During this year’s NTEN Conference, we had the chance to meet some wonderful people who do awesome things. We came across Katie who founded We Are the Next in Long Beach, California, and wanted to share her organization’s story.
What does your company do and what is your role?
I serve as the Executive Director of We Are The Next, a group that works to rehabilitate neglected and abandoned historic buildings and provide youth programming. We do construction projects to renovate historic spaces that have cultural significance, turning them into things like community centers and education centers, and then we use those places to provide culturally-enriching programs for youth in the community. For instance, we might rehabilitate a historic building and then do a program for surrounding youth to help them understand how the building is important and what they can do to contribute towards a better-designed community.
What about this nonprofit sparked your interest and made you want to work here?
I actually founded We Are The Next a couple of years ago. There are a lot of companies that do work on historic buildings, but there aren’t really any that do affordable work for public agencies. When you look at the demographic that inhabits our historic buildings you’ll see it’s typically government, schools, other educational institutions, and nonprofits – all entities which don’t typically have large budgets for maintenance or for full renovations that their older properties need. As a result, their property can appear to be falling apart because of deferred maintenance, and agencies often resort to just abandoning the building or tearing it down and building a new one which seems more efficient. In reality that practice leads to not only added expense, but results in the loss of substantial cultural fabric in our built environment. Noticing these factors, I wanted to save our historic resources while providing an affordable solution for these types of agencies to have culturally-substantial, properly-maintained facilities the public deserves to use.
What is a “typical day” like for you?
My typical day involves a lot of community outreach, so things like meetings with other members of organizations, dropping into schools to share information about what it is we do and help staff identify maintenance issues in their building. We want them to know that we are a resource.
I also spend a lot of time emailing and calling city governments to follow up with them or contacting cities to get permits so we can move forward on our projects. In the meantime, we always have a few construction projects in progress so I am on job sites to supervise work that’s being carried out. I always want to make sure things are going as planned.
What has been your favorite moment at your job?
One of the projects we just finished doing was the relocation of the first Taco Bell, where Taco Bell Corporation was our client. This was a case where we actually removed the building from its foundation, picked it up, and moved it 47 miles to the company’s headquarters in Irvine. The building was originally in Downey, where it was facing demolition, and now is in Irvine where it will be kept safe and found a permanent home. That was a fun project to work on, and a very meaningful one.
How does technology help you do what you do?
We mainly use technology to communicate, so we use a lot of different platforms. We use Trello to keep track of different projects that we’re working on and the status of those projects through the checklist function, which is especially helpful. We use Slack for messaging and communication. We do everything on Google for calendars and also store our files through drive.
That said, there are a lot of opportunities and ways that we could be doing better. We have a hard time actually getting people to use the platforms, which is difficult and can lead to a lot of follow-up. In some ways, they create more work.
And then as far as security goes, we do have concerns about keeping our files secure on Google Drive. We’re not necessarily concerned about everything, but we do summer camps for kids where we need to store their personal and medical information, so we always want to make sure things are as secure as possible. In those cases, we simply keep most all of the documents as hard copies to protect our students’ identities, just because it’s not something we trust keeping on the cloud.