Episode 37

Cultivating Behavior Change

Designer Kelly Hendrickson and NAC had a vision for a space to help reduce trauma in children, a place where children and their parents/caregivers can gain a sense of calm and control. Its a great story of partnership with Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery in Spokane WA to deliver a Stay Play Learn Garden and bring this vision to reality.

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“Control matters. Feeling like you have the ability to use a space in the way that you want to use it and for the children, use your imagination in the way that you want to and the freedom to do that. I've seen that mattering on the ground to every family that's come into the space.”


CCB: [00:00:01] Welcome to the ONEnder podcast. This is CCB your host, and today we're going to have a conversation with one of the 2021 ONEder Grant Award winners. It's a team that spent time talking about cultivating behavioral change and how the built environment can reduce stress reactions in children and caregivers. The information that this team is going to share, I'm going to bet, will warm your heart. I would like to welcome to the ONEder podcast, Kelly Hendrickson from NAC Architecture and Stacey Conner from Vanessa Behan. So, Kelly, I'm going to start with you and say welcome to the Wonder podcast and tell us a little bit about yourself.

Kelly H: [00:00:51] Well, thank you. CCB My name is Kelly Hendrickson. I'm an interior designer for NAC architecture and I’ve been with the firm 17 years and we're just, I'm so excited to be here today, so thank you for the opportunity.

CCB: [00:01:05] And Stacey Conner, tell us more about Vanessa Behan. And I'm going to also say our audience is pretty much West Coast and there are a lot of Northern California people. And then we're building our Seattle and Washington presence. So, you may have to, if you would, share a little bit more about your organization for all of us to learn more.

Stacey C: [00:01:27] Absolutely. Thank you for having me as well. So, my name is Stacey Conner, and I am the Stay, Play and Learn Indoor Garden facilitator at Vanessa Behan. And Vanessa Behan is a very well-known community resource in Spokane, Washington. It's a crisis nursery. So, it started as a with a goal to stop child abuse in Spokane, Washington and neglect. And they provide 24/7 365 days a year crisis care for families in need. And that need could be anything, an emergency medical problem, just no access to childcare or homelessness. We have social workers on call, 24/7 taking calls from families who need respite care.

CCB: [00:02:16] So it's new role, and you’re new in the role of the Stay, Play and Learn facilitator, Indoor Garden facilitator. And I'd love to hear you explain, Kelly and Stacey, how did this project kind of come together? What created the kind of “light bulb turning on? And “wow, this project would be interesting to do more work on.”

Kelly H: [00:02:40] Well, I can kick it off, Stacey. So we were made aware of the grant opportunities through One Workplace and NAC is a very community driven, mission driven firm. We do a lot of architecture, mostly in K-12, higher ed and then health care. We had partnered with Vanessa Behan back 2017, 2018 on their new facility close to downtown Spokane. So, we already had a relationship with them. We take a lot of pride in them being our client because they do such amazing work for our community. And so we saw this grant opportunity. We also, as a firm have had a social responsibility topic for the last couple of years of reducing trauma in children, just based on the clientele we serve. It's a common thread we see, and we want to know how we can prevent that or reduce it or reduce those stress reactions. So that was sort of mingling in the back of our head when we saw the grant opportunity, and we were wondering what client might want to partner with us. So, we reached back out to Vanessa and we said, we have this idea about, you know, could the physical built environment reduce stress reactions, lower ACES scores so that kids can kind of engage better? Do you have anything going on? We weren't sure, really, honestly. And so we just went out and we were talking with Amy, who's the director of the program, and she said, we're going to kick off this new Stay, Play Learn Garden. It's a little bit different from our normal facility kind of operations, which is parents and kids are going to come into this space and they can receive sort of in time parenting support. It could also serve Mommy and me classes or sort of community events, but the space was empty. They didn't really have anything in it. They hadn't quite filled it; I think partially because of COVID. And we said, oh, this is interesting. So, we kind of came up with a hypothesis of wondering, you know, can the built environment with interventions of biophilia and personal control kind of paired together, reduce stress reactions, increase feelings of safety and wellness in young children that are at risk along with their caregivers? Because, you know, parents and kids are coming in the space together and then sort of in that state, will they be able to better connect with each other and with Stacey, the facilitator? So that's where it kicked off. We were like through the moon to receive the grant.

CCB: [00:05:22] So, Stacey, you have a new job and an empty slate, if you will, for where your activities and your interventions might take place. So how did that, how did you kind of connect and influence the direction that the design went in.

Stacey C: [00:05:47] S,o the space was already had a beautiful plan when I came on board. There were drawings. The idea was to have nature elements be a part of the design, so the tile and everything incorporates that. The tile on the floor forms a river through the space. The light fixtures are beautiful flowers. There was a plan to paint murals on either wall, which are just gorgeous. There's a sunset on one wall by a local artist and the flowers, huge flowers on the other walls. So, this idea of bringing nature in was already determined. And then the idea of having furniture that could be moved and controlled. So, when I came in, we were to the point of setting up that space and making sure that it was a place where I could facilitate parents and children and troubleshoot where I needed to.

CCB: [00:06:46] Okay, that's great. And I apologize because I didn't realize that the design had moved along so far. So, Kelly, back to you. And who did you already start working with Amy, or somebody else at Vanessa Behan?

Kelly H: [00:06:57] We had started working with Amy and Christina. Honestly, our timing was kind of a sweet spot. When we visited Vanessa Behan the first time kind of looking for opportunities, they said, we're going to start looking to hire someone. And so, we had kind of kicked off the design before Stacey was hired, but I think it still worked out. And so biophilia was the focus and the building already had some of those components kind of there, and we just sort of amplified them with those large murals with cloud like light fixtures and flower like light fixtures. We have acoustical leaves to sort of soften the sound in the space, lots of natural colors. And then just the idea, especially since they do serve some people that, you know, are housing insecure, the ability that they can come in and use that space and move things around is a big deal. You know, when your life is in crisis, we've all been there. We've all cleaned out the junk drawer at inappropriate times because you're really actually seeking control over things that you can’t control, right? So that ability that they can use the furniture, move it around. Some of the pieces are dual use. We have like this robin's nest that the kids love where, you know, at one point it was a seat that kind of enclosed around the kids. But you could also flip it over. And I think the kids made it a hot dog stand and a hot tub at one point. It was hilarious, but the kids just took over the space and were able to use things in lots of different ways.

CCB: [00:08:37] So it's first off, I'll say for anyone who's listening on the podcast page, there will be connections to all of the research reporting and the visuals. So, if you're having a hard time kind of get wrap your head around, what are we talking about, you will be able to go back and look at it. But there's the design, there's kind of the intention, and then how do we bring these things together, Stacey, to understand how they're being used and what kind of what kind of data or metrics were you looking for, if you had things in your mind?

Stacey C: [00:09:15] It was actually NAC that had metrics that they were looking for. So maybe I'll pass that back over to Kelly and then I can talk about how we collected it.

Kelly H: [00:09:25] We were very much interested in, you know, would we see a visible reduction in stress from the caregivers and from the children? I think what was challenging was this Stay, Play, Learn Garden serves basically birth to 12 is the age range, right? So, getting, you know, a two year old to express, if they're under stress, is very challenging. It's a little less challenging with a 12-year-old, but it could still be very challenging. So, you know, understanding if stress was reducing, did they feel more calm? Those were sort of the metrics we were looking for. We were also trying to understand, is it actually space or is it that Stacey's an awesome facilitator, which she is, or is it the fact that it's new toys? You know, we were trying to sort of rule out these things like can the built environment really reduce stress reactions? And so through the questions we were sort of asking, we're trying to kind of determine that. And I think what was challenging was the demographic that Vanessa B hand serves is very broad and that's the best thing about it. They serve anybody. And so, for the caregivers coming in with their kids, we wanted the survey to be simple. We wanted it to be pretty visual because some people, you know, English might not be their first language. It may be just that busy mom who's got, you know, three kids and they had a wonderful time, but now they've got to leave. You know, we want that survey to be easy. And so those were things that were kind of rolling around as we were trying to get the metrics, understand what we want to know out of the space, but then also make it easy on the people we're surveying and not burdensome, or we don't want to project any sort of feelings on them because some people might just come to the indoor garden to just have a nice time and that's great too. So yeah, I don't know if that answered your question, but…

CCB: [00:11:22] Well it does. I will point out. I mean, I think this is, it’s unusual in a very positive way that we have a conversation with the designer and the client who's using it. So more often than not, we're hearing what the designers’ thought was, the process throughout the project. So that's why I keep leaning in going, well, wait a minute, what why did you, what did you think, Stacey? Kind of moving it forward without actually interpreting and giving credit to the fact that NAC really had thought through this so well and had this so buttoned up in what you were trying to accomplish, but also with a deep knowledge of your client. You've worked with them before. You have had great conversations and you do understand what they're after. So, if I, if we start with that and know that you would develop the survey and you knew what kind of metrics you were looking for to be able to tie together the experience within the space and the space design itself, to see what kind of impact there had been. How does the facilitator use the space to kind of help identify some of that or help move that along?

Stacey C: [00:12:38] Absolutely. So, I will say upfront, I was a little nervous because I had worked in a traditional preschool environment where there's a lot of toys and games and shelves full of things that kids can pull out. And so, for me, the idea of having a parent and child come in and engaging them for an hour, an hour and a half, an hour and 45 minutes with furniture and a craft or two on our table…I wasn't doubtful exactly. It was just a new experience for me. And what I found was that the environment was extremely engaging. Kids love to be able to move furniture around, that’s so novel. It has an element of control to it that just blew them away. Sometimes they had to ask me several times, like anything we can move, anything? We can put this on top of this? So that was really cool to see. And then the way it fired up their imagination so that we didn't need all of these extra things because we could make a boat and then we could make a castle and we could engage in this pretend play. And then in the context of the survey, it was beautifully designed. It went back and forth between Vanessa Behan and NAC several times to try and get it perfect before families started coming into the space. And it worked great. It was easy to fill out. People were, people are very responsive to it. The only thing I found was that the very last question it asks the children to circle the face they feel, so from a red kind of angry face to a green happy face. And if I didn't ask the child what they were feeling before parents said it was time to go, I would get red angry every time. So, I had to back up and make sure I brought out the survey before mom or dad called the end of the visit.

CCB: [00:14:37] Oh, that is a kick in the pants. So, you started with drivers that you knew you were kind of leaning into. And you called those out. And then you have collected the information from the people that have been able to use it and with full recognition that we've had ups and downs in the COVID. So that has definitely put a little burden or challenge onto the usage of the space, I would think. But what, what findings I'm going to say, you can talk about a couple of findings. The thing that I would love to hear is also what surprised you. Did anything surprise you in what you learned?

Kelly H: [00:15:25] Yeah, there's a couple of things that did surprise me. So, we kept the survey very simple with five questions. And, you know, honestly, we did have some COVID waves, but we were pretty happy with the number of respondents we got. We had about 29 surveys filled out, which is about 83 people. Vanessa Behan has extended that research period through the end of April. So, we're going to probably double that maybe, or get close to doubling that number of surveys. So that's exciting. And just sort of building our case that the built environment can reduce stress reactions. So, I think the thing that got us most excited was, you know, we asked the caregivers, you know, and we're asking the caregivers partially because the children's ages ranged very, quite a bit and some of them can't respond. But I also feel like whether we want to acknowledge or not as a child, you know how stressed your caregiver or parent is often. And then that sort of can be a shadow over your own life and your own emotions. So, we asked caregivers how they felt prior to entering the space and then how they felt when they exited the space. So, when they entered the space, the average rating. So, one being super calm, ten being I'm very, very anxious. Things are not going well. The average stress rating was 3.79 with five being sort of the average answer. And then as they left that space, they reported their stress level being at 1.93 with the average rating around one. So that sort of amounts to like a 1.86 reduction in reported stress. And that's significant that space can do that. And so we're sort of asking them how they're feeling. So, they're physically marking a notation in their stress level dropping. And then we asked it in a slightly different way. We said, how did the Stay Play Learn room make you feel? And we had them again, rank it from a one being I'm anxious and a ten being calm, specifically asking How did that room make you feel? And the average rating was 8.07. So, meaning that they felt fairly calm. So, with those two kinds of questions, we're sort of mirroring each other and saying, yes, the space did have an influence over their over their stress levels. The question that got me, that surprised me the most was we asked if they felt like they could adjust the room any way they wanted. And we got a rating of one being like, I didn't touch anything. And ten being I moved everything around. We got a 9.62, which is pretty high. I mean, I don't think there are other you know, there are other public spaces where you can move furniture around, but people don't. And so that ownership was pretty exciting to me, that we had set up an environment that people felt calm and then they felt they could take control of how they're using it, how they're playing with their children or relating to other families.

Kelly H: [00:18:35] And then I think the other probably most important question that I was sort of wanting to know, because it relates back to seeing if stress reduction is happening, is we ask them for their kids to pick out their top three favorite things in the space. And we put toys in there as a category because I was curious if the kids would just like the toys, right? Like new toys. I mean, I have a four-year-old new toys are cool. But it was really the blocks and kind of benches that they can build with, which was like the number I mean by far the number one rated object in the room. Which was really interesting. Then toys and then some of the other objects like motion stools, beanbags, robins’ nests, things like that. So, and then I think the last question that I sort of relate to as a parent, we asked them about their energy level and how that space made their energy level feel. Being one being, I don't have any energy and ten feeling, I feel super energized. And we asked this question because I think energy has a lot to do with parenting when you're feeling engaged and like, you can do this. And I got control of the situation. You're a better parent. And so that rating was 8.48, which is pretty high. So those were really exciting, exciting data points.

CCB: [00:20:00] Definitely. Definitely. I mean, congratulations on that. I'm curious, Stacey, about so there's the space and there's what the families get to do in the space. But then there's also your facilitation. So from your perspective, what did you see? I mean, you've already said a little bit about how they like the mobility of the materials and that they could do things with it, that being kids. But how from a from an interaction family interaction standpoint. Did you learn to use it more effectively over time? Did you like? Yeah.

Stacey C: [00:20:38] I think so. I definitely learned. What if a child was shy or upset coming in? I learned what might engage them best. I knew that I started to learn that the minute I flipped that nest down and made it clear that they could climb in and out of it, that would often pull a little one out of their shell. I also had reconfirmed for myself, I'm a I'm a circle of security facilitator. So, my philosophy for parents and children is circle of security. It's an extremely evidence-based attachment curriculum for parents and children, and they teach it to parents. And I use it in all of my interactions with parents and children. And I had reconfirmed for myself that the parents who are who experience high trauma, they need someone to come underneath them and listen to them. So, the ability to be in a space where we could play, where we could have freedom, where we could move things, but also where there was someone there to listen. Most of these parents talk the entire time that they're there about big things, you know, things that are real struggles in their lives. And so, they have that ability to have someone come underneath them and come to the bottom of their emotion and hold them while they're seeing an example of interaction and imaginative play in this safe, beautiful environment. It just couldn't be any more like the whole of what I think these families need. I don't want to assume that for them, but it is working for sure.

CCB: [00:22:20] Yeah. I mean, this is such a great story. So, what do you so Vanessa, Behan has this this space in Spokane and NAC architecture has this knowledge and kind of learning. And so where do you see this going forward? Where would you like it to go, but be within the tools that you've created? Are those things that that can be utilized by others? What's your vision for the results?

Kelly H: [00:22:53] It was just real data that biophilia and personal control can influence a space. And, and obviously you need a trained facilitator like Stacey to support some of those emotions our families are feeling. But space can make someone comfortable, set them at ease, lower their stress reduction. And then when Stacey comes in, they're making a connection with her. They're making a better connection with their children. And so for any see, I mean, we're we serve a lot of community based organizations like K 12. So we're seeing these issues where, you know, kids are having a hard time in school, they're having high stress reactions. Their home life is in traumatic and turbulence all the time. And so, you know, can we create these spaces within classrooms or within, you know, libraries, these kind of quiet pull-out zones that relate to nature and just bring somebody down a little bit. And our health care facilities, you know, can we inject more biophilia with real purpose and intention and create ease in those patients as they visit those spaces? So, for us, it's just we have hard data now saying, yes, design is important in helping people reduce their stress. And I think what's important is, is, you know, I think up to 50% of the population has had an ACES score, like they've had one traumatic incident. It's even higher in people of color and those scores, those ACES scores then often influence your health long term, you know, higher depression in people with more than one ACES score. So, our ability to help our community through design and using some of these techniques is really powerful to me for sure.

CCB: [00:24:56] Wow. I want to give you both a last chance to say something. If there's something that you feel that our listeners need to hear about this particular project or something that we didn't talk about. I'd love for you to share it.

Kelly H: [00:25:17] You know, design is really, truly powerful and it can be used as a tool. And it's not just about the aesthetic, but it can really impact somebody's life. And we need to keep that in mind when we're designing and make those choices that will really help our users, not just what we like best.

CCB: [00:25:42] Very, very well said. And I just want to say, Stacey has been sitting here just shaking her head. Yes, up and down. Yes, I totally agree. But is there anything else I mean, I love the idea of a space that you know, and a process that you didn't really anticipate, that you didn't know what you were going to get. And so, the user experience of coming into something and finding it to be so valuable and so supportive of the work that you do.

Stacey C: [00:26:12] Absolutely. And reaffirming what Kelly just said. Control matters. Feeling like you have the ability to use a space in the way that you want to use it and for the children, use your imagination in the way that you want to and the freedom to do that. I've seen that mattering on the ground to every family that's come into the space.

CCB: [00:26:38] Well, thank you. Go ahead.

Kelly H: [00:26:40] I just I want to give a shout out to Stacey if your listeners go and look at the report online. We have these features called Growing the Garden and they’re stories from Stacey about events that occurred in the space. And they're just very, very powerful and very, very moving. So, Stacey added a lot of color and richness to our report, and we really appreciate it.

CCB: [00:27:07] Well, it's impressive. And it's also it's impressive in its simplicity. I'm going to say that you both from both organizations worked at what you know and applied learnings and experiences to kind of quantify and or qualify impressions and what's the right word I want, expectations that you had and you were pretty on point. So, there's a big congratulations there to say that you obviously know your subject matter and we're so happy that we were able to support continuing advancement in that. And so I'm going to wrap up and say thanks again to Kelly Hendrickson from NAC architecture and Stacey Conner from Vanessa Behan in Spokane. And let us all know that there will be continuing ONEder Grant podcasts that will be available and you can listen to them on all your streaming services. And we are very happy that you've joined us, and we hope to speak with you again. Thank you so much.

Kelly H: [00:28:25] Thank you.

Stacey C: [00:28:26] Thank you.