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Designers Doing Good

Bergies sure know how to keep busy. We thought we'd share stories about how some of our team members are giving back to their communities and what inspires them to volunteer.
Community involvement is a significant focus for Bergmeyer. We've long known that many Bergies spend time and effort volunteering for causes beyond the design industry. Below are some of the initiatives and insights that several Bergies have shared about their volunteer commitments. It's inspiring to hear stories about the many ways individuals can positively impact their community!

Joanna Myers
Architectural Designer


How do you give back to your community (volunteer, coach, elected official, etc.)?

A few years ago, we started the Social Responsibility Team here at Bergmeyer. It was an offshoot of our annual United Way campaign and an opportunity to organize and celebrate the great things that Bergmeyer staff were already doing in their communities.

In addition to our annual United Way campaign, we were able to organize volunteer events and develop a Volunteer Time Off program that allowed people to get more involved with their favorite organizations. We set up a matching program that directed the firm’s corporate giving towards organizations that the employees genuinely care about. We gave people access to a philanthropy dashboard so they could track their giving and see volunteer opportunities in their communities based on their interests.

The Social Responsibility Team has transformed into a way to take what people in the firm are already interested in and passionate about and align it with the firm’s mission of community engagement. It has provided opportunities and a platform to highlight how much Bergies are truly involved in their communities.

What motivates you to commit time to volunteer?

I believe that when your community thrives, you thrive, and your business thrives. There are so many inequities that are out of a person’s control throughout their life and so many ways that those who have access and opportunity can give.

Recently, I have been really inspired by the smart and systematic approach of Jose Andres and the World Central Kitchen. He is showing that by modifying systems and infrastructures that already exist - we can fix so many problems in our world.

How have you grown professionally/personally through volunteering?

Volunteering is an excellent way to network! We approached the United Way with an idea to partner with other companies in the industry to put on a field day carnival for the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Boston. They helped us organize a great event with our colleagues at Boston Properties and Gilbane Construction. It was so much fun! We got to know new people in our industry, and the kids had a blast!

What is the biggest takeaway from your experiences giving back to your community?

Architecture and design are so much about improving people’s lives and experiences in the environments that they live their lives in. It only makes sense to align that passion that so many in our industry have with philanthropy and volunteerism.

Mike McGowan
Associate, Design Practice Leader


How do you give back to your community (volunteer, coach, elected official, etc.)?

I am the Chairman of the Board and President of Neighborworks Housing Solutions ("NHS"), https://nwsoma.org/. NHS is a non-profit organization serving the Southern area of Massachusetts with offices in Brockton, Kingston, New Bedford, and Quincy. Our mission: Health and well-being start with having a safe and affordable home in a stable and opportunity-rich community. We promote these conditions by developing housing and by providing housing resources and education in collaboration with our partners in the public and private sectors.

What or who led to your interest in giving back to your community?

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, my parents were both involved in aspects of our town’s life. My father was elected to the Planning Board and Board of Selectman, and my mother started the town’s Council on Aging to reach the senior citizen population with services and meals, in the days when these services did not exist. As it’s Chairwoman, she led a team to secure funding to retrofit a vacated fire station into a Senior Center, which bears her name today.

What motivates you to commit time to volunteer?

We are an organization of 75 that serves a large at-risk population. The families we serve are often in trauma, suffering from unimaginable circumstances. In any given year, the work we do affects over 3,000 families is some way, many of whom I will never meet. This can be through housing in one of our 800 apartment units or through other economic advancement programs. Some include rehousing homeless families, residential assistance grants, first-time homebuyer education, rental assistance vouchers, foreclosure prevention, rehousing domestic violence survivors, and overall assisting families moving toward self-sufficiency. I am humbled by the work our people do and proud to be a part of this organization.

Can you tell us about a difficult volunteering experience and how you overcame it or what lesson(s) you learned from that experience?

When I became Chairman in 2008, we were in serious financial trouble. In November 2008, the Board of Directors became aware through our yearly corporate audit, that State funds we managed intended for a low-interest home modification loan program had been mismanaged and used for operating costs. This and other mismanagement practices had put us in a position of near bankruptcy. We took immediate action - replacing the management staff, hiring an Interim Executive Director, engaging a professional search organization for a new Executive Director. We reached out to our creditors as well as State and local stakeholders and took ownership of what had occurred, pledging total transparency in our operations going forward, and in February 2009 (in the middle of a recession) presented a Turnaround Plan. Leveraging some of our real estate and other measures taken, we were able to turnaround this situation and pay back our creditors. I was able to keep the Board together, involved, united, and committed to steering us through this crisis. Overall it took about two years to manage, going from what we called a near-death experience to a healthy balance sheet that has been sustained with the diligence of our management team, the Board, and its Finance Committee.

What advice would you give someone who wants to start giving back to their community, but is nervous about the commitment / doesn’t know where to start?

I am often asked this. My advice is to follow your passion. Research groups that support your interests and contact them. Also, in my view, the term community does not have to be limited to where we live. For instance, at Bergmeyer, we are part of the design community that has its own activism goals.

Bill Spaulding
Senior Associate, Director of Education


What or who led to your interest in giving back to your community?

It’s easy to get involved when you have kids. Being a boy scout growing up really planted the seeds for me – I learned that giving back feels great. A neighbor/friend involved with our town’s Board of Health told me there was a seat available on the Planning Board and I should run. So I did!

What motivates you to commit time to volunteer?

I want to be involved with our kid’s lives, and by sharing experiences it helps make memories. Getting involved with our town’s boards is always risky but is really a non-stop learning experience.

How have you grown professionally/personally through volunteering?

Working with kids is the best! It’s so easy to have fun and learn at the same time. It also gives me energy and keeps me honest. The Planning Board has helped me grow professionally, especially as chairperson, doing my best to run meetings while respecting and representing public opinions. It can be somewhat scary presenting to the Town Council live on TV, but it helps me hone my presentation skills.

How do you give back to your community (volunteer, coach, elected official, etc.)?

It started with rebuilding our local playground and soon became: coaching my daughter’s lacrosse team, before school boot camps for the kids, leader for my son’s scout pack, and being part of our Town’s Planning Board.

Can you tell us about a difficult volunteering experience and how you overcame it or what lesson(s) you learned from that experience?

Most recently we had a friend/dad involved in scouts pass away. His son is in our den, and with me being a full-on empath, it’s been a challenge working with him and his mom. I am not over it yet but having the other scouts make a big card and support his family through this has helped.

The Planning Board has left me with such good and bad experiences. A few years ago a contractor looked me in the eye and lied. It was such a tough lesson as I took his word that he would build a road to town specs. We have no power to make him rip it up and rebuild it correctly without taking him to court and he and his lawyer knew it.

Can you tell us about a successful volunteering experience and what lesson(s) you learned from that experience?

Kids BOKs' before school boot camp. We took out a bunch of jump ropes for a relay race, and one of the second-grade boys didn’t know what they were. We worked together on the side and he couldn’t wait to show me in a later session how he figured it out. Always good to scan the group and make sure no one is left out. Invest the time to help them feel accomplished and proud.

What is the biggest takeaway from your experiences giving back to your community?

Do it with focus and full effort, only expecting the deep satisfaction that you are making a positive difference for someone or some cause.

What sort of advice would you give someone who wants to start giving back to their community, but is nervous about the commitment / doesn’t know where to start?

Everyone is nervous at the beginning. Start now and please ask questions before jumping in so you are ready. Many opportunities have mentoring/training programs.

Stephanie Jones
Associate, Design Practice Leader


How do you give back to your community (volunteer, coach, elected official, etc.)?

Honestly, especially at this time, I’ve been trying to just be a good neighbor when I can. There are some elderly residents in my building, including the woman who lives in the apartment next to mine. She lives alone and is considered “high risk” for COVID, so she’s not able to leave the house. We’ve been checking in on each other. I pick up her packages when she has things delivered and let her know when I’m running errands in case she needs anything. She has returned the favor in the best way she can at this time in the form of cookies and a homemade mask. It’s meant a lot to feel helpful and connected during this time.

What is the biggest takeaway from your experiences giving back to your community?

It’s easy to get caught up in work and daily stresses. Volunteering, in any form, whether as part of an official organization or just trying to extend kindness, helps me grow personally in that it reminds me to slow down and appreciate the people around me. It reminds me to have gratitude for the opportunities that I have in life. It also reminds me that there is a lot of good in the world and offers a chance to broaden my circle and make connections with people I might otherwise not know.

Jason Cohen
Associate, Design Practice Leader


How do you give back to your community (volunteer, coach, elected official, etc.)?


I am a member of the Watertown Planning Board and also a member of our local Community Preservation Coalition (CPC).

What or who led to your interest in giving back to your community?

I had the desire to use my professional skills and knowledge to contribute to my community, and I thought the best way to do that would be by making an impact on the built environment.

What motivates you to commit time to volunteer?

It’s mostly personal, and the desire to give back to the community.

How much time a week/month/year do you spend volunteering? How do you manage your time?

Between the two commitments, it adds up to about 4-6 hours per month of actual meetings, plus additional time writing and responding to e-mails, researching, and visiting sites.

Can you tell us about a difficult volunteering experience and how you overcame it or what lesson(s) you learned from that experience?

The interpersonal dynamics on boards and commissions can be very interesting because people’s working styles and motivations can be very different – just like any professional firm! Dealing with strong personalities and the inevitable conflicts can be challenging, but I believe it’s important to keep a level head and be respectful of our differences.

Can you tell us about a successful volunteering experience and what lesson(s) you learned from that experience?

We recently had our first Public Forum (in late January) to introduce the CPC and the Community Preservation Act to our fellow Watertown citizens. It was a great success, with over 150 people in attendance and a lot of enthusiasm generated for the program.

Are there examples of others in your life/network of people giving back to their community, that are worth highlighting/have made an impact on you/would make an impact on others if they were to try it on their own?

I was inspired by a former Town Councilor (Aaron Dushku, incidentally the brother of actress Eliza Dushku) whom I always respected for his views on social, planning, and general quality-of-life issues, and how he went about advocating for them. I would say he motivated me to pursue my interest in joining these boards/committees, and I am thankful to him for that.

What is the biggest takeaway from your experiences giving back to your community?

I consider it an honor and a privilege to be able to serve my community and hopefully make an impact, to the extent that I can, on the quality of the built environment in my town, which is undergoing very rapid and dramatic growth in the last ten years or so.

What sort of advice would you give someone who wants to start giving back to their community, but is nervous about the commitment / doesn’t know where to start?

I would say to just jump right in – you will find in general that people will be appreciative your efforts to help your community and the mere act of volunteering your time, energy, and/or expertise might give you a renewed sense of purpose in your life. I know this sounds a bit trite, but it was true in my case!

Brian Fontaine
Architect


How do you give back to your community (volunteer, coach, elected official, etc.)?

One of my favorite volunteer opportunities is with the Boston Society for Architecture ("BSA") Foundation's KidsBuild! program, where I serve on the planning committee. KidsBuild! promotes learning by design, with events each year. Kids and their families are given a site in a fictional city and asked to design and build a building with recycled materials. The committee's role is to work out the logistics of the event in the months leading up to it.

What or who led to your interest in giving back to your community?

I've always enjoyed participating in community service events. What really sparked my interest was participating in a building project with Habitat for Humanity in college, especially the camaraderie that formed with the build team, and the feeling of really making a difference in people's lives.

After working at Bergmeyer for a few years, I was looking for some way to get more involved in our local community here in Boston. I found out about the BSA Foundation and public education programming that they do and was sold. The rest is history. The Foundation puts on so many great programs to introduce kids to architecture and design, and I've enjoyed working with them on numerous projects.

How have you grown professionally/personally through volunteering?

Professionally, volunteering has enabled me to expand my network of like-minded people who have similar interests as me. Personally, I get a lot of satisfaction knowing that I'm making a positive difference in the lives of others through my volunteer work.

What sort of advice would you give someone who wants to start giving back to their community, but is nervous about the commitment / doesn't know where to start?

I'd say to reach out to people in your network that are already doing volunteer work. Even if what they do for volunteer work isn't something you are interested in, the conversation could lead to connecting with a friend of a friend that volunteers with an organization that aligns with your passion, interest, and talent.

What is the biggest takeaway from your experiences giving back to your community?

I want to leave the world a better place than I found it, and performing volunteer work is one way to do that.

Joe Vecchione
Architect


How do you give back to your community (volunteer, coach, elected official, etc.)?

I am an elected official in the town of Saugus as a Town Meeting member. This has given me the opportunity lookout for the best interests of my neighborhood, give a “design eye” to issues involving the built environment, and a platform for volunteering.

What or who led to your interest in giving back to your community?

I saw some issues in my town that I thought I could lend my voice to and positively impact. Then I became more and more interested in being involved in the growth and improvement of my community. In an age where social media drives the conversation, often in a divisive manner, I was interested in getting more involved in person, lending the voice of a younger generation, and making an honest and real difference.

What motivates you to commit time to volunteer?

My mother had was involved with the Special Olympics, Meals on Wheels, and local food drives. Often, whether it’d be Thanksgiving, Easter, or Christmas, we’d have elderly or less fortunate neighbors over for dinner so they wouldn’t have to spend their holidays alone. I have made a conscious effort to continue these traditions by volunteering at work via our Social Responsibility Team or in my community.

How much time a week/month/year do you spend volunteering? How do you manage your time?

When balancing a family, time management is more challenging. However, my amazing wife affords me the flexibility to attend municipal meetings, volunteer events, and other commitments aimed at making Saugus, our home, a better place.

Also, I look for ways that I can give back that may not be a hefty time commitment but can make a real difference. Recent examples include cleaning a cemetery where dumping had been a problem and participating in a food and material drive for the elderly affected by COVID-19.

What is the biggest takeaway from your experiences giving back to your community?

While making a difference in the world at large can feel overwhelming, it all starts with making a difference in your home, your neighborhood, or your town.

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