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July 20, 2021

Groundwork RI Introduction | Juliana Soltys, Jason Hebert | MID ’22

by Juliana Soltys


This summer, we are working with Groundwork Rhode Island’s (GWRI) Youth Green Teams: two groups in Central Falls/Pawtucket and one other in Providence. We meet with the Providence team at multiple locations: GWRI’s Greenhouse in South Providence and Billy Taylor Park to discuss a mural project at the West River. We additionally meet with the Central Falls/Pawtucket groups at GWRI’s office in the Hope Artiste Village and the Galego community garden. Our main goal for this collaboration is to bring the tools of design thinking and making into the hands of youth working in redlined neighborhoods, ideally giving them the power to design their own small-scale solutions within their surrounding communities effectively. We plan to hold lectures and run workshops for hands-on learning experiences. In addition, we plan to support the youth — financially, temporally, emotionally, and physically — to define a communal problem and design their unique solutions. The aim isn’t to create for these communities but to lend them support in developing on their own.

Week 1: Introductions + Icebreaker

Intended Curriculum

As it was our first time meeting the youth, we kicked off with a design-centric icebreaker. This was adapted from a class we both took last semester. The group split into pairs for this activity and set off to design a utensil for their partner – “utensils” being loosely defined. For the beginning 15 minutes, each person interviewed their partner. Questions asked included, but were not limited to, “what utensils do you prefer,” “are you right- or left-handed,” and “what is your favorite color?” With that information, everyone dove into sketching and making utensils. Available materials included playdough, wooden sticks, hot glue, and wire; moreover, tools included utility knives, pliers, and elbow grease. Halfway through, partners exchanged whatever utensil they had made thus far with their partners to gather feedback to further progress. This small part of the project parallels testing and iteration in the design process. Soon after, the youth returned to making. With only 10 minutes left, everyone was told to hand off their final utensils and, in a circle, describe the essential elements of their customized utensils. The ultimate goal of this activity was to quickly introduce the youth to a simple use-case of the design process and create a comfortable space for open communication and fun!

PVD Monday, July 5th

On Monday, July 5th, we met the first group of youth – a group of 8 adolescents ranging from 14-18 who grew up in Providence’s redlined neighborhoods. We kicked off with the intended curriculum outlined above, and the quirks of this group quickly emerged. The group was energetic and creative. Some found interest in communicating with their partner to learn about what they were interested in, and others were more absorbed in the sketching or modeling processes. Regardless, the group was diverse and lively; moreover, the utensils they made were cool and creative. Before heading out, we gathered around to pull and tie some garlic. 

Youth working through the design process creating utensils for their partner.

Utensils designed and created by PVD youth

*two utensils were omitted because they were deconstructed before we could document them

PCF Thursday

At Groundwork Rhode Island’s main office in the Hope Artiste Village, we met with the first Pawtucket and Central Falls youth group on Thursday, July 8th. The group was small, with only three youth, one of the PCF coordinators, and us. After going around and introducing ourselves, we turned on some K-pop and got to work with the utensil workshop! We paired off to begin the pre-planned curriculum that was successful with the PVD group; however, this time, the energy in the room was off — we believe it was because it was the first day, the weather was gloomy, and interest in the activity was low. Regardless, there was good fun involved, and most of the youth understood and fulfilled the assignment. It was, generally, a good icebreaker activity. The utensils made are seen in the image below:

Utensils created by PCF Thursday Group

We planned to meet with only the second Pawtucket and Central Falls (PCF) group on Monday the 12th; however, due to weather conditions, we had to join the Providence and PCF teams. 


Perhaps due to the good weather, nearby garden, and full bellies, we ran into few problems with the Providence group during this entire kick-off. Most of the youth were attentive and communicative. Many were creative; however, some ran into artist block from the start. Talking between partners mainly was sustained throughout the process, and the most talkative shared that they were very interested in the user research process. The rest were primarily interested in the making process, with many fiddling with the materials even after the activity.

Despite the highlights, the trickiest part with the first PCF group was getting them to interview each other to get the information necessary to make their partner a catered utensil. From the start, some youth were not interested in the discussion part of the activity and instead found interest in the act of making and playing with the materials. Knowing this, we can cater their personalized curriculum to involve more hands-on, making activities over sit-down discussion activities.

Additional Activities

Outside of these meetings, we met an additional time with the PVD team on July 7th at Billy Taylor Park to hear from the local artist, Ysanel, to discuss the role of place-based public art in social justice movements. Ysanel is known for painting the electrical boxes around Providence with feminist figures! The reason for this meeting was to begin a discussion about a mural that would bring awareness to the hidden West River near the Stop & Shop off Branch Avenue. Located on the fittingly named West River Street, the wall would be painted with imagery decided by the Providence youth team. Currently, the West River is heavily polluted with trash, and cleanup was planned for the 10th but was rescheduled because of weather conditions.

PVD Group visiting the West River with Ysanel

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