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AEC Cares plans San Francisco ‘blitz build’ in support of Larkin Street Youth Services

Warren Frey
AEC Cares plans San Francisco ‘blitz build’ in support of Larkin Street Youth Services

Industry, charity and elbow grease are coming together next week in San Francisco.

On June 7 volunteers with AEC Cares will take part in #projectsanfrancisco, an initiative to renovate a Larkin Street Youth Services facility in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District.

“What we do on an annual basis is bring together members of our community. We have a pro-bono design team, architects, engineers, general contractors and we partner with manufacturers and skilled labor in the local market where the American Institute of Architects national conference is being held. The day before the convention we do what we call a ‘blitz build,’” said AEC Cares president and ConstructConnect chief product officer Jennifer Johnson. “We partner with a non-profit, someone who really needs our help, and we tend to focus on non-profits that deal with veterans, children and women who are displaced.

“Our designers come in, they assess (the facility) months ahead of time and say, ‘Here’s the space, here’s what we think we can do, here’s how many people we think we need. Here’s the budget that we’re looking at to accomplish this in a one-day blitz build.’ AEC Cares mobilizes volunteers, donors and participants for that project,” she added.

This year’s project is the Lark-Inn, a longer-term residential shelter in the Tenderloin District for young adults who have aged out of the foster system, Johnson said.

“It provides them with emergency shelter, but oftentimes it’s more of an intermediate to longer-term stable housing situation. It houses up to 36 youth every night and their focus is to give kids and young adults a better, more stable start in life,” she said.

Larkin Street Youth Services’ mission is to help youth find skills, employment and steady housing, Johnson said, and “they provide counselling and mental health services as needed, along with three meals a day to really take care of the needs of young adults who just don’t have any alternatives.”

AEC Cares’ design team assessed the building and concluded they could make the space more appealing by modifying the entryway to make it feel more welcoming, installing large murals across the building, as well as improving the main meal area to facilitate social situations and adding flooring.

“Just things to make it a more cozy and homey situation,” Johnson said.

ConstructConnect runs AEC Cares but Johnson said a series of partners contribute to make the project possible.

“We partner with the American Institute of Architects and we have a pretty extensive group of pro-bono designers and contractors such as DLR Group, Gensler, Whiting-Turner, Stantec, CRB, DPR Construction and the AIA California chapter,” she said. “We’re constantly working with this team to scope and re-scope what’s possible with the budget and funding we’ve done. On the other side of that we have sponsors who donate not only money but also goods.”

While this year’s project has already filled all available physical volunteer positions and has hit its donation goal, Johnson said each year’s project takes months and months of preparation.

“We’re full up for volunteers this year, but next year is just around the corner. We always say this is a one-day project that takes 11 months and 30 days to put together. We work on this all year long. We’re constantly fundraising,” she said.

AEC Cares began as a way to help repair damage suffered by New Orleans residents after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. That blitz build took place in 2011 and Johnson said the damage from the hurricane and subsequent floods was still visible all around them as they went about their work.

“You could look in these people’s homes and see the water line just inches from the ceiling. It was still there five years later,” she said. “I was underneath a home, laying on the ground in June in super-hot New Orleans installing a vapor barrier, literally upside down and nailing above my head.

“I just remember so much gratitude from all of the homeowners. We renovated bathrooms, installed flooring, painting. When you have 100-some volunteers you can get a lot done in a day. That’s what we focus on, bringing a radical transformation to a space for a really deserving community,” Johnson said.

The non-profit subsequently held builds in Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Houston, Orlando and Atlanta.

Those wanting to learn more about #projectsanfrancisco and AEC Cares can click here. Donations are being accepted on the AEC Cares donation page.

For more on this initiative, listen to Jennifer Johnson on this Friday’s The Construction Record Podcast.

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