UNCG Campus Weekly

Campus Weekly is published each Wednesday when classes are in session. In the summer, it is published biweekly.

A ‘House’ Becomes a Home

021710Headline_SistersHouseGreensboro has a new haven for pregnant women and young mothers who have been abused, thanks to the work of interior architecture students, faculty member Robert Michel Charest (in visual, with his wife, Amanda) and a host of community partners.

U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan and more than 100 other supporters attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday for My Sister Susan’s House. The name honors one of the project’s staunchest supporters, Susan Cupito of the YWCA of Greensboro.

The 4,500-square-foot “green” building has five suites for women 16-21 and their children. Chancellor Linda P. Brady hailed the project as an inspiring example of the university’s commitment to collaboration, engaged scholarship and community service.

“At UNCG, we know that education changes lives. My Sister Susan’s House has provided a life-changing learning opportunity for the students involved in its design and construction,” Brady said. “Now it will provide a life-changing opportunity for the women and children who live here.”

Youth Focus, a nonprofit organization that works with children, adolescents and young adults, will manage the facility; the YWCA will provide victim assistance. A two-year, $400,000 federal stimulus grant from the Department of Justice’s Office of Violence Against Women will support the facility’s operations.

Dr. Laura S. Sims, dean of the School of Human Environmental Sciences, lauded Charest for his leadership and dedication. “Robert is absolutely determined,” she said. “He is not only a visionary, but a workaholic.”

The building’s suites afford privacy to promote bonding between mothers and their children, while shared areas for cooking, eating and socializing help create a supportive network among residents. Although construction is complete, UNCG will continue to be involved by providing social work, nutrition, speech-language pathology, breast feeding education and program evaluation services.

Chuck Hodierne, the executive director of Youth Focus, described the project as “the mother of all collaborative ventures.”

Working through its Department of Housing and Community Development, the City of Greensboro donated the land for the project. Carpentry students at Guilford Technical Community College helped with construction. Businesses donated supplies, services and the use of their equipment.

The State Employees’ Credit Union Foundation provided construction financing at no cost; the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency provided long-term financing for the $700,000 facility via a no-interest loan.

The project builds on the success of a course Charest led several years ago, in which students designed and built a home for an elderly couple near the UNCG campus. Like its predecessor, My Sister Susan’s House has combined learning with community service and applied innovative design and construction techniques to a cost-effective project.

Charest spent countless hours on the planning, design and construction during the past three years, an effort that left him exhausted, but undaunted. “Always bite off more than you can chew,” he told Monday’s crowd. “It’s a moral imperative.”