Give a little, gain so much


By: Lisa DeStefano
Date: Saturday, May 6, 2006
Publication: Portsmouth Herald

I'm a true believer in giving back to the community. In fact, I try to encourage my staff to get involved in whatever way they may be called to do so. Consequently, many of us at DeStefano Architects serve on nonprofit boards and volunteer for a variety of community service projects.

I was introduced to the value of giving back during my early training at the Boston Architectural Center where many of our teachers were registered architects who gave back by instructing "up and coming" architects. I tried my hand at just such a model as a result of a seminar I recently attended in Boston by the Architectural Institute of America called "Learning by Design."

This program has been initiated nationally to expose children to architecture at different ages with an understanding that more opportunity comes with more exposure.

Juliann MacDonald, a senior architect with D|A, and I decided to introduce architectural design principles to a group of fourth-graders at Portsmouth's Little Harbour Elementary School.

Our program is a three-day event - two of which we've already enjoyed - and the final day is scheduled for mid-May. Initially, we spent some time talking to these enthusiastic, creative children about what an architect is and who the people are that support us - like distributors, engineers and contractors.

The second part focused on concepts like the scale of a building and why it makes us feel comfortable. We looked at things like the size of the windows, the doors, the colors and materials used and reduced elements to simple shapes. We talked about how structure works and what types of buildings work best in which locations - what belongs where from a design and environmental perspective.

We toured six buildings around town. It was heart-warming to watch these kids with their worksheets as they set out to understand and apply the series of concepts and architectural terms we'd introduced to them.

Each group proudly wore baseball caps that were graciously donated by companies who support our projects on a daily basis. This created a sense of being on a team - which is so important to the successful outcome of any design project. Sponsors who donated the team caps were Procon, Pilot, Ricci, Jewett, Southwick and Pinebrook construction companies, which added to the overall feeling of how little things can make a big difference.

I watched these children use their understanding of math and science as they observed buildings and structures they probably pass daily in a brand new way. I was inspired. I was uplifted by their innocence and their curiosity. It reminded me of why I fell in love with the field of architecture in the first place.

The joy I received from watching the light bulb go off and the excitement in these fourth-graders' eyes when they could apply experientially what we'd talked about in the classroom was priceless.

Taking time to share your skills and knowledge goes two ways. Not only are you offering something to those who may be encouraged in ways you may not imagine, but you are breathing fresh air into your own life by being on the receiving end of the experience as well.

What do you have to give? Each of us has gifts that can be shared with rich rewards. Consider volunteering and instead of asking what you have to give up, ask yourself, "What do I have to lose?"

A lifelong resident of Portsmouth, Lisa DeStefano is a registered architect and the owner of DeStefano Architects. She can be reached at

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