Students from the Interior Architecture and Design department lent their skills to Safe Harbor Behavioral Health of UPMC Hamot in a collaboration called Project Kidify. Focused on relaxing children and relieving anxiety, the collaborative team transformed a waiting room at Safe Harbor into a welcoming, kid-friendly space.
“Safe Harbor Behavioral Health reached out to our department chair, Kathy Weidenboerner, asking for help from Interior Architecture students to design their new children’s waiting area,” senior Architecture and Design major Maria Matesa said. “She then passed it on to the Interior Architecture Club officers to get other students involved.”
Once a team was established, the group traveled to Safe Harbor to take measurements of the room and begin the design process. From there, they developed a 3D model of the space, created an inspiration board and presented their ideas to Safe Harbor directors.
The group’s primary contacts at Safe Harbor included Executive Director Mandy Fauble and Communications Specialist Michelle Eidenmuller.
“The collaborative process was really exciting – members from Safe Harbor came to campus for a few meetings, where we presented them with our ideas and progress,” senior Interior Architecture and Design major Gabriella Macera said. “It was great to communicate back and forth with a real client to get their feedback.”
The team decided on a nature theme, all focused around Mary Oliver’s “The Summer Day,” more commonly known as “The Grasshopper.” The poem was selected by Missi Berquist, a former Mercyhurst employee and a Safe Harbor Advisory Board member, who will also be donating paintings for the project.
“My favorite feature is the poem that is displayed on the main wall where you enter the room. The poem mentions a grasshopper, so there are also grasshopper wall decals that hop around the space to relate to the poem,” Macera said.
According to Matesa, the directors liked the grasshopper theme so much that they decided to incorporate it in some of the exam rooms so children can see a familiar, happy face next to them in their appointments.
Making sure the children felt comfortable and relaxed was the motivating factor in many of the team’s decisions.
“The design has a lot of blues and greens. These colors are proven to calm children and reduce their levels of stress and anxiety,” Macera said. “It is also full of fun distractions such as games and interactive features that will let them be creative.”
Overall, the project benefited students as it allowed them to have first-hand experience working with clients while also helping the greater Erie community.
Though this wasn’t the first time the department has reached out to the community — students did minor design work at a childcare facility called Early Connections last year — students reported learning a lot from the experience and said they look forward to future projects.
“I really hope the department finds other opportunities within the community,” Matesa said. “It’s really beneficial for students to learn how to use their design skills in a practical setting outside of the classroom.”