Goodwill Break Room Gets a Smarts Facelift

LIBERTY TOWNSHIP, Ohio – Employees at Youngstown Area Goodwill Industries have a more pleasant environment for break times and lunch thanks to students from the Smarts Community Art School.

A few months ago, Jim Freeze, who is approaching two years as executive director of Youngstown Goodwill, said he was dissatisfied with the appearance of the approximately 3,000-square-foot break room for the Belmont Avenue office and retail store, which employs about 100. At the time, the ceiling tiles were yellowed and water-stained in places, the lights – those that worked – weren’t all the same color and the tables were old, he said.

“It wasn’t a happy and warm place that one would get a respite from their work,” he said. “I wanted to make it a more warm and calming place that they can relax from work during their break time.”

A causal conversation with Freeze led Becky Keck, president of Students Motivated by the Arts, to offer a commercial interior design class as part of the community art school’s summer curriculum. Art instructor Kara Terlecki taught the class with Rebecca Tennant, an interior designer and owner of Studio543 in Youngstown.

“The students’ goal for the class was to make the employee break room a more inviting environment,” Terlecki said.

Seven students in grades four through nine took the course, which included a visit to Goodwill to learn about its mission of providing jobs and training for individuals who have disabilities or other barriers to employment. Students learned “what their client was looking for because they took on the role of interior designer in this class,” said Caroline Lorimer, Smarts education director.

Keck reached out to Tennant, who had helped with the finishes on the space for the school, which opened on the main floor of the Ohio One Building downtown in 2017. “I think she’s always had in the back of her mind that she wanted an opportunity for the kids to do some interior design,” Tennant said.

“Art as enrichment is an old notion,” Keck said. “Art has implications and career paths for children and it’s our job to find what career paths excite them.”

The students drew from elements of nature and incorporated earth tones and “pops of greens and blues as well as oranges” in the room’s color scheme, Terlecki said.

The students decided to incorporate warmer colors rather than “bright, fun colors to make it more comfortable” when workers entered the room, Tyra Traylor, 11, a student at Horizon Science Academy and one of the participants in the interior design class, said.

“It was really nice to do something special and really fun and creative. It was fun for us to be partners and pick out how we wanted to do the flooring and choose the tiles for the floor,” she said. Her favorite part of the course was picking out the room decorations, along with being with the other children.

Tennant liked the students’ enthusiasm and said she didn’t see the project as “something just to pass the time.” What made the project so good was that it was real. “It was something where they were going to actually see what they had accomplished,” she added.

“So many times in high school and in college you take your ideas right up until the point of almost being completed, but their ideas got to come to fruition with the completion of this room,” Terlecki affirmed. “That shows them that it just has to start with a concept and it can be carried through being finalized.”

Along with the ceiling and lighting upgrades, repainted walls and buffed floors, improvements included new tables and chairs, as well as a lending library installed this week. Most of the updates were in place in time for the Goodwill employee holiday party Dec. 19, said Emily McHenry, community engagement and training specialist.

Upcoming additions to the space include artwork, two flat-screen TVs donated by Aim Transportation Solutions, lounge furniture, decorative floor tiles and a water-filling station to replace the water fountain now in the break room.

The cost to date, including in-kind services, is about $15,000, with another $5,000 expected to be spent on the project, Freeze said. Other in-kind and cash donors include Gasser Chair Co., Home Savings Bank, PNC Bank and The Youngstown Foundation.

Employees appreciate the changes, Freeze and McHenry agreed.

McHenry said employees use words like “beautiful” and “refreshing” to describe the look and feel of the room. “They appreciate the new furniture and its accessibility, particularly for those who use wheelchairs or other mobility aids,” she said.

“The employees are very pleased and appreciative,” Freeze said. “They definitely feel more comfortable and relaxed in the space.”

Keck would like to see Smarts do similar projects with other local companies and organizations, she said. It also has spurred Smarts to add an architecture class.

And it’s inspired the students who participated in it, some of whom have said this could be their career path. “It’s important for people who don’t see art that way to see that it’s really empowering,” Keck said.

Traylor was among those inspired to pursue an interior design career by the class. “I like to figure out how something will look, and I like to see the different colors and the different furniture and decorations,” she said. 

Traylor already has gotten a start on her new intended vocation, according to her mother, Monica Traylor.

“Tyra is redoing her bedroom because she was inspired from the class,” she said. “Learning the color schemes in the class were helpful for making choices on how to paint and decorate the room.”

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.