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Building a Legacy

Building a Legacy

Eco-Tech Makerspace is this year’s Greenbuild Legacy Project.

 

By Alexandra Pecci

When Isai German, T4T.org’s STEAM Lab coordinator, saw a call for proposals for the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) 2016 Greenbuild Legacy Project, he knew his organization would be the perfect fit. After all, T4T.org is dedicated to using sustainable materials, championing stewardship, and education. There was just one problem. “It was due in six days,” German says of the proposal.

The tight time frame was no deterrent, though, and soon after, German got the good news: T4T.org’s Eco-Tech Makerspace would be this year’s Greenbuild Legacy Project. “I got the letter at 11:00 at night before I went to bed,” he says. “I started jumping!”

All that jumping and enthusiasm is certainly warranted. Through the Greenbuild Legacy Project, T4T.org is the recipient of a $10,000 grant and support to add a much-needed technology component to its already innovative and exciting work.

T4T.org, formerly known as Trash for Teaching, is a nonprofit educational program that reclaims safe landfill-bound items and reuses them for educational building projects. “We collect manufacturers’ waste: Castoffs, mistakes on the factory room floor,” says Leah Hanes, PhD, the organization’s executive director. “Our warehouse is 6,000 square feet of really colorful, random materials. When kids walk in the room, their eyes light up.”

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Iasi German is T4T’s STEAM Lab coordinator.

The warehouse contains everything from empty spools of thread, to cardboard tubes, to plumbing parts, to tens of thousands of glass bottles, and more. In the hands of kids and teachers, those materials become inexpensive tools and building materials for STEAM—science, technology, engineering, art, and math—projects.

“We’re a little bit like the Robin Hoods of rubbish,” Hanes says. For instance, kids working on a T4T.org project might be confronted with a table full of random materials and be asked to build a lunar buggy out of what’s available. Instead of lecturing, teachers working with T4T.org give kids the opportunity to engage in truly creative problem solving and teamwork.

“We don’t give any instruction. We come in and start the questioning process,” says Hanes. “Kids learn from doing so much better than being told.”

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T4T is a nonprofit educational program that reclaims safe landfill-bound items and reuses them for educational building. Photos: Andri Beauchamp

In addition to hosting students in their Gardena, California, warehouse, T4T.org offers teacher training workshops, help and guidance building STEAM labs, and free downloadable lesson plans, as well as carts and kits containing building materials that they ship to educators around the country, including one they developed with NASA.

“We get calls of inquiry from around the world now, too,” Hanes says. The folks from the USGBC Los Angeles Community say T4T.org was a natural choice for their Legacy Project.

T4T’s new Eco-Tech Maker Space will include the necessary equipment for students to digitally prototype and  test their designs before building them. Photo: Andri Beauchamp

T4T’s new Eco-Tech Maker Space will include the necessary equipment for students to digitally prototype and test their designs before building them. Photo: Andri Beauchamp

“I think the main reason we chose T4T was their mission and their amazing use of recycled materials to actually turn it into something very positive for the STEAM students,” says Legacy Project co-chair, Coomy Kadribegovic.

With the help of USGBC, T4T.org is taking its program to a new level. Thanks to the grant, T4T.org’s Eco-Tech Makerspace will include computers, architectural and design software, a 3D printer, laser cutter, and other tools that will allow students to digitally prototype and test their designs before they actually build them.

“What I love about T4T is they have a really ‘can do’ spirit. They’ve taken materials that would normally find their way into the waste stream and given them a higher purpose,” says Dominique Hargreaves, LEED AP BD+C, executive director of the USGBC Los Angeles community. “We really want to encourage young people to become problem solvers, and that’s what they do when they come to this space.”

Hargreaves also notes that since so many Los Angeles–area children live in disadvantaged communities, this new Eco-Tech Makerspace—which will host digital outreach programs and expose kids to things like 3D design, coding, and stop-motion animation—will provide learning opportunities that students may not get elsewhere.

“We wanted to help young people who might not otherwise have the chance to work with these technologies,” Hargreaves says. “This is also a project about equality. And enabling the community to have spaces like this is really, really important.”

Leah Hanes is the executive director of T4T. Photo: Andri Beauchamp

Leah Hanes is the executive director of T4T. Photo: Andri Beauchamp

To kick off the projects, T4T and USGBC enlisted the students themselves to help build the lab’s workbenches out of discarded materials.

“We wanted them to know what a great new space was coming but also take ownership and do what T4T does best,” says Legacy Project co-chair Maya Henderson. The project will culminate with a ribbon-cutting event and unveiling of the new lab in October, when Los Angeles hosts Greenbuild 2016.

Hargreaves says that there will also likely be a live video of what’s happening at the new Eco-Tech Makerspace playing at the conference, allowing attendees to remotely view the project without disturbing the students’ work or having to make the 35-mile drive to Gardena. Henderson and Kadribegovic, the project’s co-chairs, will also have a chance to talk with attendees, show pictures, and answer questions on the Expo floor.

The Eco-Tech Makerspace won’t be the only thing the Legacy Project will contribute: They are also exploring the idea of covering the warehouse’s exterior wall with a green-scheme element that will help to naturally cool the building, says Kadribegovic.

Even with Greenbuild months away, T4T.org says the partnership with USGBC has been a boon to its organization.

“The Legacy Project has really helped to put us on the map. We’ve been doing what we’ve been doing through word of mouth,” Hanes says. Now, more people are hearing about T4T.org and wanting to be a part of it. It’s also opened the door for more partnerships and donations.

“People are paying attention, and this is an international conference and the number of people who will come and see it will be exciting for us,” Hanes says.

Hargreaves echoes that sentiment. “It’s something special, I think, when you host a large event like the International Conference and Expo,” she says. “People recognize that as something they want to associate with. They know the Legacy Project is a meaningful and tactile way to contribute.”

Hargreaves adds that USGBC is thrilled to help spotlight the great, high-impact work that T4T.org contributes to the community. And collaboration can only strengthen that contribution. “The more we share about each other’s good work, the better we can be partners and do the work together,” she says