The idiom "giving a hand" is the core value of community work. Giving back is a natural human behaviour. Helping one another for a better future is the drive. Investing time within our local communities has its good and bad days. Funding, lack of support and community engagement can be seen as obstacles, but the reward of giving a hand is priceless.

"I have been involved in community work since I can remember and this was a natural place for me while looking for ways that design services can partner with communities. When I am volunteering, a piece of me is made whole, and I’m always looking for ways to do more." - says Shannon Beck, Managing Director for OAC NY.

We spoke with Construction Project Manager, Shannon Beck, about her work with Open Architecture Collaborative.

Can you tell us a little bit about your involvement with Open Architecture Collaborative? What kind of work do you do?

I am currently the Managing Director for OAC’s New York Chapter. We are the bridge between nonprofits and communities in need of design services and the professionals that offer those services. We work with local communities on projects ranging from local community garden needs to government agencies implementing change within a neighbourhood. OAC NY’s mission is based upon inclusivity and propelling community engagement by offering design services.

When and how did you get involved?

I’ve been involved for 8+ years. I was in design school and knew that utilizing my design skills to work with my community would be essential and read Design Like You Give A Damn, and everything clicked. I was a Co-Project Coordinator on The Homeless Shift Project for a Brooklyn Women’s shelter to start and continued my work by also becoming a PC for our Sustainable South Bronx Project and as the Breezy Point Lead for our Hurricane Sandy efforts. This led to my joining the Board as the Director of Projects for 2 years until my transition to Managing Director over a year ago.

Why did you get involved?

I have been involved in community work since I can remember and this was a natural place for me while looking for ways that design services can partner with communities. When I am volunteering, a piece of me is made whole, and I’m always looking for ways to do more. Our time is valuable, so if you can find a way to overlap your expertise with community work, it tends to make room in your life more easily.

Breather’s company mission is to “make the world’s spaces connected, accessible and productive.” How do you see us achieving this mission? How do you think our mission relates to what OAC is striving to achieve?

I think that our mission ties in well to organizations that are working to better their communities and it will be important to align ourselves with like-minded organizations who are finding solutions in their local communities and having Breather support them in some capacity. I believe that Breather’s ability to unlock space to organizations who are often short on meeting space and cannot typically budget for these luxuries is a natural amenity that we can offer to nonprofits we choose to work with. OAC NY strives to create equality through design and Breather can support that mission by offering connected space, but also by possibly partnering through employee volunteer days, etc...

What would you say is the most valuable part of community engagement, as an individual?

Exploring and getting to know your neighborhood, amenities being offered, and neighbours. We are all so busy with our work and personal lives with our heads tethered to our phones that volunteering allows us to be in the moment and appreciate different programs and individuals that are finding ways to make their world better. I don’t know anyone who volunteers and doesn’t walk away feeling better and more informed.

How about as a company?

I find it vital that businesses invest in their local communities where they are established. It allows the city to view the business beyond its defined scope and create a more well rounded business. This then affects the company’s employees, to take time to give back and we support that effort, that we respect that giving back to a community is a part of everyday life, is crucial. To be a company that wants to have a larger impact in society, you have to go beyond your product and sales, you have to become more well-rounded.

Conveniently, OAC has chapters in many of the cities we operate in (except Montreal, unfortunately!) Any ideas on how Breather could contribute to these chapters?

We are starting soon hopefully by launching a partnership between local Chapters where Breather requires site surveys / drafting of plans. I would love to see a larger partnership blossom city by city and our involvement ability. Each Chapter is run independently, so the options will always vary and be able to offer Breather the ability to become involved in a variety of ways.

If Breather chose to have a lasting partnership with an organization or to consistently support a cause, what factors do you think we should consider before making a commitment?

As a company, we will need to define what type of impact we want to make. Is that different by city? Is that an overarching theme? This will need to be explored to better understand what values we hold and what matters to us. Where can we make lasting and well-thought out contributions with a community? I think one key component is to ensure we are partnering with community members to support them no matter the topic, we can not go at it alone and we must respect that we are not the experts within any community. We are there to listen, learn, and then offer our services based upon that feedback received.