the Neighborhood Design Center



June 10, 2023

Volunteer Feature: Ren Southard

Ren Southard is a dedicated volunteer whose passion for design and community-building led her to volunteer with the Neighborhood Design Center (NDC) and make a positive impact on her neighborhood and community.

With a background in private practice, Ren sought an opportunity to apply her design skills to public spaces and engage directly with the people they serve. Through NDC, Ren has been able to contribute her expertise while learning from community partners and embracing the power of community-led design.

Ren’s desire to bridge the gap between technical expertise and community context motivated her to join NDC. In private practice, she realized that while her projects involved public spaces, there was limited opportunity to engage directly and meaningfully with the communities utilizing them. Recognizing the importance of both design professionals and community members in shaping sustainable environments, Ren saw NDC as a platform for fostering the exchange of knowledge and true collaboration.

She said: “NDC’s model was really appealing to me — the organization doesn’t simply add community engagement as an afterthought — community is very much baked into the DNA.”

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Over the years, Ren’s involvement with NDC and the community has impacted her career.

As a volunteer, she developed crucial skills such as active listening, meaningful information exchange, and creative problem-solving. By embracing community input and challenging the status quo, Ren gained a fresh perspective on design and learned valuable lessons from both seasoned professionals and community partners. The experiences garnered through volunteering with NDC set her apart during job interviews, and she continues to carry those lessons into every community meeting she attends.

Reverberations (2018), the Association for Community Design (ACD) national conference held in Baltimore organized by the Neighborhood Design Center.
Reverberations (2018), the Association for Community Design (ACD) national conference held in Baltimore organized by the Neighborhood Design Center.

Ren was profoundly impacted by her experience volunteering at the Association for Community Design (ACD) national conference held in Baltimore.

The conference brought together passionate individuals who shared a common goal of creating equitable, community-oriented built environments. As a volunteer, she welcomed attendees from a multitude of backgrounds to Baltimore, attended thought-provoking sessions, and immersed herself in a vibrant community of changemakers. Ren emphasizes the incredible energy and inspiration she derived from the conference, considering it a defining moment in her life.

Design by Ren for the Racheal Wilson Memorial Park, a pilot project for the Baltimore Green Network

Ren Southard’s dedication to empowering communities through design is evident in her volunteer work with NDC.

By actively engaging with community partners, embracing community-led design, and advocating for inclusive conversations, Ren sets an example for others who seek to make a positive difference in their neighborhoods and communities. 

Her journey reminds us that volunteering not only impacts the lives of others but also fosters personal growth, creating opportunities to learn, connect, and be inspired by the collective effort.