaction or bonding. The room is intimidating and unwelcoming to the children visiting their parents. Stays are often cut short due to discomfort caused by harsh artificial lighting and the unfriendly aesthetic of the space. The only furniture in the room are fixed round tables and metal stools bolted to the floor.
During the charette, FFA staff split into four teams to tackle the different problems. The area still needed to function as a cafeteria, but also support kids of all ages in using the space with their parents and family members. To solve this, all groups focused on trauma-informed design when thinking through ways to create a connection to nature and provide both open and intimate settings for children from different age groups and with different needs. We also focused on creating activity spots for children and parents to converse, play, and create together. Our staff reimaged the space to meet the Program’s goals of building a lasting connection between parent and child.
The solution Hosheman and Brooke were drawn to incorporated all of these elements by creating six specific zones. These were organized from calm to active and from young children to teens. This option included an articulated ceiling in the space, sitting lower over the calmer, conversation areas, and gradually rising higher until it reached the most active end, a small indoor basketball play space.
Following the office-wide charette, a three-person team from FFA worked with Hosheman and Brooke throughout the summer to refine and compile this design concept into a package they could use for fundraising purposes. We reviewed the concept with the warden of the prison and made functional changes based on their standard protocol and existing building conditions.
FFA enjoyed developing a relationship with The Contingent. It is rewarding to know that we are able to leverage our industry expertise and see it ripple out into the community through the important work The Contingent is doing to address the injustices, divisions, and vulnerabilities that many Oregonians face today.
For more information and to support The Contingent, visit their website.