Consolidating Outreach, Deepening Impact

How OACny runs their annual Day of Impact as an entry for community design

By Christina Esser

Lower East Side Estuary Project. Photo by: Sakeenah Saleem

After more than 10 years of producing community engaged design projects and events in New York area, the chapter decided to consolidate their efforts into one annual event. This event, called the Day of Impact, works with community non-profits and educational organizations to provide them with design services and hands on labor. The Day of Impact, run simultaneously with other projects, allows the chapter deepen relationships with community partners while providing an accessible way for designers to begin volunteering. Community engagement is a driving force of OACny and is essential to the growth of any designer. OACny’s value lies in the preparation and creation of grassroots partnerships, volunteer opportunities, professional and leadership development and advocacy for the social relevance of design. The Day of Impact brings all of this together in one annual event.

In the summer of 2014, OACny proposed to organize a day for our volunteers to get involved at 8 different sites in New York, each with a different service activity.

Day of Impact Goals and Vision

  • Offer a single day event for members to get involved with OACny and the community
  • Provide diverse activities with multiple non-profit organizations across New York City
  • Disperse volunteers at events throughout the 5 boroughs at sites accessible by train
  • Execute projects using basic design and construction based skills, encouraging volunteers with all backgrounds and skill sets to join us
  • Build strong and lasting relationships with community partners
  • Facilitate involvement of architecture, design and construction firms through outreach to firms and design professionals

Initial Outreach

In selecting organizations to partner with, it was imperative that the partners shared in our vision as a non-profit organization, supporting our community to grow and succeed. The research commenced to find the right fit for partners that not only shared a common mission but also included:

  • Serving other local non-profits and grassroots organizations
  • A hands-on service that was feasible within one day
  • Activities that contributed to our immediate community
  • Partners that needed 10 or more volunteers for the day

While some of the larger organizations already had events in place that OACny could join with a team, other organizations were excited to have interested volunteers on board, and worked closely with OACny in producing an event to address their efforts. Once the partners and sites were vetted and expectations set, the inaugural Day of impact began.

CITYarts project participants make ornaments for their holiday tree. Photo by Sorcha Murphy

The Initial Partners

The initial partners included: Publicolor, NYC Parks (formerly Million Trees), Partnership for Parks, “It’s My Park”, Hunters Point Park Conservatory, CITYarts, Lower East Side Ecology, New York Cares and Rebuilding Together. The volunteer efforts ranged from painting schools, planting street trees, cleaning up parks and helping remodeling lower income homes in Brooklyn. For more detail on all the partnerships and the OACny support please see this doc.

CITYarts project team. Photo by Sorcha Murphy

This city wide event would not have been possible without the dedicated team of three OACny directors.The Director of Membership leads the efforts in developing trust and corresponding with partners, the Director of Outreach coordinates sponsorships, and another Director serving as the Volunteer Coordinator to manage the site coordinators and volunteers.

A Site Coordinator is appointed for each location to address the amount of volunteers and the large geographic area. Site coordinators apply for the program and are responsible for:

  • Communicating with volunteers on site
  • Communicating with personnel from partner organizations
  • Maintaining contact with OACny leadership
  • Bring a positive moral to the team
  • Represent OACny in a professional and positive manner
  • Be prepared to respond to health/safety needs of our volunteers if they arise
  • Connect with the other volunteers and community members
  • Assist the on-site staff in cleaning the site at the end of the event

Site Coordinators and Volunteers are required to attend one orientation before the Day of Impact. At this orientation, volunteer manuals, site-maps and safety information is distributed and reviewed. These are also leadership development opportunities for designers to learn about project management, expectation setting, volunteer management, and get face to face time with community partners.

“Running to keep up with the fast pace of life in a busy architecture office can often lead to losing sight of the broader social impact that architecture and design can offer. Volunteering with OACny has been a fantastic reminder for me that good design can benefit all of society.” - Sorcha Murphy. Site Coordinator
Rebuilding Together volunteers renovate lower income homes in Brooklyn. Photo by Sakeenah Saleem

The Day of Impact invites architecture and construction firms to join through an event sponsorship. Firm sponsorship ($750) allows a team of 10 volunteers from one firm to sign up and participate at a single site together and be included in all the event collateral. These funds provide the food, material purchase, equipment rental and help support the operating costs of the chapter beyond the event.

Designers cannot successfully build for their surrounding community without engaging with their neighbors. Community volunteer opportunities are limited within the design industry, time is rarely allocated, and community engagement training is almost non-existent. This event enables design firms to commit and begin to see the benefits of community engagement through partnerships with local anchor nonprofits.

OACny functions as facilitator between our non-profit partners, and AEC firms with one goal: to support our community partners who deliver direct services to those most in need.

After three years of running this event, we have continued support from several sponsors and we hear the leadership at firms encouraging their staff to participate.

“I wanted to say thank you for Saturday, it was a great event that we had the opportunity to be a part of. I hope the school likes our additional ornaments and am eager to hear where they end up posting all of them for display. Our firm would like to contribute next year as well and hope to stay in touch with any events we can help with or attend.” — Glynis Valdon, H2M Engineering
Publicolor team volunteers repaint a public school.


OACny has successfully executed our the Day of Impact for three years, with the fourth in the works now. In total, we have partnered with 10 community organizations, facilitated over 300 volunteers for over 3,000 hours of labor including production time. As we approach our fourth year, we can proudly say that all of our community partners are repeat customers! Some Day of Impact projects even lead to longer term projects. This has even served as a great way to establish trust while creating an entry point for designer to see the importance of community engagement.

“We loved your volunteers, we eagerly look forward to 2017!” — Catherine Stein Special Projects Manager Publicolor
Sign up for Day of Impact 2017 Now!