Students use the center to do homework together. Photo courtesy Operation Shoestring
Students in Operation Shoestring's Project Rise after-school program were in for a special treat when they returned in January to a newly renovated state-of-the-art facility in central Jackson.
"Just the oohhs and the ahhs and the 'Oh, this is cool' as they walked in the door Tuesday, January 7, was powerful," Executive Director Robert Langford says.
Operation Shoestring, which began in 1968, provides academic, social and emotional support to neighborhood children. The Ellen Harris Center on Bailey Avenue also supports and provides resources for families.
Nearly 10 years ago, the organization began discussions with Duvall Decker Architects on how to best repair and revamp the existing space. The program was housed in an aging building with a leaking roof, windows with bars and dark, closed-off classrooms.
"We felt the quality of our programs were limited by our physical environment," Langford says. "It looked more like a jail than a place where learning, exploration and affirming experiences for kids should occur."
Duvall Decker welcomed the opportunity to assist the long-standing neighborhood staple, and as the program approached its 50th anniversary in 2018, the pair pushed forward with the collaboration.
"We love working with communities where we can actually see the impact of the commitment to the design," Project Manager Shannon Gathings says. "Operation Shoestring has always done the most with what they had, so it was an easy commitment for us to make, knowing the work they do."
Focus-group meetings solicited the input of the faculty, youth and parents who used the facility, along with local community leaders and Shoestring's board members.
"We worked really closely with everyone to determine what they needed and wanted for the space—taking those ideas back and drawing them out," Gathings says.
The building now features modern spaces filled with natural light, lounge-like modular furniture, and walls in a variety of colors and textures. A large open community room can be reconfigured into smaller classrooms; a computer lab features bar-style seating and large projection screens; reading nooks and smaller activity spaces are perfect for enrichment programs; and a new residential kitchen is equipped to not only provide meals and snacks but also to host programs for both students and parents.
The acquisition of adjacent property provided the space to build a new modern playground for students and to expand parking.
Langford hopes that the facility not only meets the needs of their youth people, but also encourages more growth and progress in the neighborhood.
"We hope it continues to yield great outcomes for the kids and families we serve and create a catalyst for change in the neighborhood by working with other stakeholders, including residents and others, to create more good spaces in the neighborhood," he says.
Visit operationshoestring.org to learn more.