From helping young people prepare for entry-level jobs to giving away professional clothes to job seekers to assisting Prince George’s County residents in securing jobs in a multitude of fields, The Training Source, Inc. in Seat Pleasant, Maryland has provided education, training, and services that promote positive economic mobility since 1998.
When The Training Source first opened its doors nearly 25 years ago, Executive Director and Founder Kim Rihm worked with the Neighborhood Design Center to design their office and training space. The organization’s services and impact in the community has grown significantly over the last few decades, and when they saw a need to renovate to best serve their community today, The Training Source reached back out to NDC to help with their renovation project.
“We’d only done repairs,” said Kim, “But we didn’t say, ‘let’s just start from scratch and see what we can do to be more effective, efficient, and welcoming.’”
When the need arose for more extensive renovations and repairs, Kim saw that as an opportunity to re-imagine the center’s design. “We contacted Neighborhood Design Center, because if I did it with them the first time, I surely wasn’t going to do it without them the second time.”
Kim worked with NDC Community Design Program Director Allie O’Neill who brought in volunteer architects to work with The Training Source on coming up with new ideas for the space. They talked about opening up the space by changing the office layout and adding additional windows to make the center both more aesthetically pleasing and public facing.
In 2018, The Training Source secured a grant for the renovation project, but did not receive the go-ahead from the State to move forward until 2020. By that time, the original architects had completed their concept designs and moved on to other projects. The team was in search of an architect to continue to move the project forward into construction documents and permitting. Allie reached out to Portia Strahan, architect and owner of POM Studio, and introduced her to Kim and the Training Source.
“The main goal was just a lot of listening in the beginning,” said Portia, who started off having a series of discussions with The Training Source and NDC to come up with idea refinements for the space that would best suit their mission, goals and current needs. One of the primary goals was taking the original layout of the office, which had the center divided into three individual suites, and combining those separate areas. “I think that one of the biggest challenges is to turn what was kind of three individual spaces into one kind of cohesive office that had an identity,” said Portia.
In addition to implementing changes like removing walls so that the largest, most heavily used space is now at the front of the building instead of the back, making the space more welcoming and easier to use for visitors, Portia worked to help define the office identity in several ways, one of them being the use of a bold color palette throughout.
“I think it’s easy to create a new space and paint everything white,” said Portia, “but I think The Training Source and Ms. Kim are very unique. There’s a uniqueness in learning about the mission and what’s important and the people… It was really gratifying to see the space reflect those unique qualities.” Portia also incorporated a “swish” from The Training Source’s marketing materials across the building’s entryway, further tying together the organization’s identity with the building’s new look.
Pandemic-related supply chain issues made it more difficult to get some materials, or made the cost of some supplies more expensive. But working through the obstacles has been well worth it for the entire team, for many reasons. The Neighborhood Design Center was a steady presence through the project process. Starting with a volunteer team who engaged directly with Training Source staff, assessed needs of people attending programs, and provided ideas that reflected the values and activities Training Source undertakes, NDC had a deep understanding of the spatial and programmatic needs as well as the people of the Training Source.
“Hiccups, slow-downs, and scheduling snafus occur with every project,” said Allie. “Working together as we had made me a trusted partner of Kim’s and allowed me to support her through challenging times. We don’t talk as much about the role the relationships we build play in the success of projects, but I believe this is a key component of NDC’s success.”
“One of the key features of this project is just working with a team of awesome women,” said Portia. “I felt like it was rare in construction in general. For myself, for Kim, and Corenic (the construction company is a minority-owned company) has a female project manager. Just working with female professionals in this industry I think really made this project worthwhile and successful.”
As the team finishes up the last few items on their punch list and The Training Source staff prepares to move back into their renovated space, Kim is excited for what the revitalized office will bring to the community and those using its services.
“We have always wanted to be a welcoming organization to the community,” said Kim. “We are in the poorest zip code in the county, but just because we are in a zip code that has people living in poverty, we don’t have to look like an impoverished business. We want people to feel almost like they’re going into a spa or a place of respite. We want people to know that this is where they’re going to get what they need. We want to exhibit hope and the ability for change to happen. A lot of the other establishments have bars all over the windows and that kind of stuff. We’ve never wanted to have that. We don’t want people to stay out. We want them to come in.”