I was able to go and visit Sheffield Place on Friday after school. I met with David Hanzlick who is the vice president of development & marketing. He has been with Sheffield Place for 7 months, and he was able to give me a tour & answered a lot of my questions. I won't lie in saying that I was a little skeptical of the area that Sheffield Place resides in. All of the windows in the stores around the shelter have bars on them, and the shelter itself has a large iron gate surrounding the lot. The building itself is historic, and about 3 stories high. Its a beautiful building. It used to be an old YMCA, one that only men could attend. They converted the building to a woman's shelter back in 1991. Each floor can house about three families, contains one kitchen that those three families can share, and they have laundry on each floor as well.
One of the shelters most fantastic features (in my opinion) is the large child's room that they have in the basement. There are animals painted on the walls, a plethora of books & toys, as well as a mother & child's therapy room. The room is divided into two parts. On one side a therapist will sit behind glass and observe a mother & child. They will place an earpiece in the mothers ear, and directly tell her how to interact with her child in a healthy way. Hanzlick was telling me that the main cause of un-healthy interaction between mother & child stems from the mother's own upbringing.
At Sheffeild they beleive in a 7 step process that at minimum will last for 6 months. It is meant to get the mothers back on their feet, and is geared toward self-sufficiency. Self sufficiency consists of gaining job skills, going to school or going through training, maintaining permanent housing, and acquiring good parenting skills. Hanzlick said that 100% of the mothers have been diagnosed with a mental health issue. He also told me that 20,000 people in Kansas City alone will experience homelessness, 1 in 50 children are homeless, and that 1 in 5 children are living in poverty. On average each family will stay for two years, but are always able to come back to get a therapy session or a health check-up at there in house clinic. The track record for the Shelter is astounding, Hanzlick told me that 90% of the women who have come through the program had been successful in becoming self-sufficient after their stay.
After the tour I was able to sit down with Hanzlick, and tell him about my ideas. He was extremely nice about everything, and seemed interested. I asked him what his thoughts were regarding my "goal-oriented planner", and his initial response was that a lot of these woman can't read or write very well. He told me that most of them have made it up to the 11th grade, and had eventually dropped out of high-school. I was stunned at that fact, because I hadn't even thought of the idea that these women might not be able to read. As the conversation went on, I started to ask about the idea of a campaign to spread awareness. I told him the end goal would be to get donations. He then got up and handed me a tri-fold mailer that they had an ad agency design in order to get money donations. He told me that as much as they liked it, he couldn't see them doing it again due to budget issues.
I have decided to come up with a new direction, but I am still trying to answer the same question. How can graphic design help single mothers either in poverty or low-income situations? I am slightly torn at this point, and am debating on whether or not I want to keep my project as realistic as possible. Do I want to do something cutting edge that is completely hypothetical with no budget? Or do I want to keep my project realistically consistent with Sheffield Places budget, and have it potentially be implemented?
As our conversation went on, he mentioned a few things to me that could most definitely be a new lead for my project. He told me that their 20th anniversary was coming up, and they have been collecting 20 stories from mothers who had gone through the Sheffield house. I saw this as an opportunity for a story book, that would house these women's lives. It could potentially be an incredible keepsake for the shelter as well as evidence to how successful their program is. The content alone with the stories could make for a compelling project.
He had also mentioned the idea of a "creative wall" for the children. They wanted to do something special with the kids of Sheffield Place by having a child decorate a tile & put it up on the wall. I also thought that their was potential here for design, and it made me start to think of the interaction between the mother & child. What better to help a mother, but to give them an activity of some kind to do with their child. This could give them a memory that they would never lose, and could potentially bring them closer to their children.
At the end of our conversation I felt slightly defeated, because I had assumed so much. It was incredibly constructive for my process however, because this will better inform my project. I can now start to experiment with ideas that are more likely to succeed. I also asked if I might be able to sit down with one of the mothers, and have a conversation. He told me that he would have to okay it with their case-manager first, so I am hoping that I can talk to one of the mothers.