Dee Norton Child Advocacy Center / by Judy Dixon

 The Dee Norton Child Advocacy Center logo wall behind the reception desk greets clients and their families. The organization's mission is to prevent abuse, protect children, and heal families.

The Dee Norton Child Advocacy Center logo wall behind the reception desk greets clients and their families. The organization's mission is to prevent abuse, protect children, and heal families.

Often times architecture is more about how a person feels within the building than the individual building materials and details. When Dee Norton Child Advocacy Center, a local non-profit who provides services for children who have been abused, asked us to assist them with their building renovation, we knew that outcome was especially important. This is one of those organizations that you wish didn't have to exist but you are so glad they are part of the community to help children heal. 

The existing building, located in Mount Pleasant, was originally designed as a church and most recently functioned as a gym. The goal for the renovation was to spend the majority of the dollars focused on the client and staff experience. Therefore, the organization did not seek bold architectural changes to the exterior. They instead invested in new paint and welcoming gardens including a gate inspired by those one would find in historic Charleston gardens; we designed theirs with custom ironwork incorporating the DNCAC logo. 

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The design process had a very high level of communication with Dr. Carole Swiecicki, the Executive Director and Beverly Hutchison, Director of Development, that allowed us to truly understand the priorities of the client need / experience, the individual roles of staff members and their built environment requirements. At every meeting and design discussion, we asked ourselves if the clients would feel welcome, safe and cared for. 

One of the DNCAC board members is the VP of Manufacturing and Materials at the Charleston Boeing plant and in turn implemented a ‘lean manufacturing’ study specific to efficient client and staff flow. One specific goal was to better the client experience and reduce the time it took for a client to move through the building on their first visit - a visit that involves initial intake, a forensic interview and a medical exam. That is a lot of unknowns -  different rooms and different staff interactions -  for a child who has recently experienced abuse. Through the design of the Main Lobby, close proximity of the Intake / Family Advocate offices and interview rooms, the creation of an second, quieter waiting area adjacent to the Medical suite, all with colorful and intuitive way-finding, we hope that the physical space makes this visit a little easier for these brave clients and their families. 

The most challenging aspect of the project was fitting the programmatic requirements of the staff into the building while keeping client experience paramount in a limited amount of space. This organization has so many amazing staff members - from the first person to smile at you when you come in, to the Family Advocates and Therapists to the Education, Development and Operation folks who keep the organization running behind the scenes. Every design meeting included a discussion about how to take care of the staff whether it was the size / type / location of their work space or the importance put on the Break Room and outdoor area for staff to decompress and socialize. There is even a Meditation Room for staff use. The staff does the hard work and makes the magics happen within these walls; hopefully this renovation has improved their daily experience as well. 

 Custom art installation that acts as a client interaction opportunity.  

Custom art installation that acts as a client interaction opportunity.  

One of our favorite aspects of the design is how the initial client visit starts. The child is given the opportunity to select a bird (reminiscent of the DNCAC logo) and attach it to the custom wall art installation which depicts a tree (symbolizing support, growth and strength). At a minimum this is an ice-breaker and a way for the DNCAC staff to interact right away with the child. At most it becomes symbolic once the child sees all of the other birds on the wall, hence realizing that they are not alone. Additionally, for any visitor to the building or staff member viewing the mural, it becomes a visual document of just how many children the Dee Norton Child Advocacy Center is helping. This idea was a collective effort among the leadership staff and designers. It is so poignant - every time we would present this, everyone got chills. 

Grand Opening and Open House is open to all. [Friday, August 24 at 11am 677 Long Point Road, Mount Pleasant, SC.]

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