Over the past few months, I have been chief instigator and coordinator for a group of fellow San Francisco-based organizers for our participation in Get Organized (GO) Month, an annual event sponsored by the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO). During our bi-monthly meeting in November, our group of eight agreed to seek out several San Francisco-based nonprofits to which we would offer pro bono organizing services.*
When beginning the search for eligible nonprofits, a call to my esteemed and enthusiastic colleagues at Rebuilding Together San Francisco (RTSF) proved fortuitous on many levels. Their facilities application deadline had just closed for the 2010 National Rebuilding Day activities. Within a day or so, they identified two facilities whose applications specifically mentioned the need for organizing assistance, and one of those seemed to be a likely venue for RTSF’s annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day undertaking sponsored by Kaiser. There we were, two entities searching for a venue to assist in the month of January. Bingo!
A week later I was onsite at POWER Bayview (People Organized to Win Employment Rights) with two staff members from RTSF so we could assess the facility and consider it’s viability for our respective projects. We were greeted by two POWER staff members and two interior design students from the San Francisco State University. The students were part of a larger team who worked on a semester-long project that chose POWER as their “design client,” and our visit coincided with their final client presentation.
The POWER facility is an unassuming storefront on Third Street, the main commercial district in the city’s Bayview District. It’s easy to imagine it’s former life as a retail space by the basic layout – a large rectangular main room, a small bathroom and a storage room in the rear. In describing this space in their GO Month application, POWER staff wrote:
“While we feel very luck to finally (after more than a year of looking) have our ideal location in one of the communities that we work with, we have also struggled in making it a functional space…We believe that having a well organized space would also make it a more inviting and comfortable space for members to work and even just to hang out which is critical to the work of the organization.”
The students took us on a tour of their design scheme that included renderings, a floor plan, paint selection, furniture selections, fabric swatches, and more. A presentation binder with every single element of the project – including a replacement globe for a light fixture, floor tiles, etc. – priced out with images and sourcing information was provided. Their work was thorough.
The RTSF folks expressed interest in teaming up the project on the spot. Not only was POWER an organization that matched their criteria for the MLK, Jr. Day project, but they cited the student work as being key to making this a viable project. I, too, was sold. It was perfect for GO Month, and this multi-faceted collaboration was very exciting.
A school assignment that was never intended for actual implementation was going to manifest into reality in the coming weeks to the extent that the budget and available resources would allow.
Here is a visual essay in before/after images that take you through the (mostly) organizing aspects of the transformation.
The main room serves many functions, including an office workspace and a gathering place for meetings. On the left, the student design presentation in progress. One of the most powerful aesthetic changes to the space was achieved through paint. The light turquoise walls and oppressive grey ceiling were replaced by two neutral warm tones, and the ceiling was painted white. The POWER staff has noted that the light ceiling makes the space feel much more uplifting.
Work stations and the kitchen area were too close for comfort. Cabinets were installed for kitchen necessities that were previously without a proper home. RTSF provided a refrigerator to replace a less than optimal mini-fridge. Suddenly, the kitchen area was defined, and once the miscellaneous bags and such are sorted, staff has an opportunity to store emergency water and supplies under the counter. There are plans for a curtain to be installed to cover the under counter nook. The computer work stations (see left) were moved to the rear of the main room.
In addition to blocking a portion of the large mural that dominates that wall in the main room, stacks of chairs created both a visual and physical obstacle. Since they are used about once a month, they were relocated to an out of the way – yet completely accessible – corner of the storage room.
The small L-ish-shaped storage room was less than optimized and was occupied by a couple of unused desks and filing cabinets. Boxes of unsorted items were piled in a corner. In advance of the MLK, Jr. Day volunteer day, this space had to be cleared of unwanted items in order to make way for storing furniture from the main space. Part of this endeavor was making way for the stacks of chairs to be rehoused. A wall cabinet was installed for storing office supplies that previously were scattered in boxes. A two-drawer filing cabinet was repurposed for multi-functional storage.
One of the two pieces of furniture we kept for the storage room was a nice old solid wood cabinet. The unit was unobtrusive and fit quite well where it resided. It’s surface accommodated the office printer and the fax machine perfectly; inside, however, two shelves were missing, and a hodgepodge of unrelated “stuff” sat on the existing shelves (left). A carpenter installed replacement shelves, and we relocated printer paper and project books to this space (right). It turns out that the fax machine is seldom if ever used, so it was stowed on one of the shelves.
An occasional workspace was needed in the storage room, and it was decided that the existing desks were no longer needed . (Both were permanently removed from the site.) Originally, the folding table (right) and the one folded and stored against the wall behind it, were used in the main room as the main meeting tables. One of these tables replaced the desks. They aren’t the prettiest things, but they are incredibly useful in times of community events. Extra portable table space is always good to have on hand. Later in our organizing and space planning process, there came a request to use the storage room space for childcare during the monthly member meetings. Our set-up was perfect. The table can accommodate three kids with crayons and books, and should more kids be in attendance, the table can be pulled away from the wall and chairs added. (And if you’re wondering, a small light-colored desk and a large wooden table previously in the main space now make up the primary meeting table. They also contribute to the lightening effect of the main room!)
The addition of curtains, a comfy couch, and window seats create an inviting, hospitable and warm space that the POWER folks were seeking. As always, it was an honor to be part of this amazing transformation.
*As of this writing, our group’s GO Month collaborations are nearly complete. In addition to the project at POWER, at least seven professional organizers will have contributed their time and expertise to Creativity Explored, Planning for Elders, and Children’s After School Arts (CASA) program at Rooftop Elementary School.