Good, Thoughtful Hosts #304: Inspiration Through Mission-Driven Work with Isaura Perez

In this episode, we chat with project architect Isaura Perez about how her mission-driven work inspires her. We’ll dive into how knowing the impact of your work can spur creativity.

For more information on the organization Isaura discusses, Sound Foundations NW, visit: soundfoundationsnw.org/.

Episode #304 Transcript | Listen on SoundCloud

Producer 00:00
Today’s special guest

Isaura Perez 00:03
Hello, my name is Isaura Perez and I’m a project architect here at Cushing Terrell.

Sarah Steimer 00:09
Thank you so much for joining us today. I really appreciate it. So tell us what inspires you.

Isaura Perez 00:18
Oh, man, isn’t that a loaded question? You know, what’s really been inspiring me and has led me throughout my career has been mission driven design. And it’s, you know, things that are really centered to cater towards the people. And specifically, one of the organizations that I really look up to, is located here in the Pacific Northwest. So I just found Sound Foundations Northwest, which they kind of create, you know, tiny homes and help the homeless transition out of homelessness. So that really is what really inspires me is when you know, you’re able to create a new atmosphere for new people and actually make a change in their lives.

Sarah Steimer 01:10
Hi, everyone, I’m Sarah Steimer. And on this episode of Good, Thoughtful Hosts, we’re exploring why mission-driven work inspires us. One of the best things on the topic that I read while I was doing my research was that when interviewed by academics, many purpose driven practitioners said that they believed giving their company a purpose would lead to better innovations. But these practitioners could not explain why this correlation possibly existed. So the researchers offered their own theory. So I’ll go ahead and just directly quote from what those researchers wrote, because they describe this really well. purpose driven organizations will encourage their employees to think in terms of others, as they focus on the positive benefit their actions and products can have on different people. In academic research, this is called having a, quote, “others perspective.” And it has been known to affect creativity. A company that is constantly focused on itself and its own profits, will embed habits into its employees to think in those narrow terms. On the other hand, a company that wants to help their greater good will embed a quote others perspective into its employees, this habit of thinking in terms of others will have an effect on the number and the quality of innovations a company can produce. Alright, so this is a topic where you can really actually draw a lot of your own basic conclusions, you know, having a purpose in your work, or maybe volunteering as a lot of mental health benefits. And of course, a healthy mind certainly allow space for creativity and innovation. So all that said, we’ll go ahead and dive into our discussion. But I do just want to note that we will have a link to the organization that usara discusses. It’s called Sound foundations Northwest. And that link will be in the episode description. So let’s get started.

I love the way that you’re describing this as that you get to make a change in someone else’s life. But what is it about, you know, working with or maybe seeing or learning about a mission focused organization that inspires you exactly, you know, because of course, it’s going to be life changing for someone else, and you know, whatever the focus of an organization might be, but how does it sort of get your gears moving?

Isaura Perez 03:43
Sure. It’s really reevaluating the process that we attack, like our designs or even our solutions to something it’s, you know, not only is it very inherent about the way that we need to work as a team, but also finding a new avenue to provide the basic necessity, which is shelter. And in the world of architecture, like we do that on a daily basis. But like It’s like reimagining a box, right? It’s how do we create this in a different way to allow people to feel that they belong, and this is really what those at least those mission driven organizations try to do, it’s allowing that person to find a sense of place. And I think that’s what we what we help and aid to and it really challenges you to start creating and rethinking the you know, what we already know and how we apply it and not take those things for granted.

Sarah Steimer 04:46
It is a different challenge when something is mission driven often and please correct me if I’m wrong, but I think there are many times more challenges with those sort of mission driven driven organizations if it’s a nonprofit or what Have you because the resources are often different? Because the challenges that are proposed are different because maybe the people stepping into this home or whatever it is this building, they don’t have the same background as maybe a typical client does, you know, is it is it that extra challenge that kind of forces you to think differently and gets that creativity flowing for you?

Isaura Perez 05:26
It does the challenge with when you’re talking about creating something that is geared to people, you know, in this instance, related to homelessness, you know, it’s the mission is to really get them out of the street as quickly as possible, because at that point, you’re able to transition them into another aspect of their lives. So the goal really ends up being Yes, we have these limited resources, and you’re always working on a budget, like, regardless whether it’s on a small scale to a very large, complex, shiny, new building, you’re always working with budget. But the key difference here is like you need to make this go a long way. And so people create new processes in which they can create more with the little that they have. And also keeping in mind the key necessities that that person might need. So you’re not providing everything within a shelter, or space or room that you’re creating for these people, but also providing them a common space for them to have those resources like a kitchen or ability to cook. But you are working with that limitation. And you know, I think a lot of us actually triumph with those limitations and set parameters because you don’t take for granted what you’re putting, you know, line to paper, you know, it’s it’s a reality for, for at least this kind of mission driven work. Like every line that you find on that paper means money. But the goal is to create something more like more with less, and it’s challenging, because when you’re there, I think creating the solution sometimes is daunting, because given the scale or the the need, but we’ve always come on top of it, at least you know, with with this organization, they’ve managed to streamline their processes to create, you know, before they were able to create like two, two homes per week. And now they’ve streamlined it to be able to create about 14 a week. And it’s through streamlining and finding new solutions in the way that we construct and create and design and what is actually key. So like focusing on the key elements that you really need to provide in order to make that person feel welcome within that space as well.

Sarah Steimer 07:48
I would love to know a little bit more about you know, what it feels like to take these skills that you’ve honed over the years, and use them in mission driven work, you know, what is that like for you just in like a visceral sense, you know, how does it feel to be able to do that?

Isaura Perez 08:05
For me, it’s one of the key things why I got into architecture is to be able to do something good with what we build on a day to day basis, like buildings are there forever. And you know, when we’re talking about urban settings, like the homelessness issue is a big thing. And for me, it’s like a way to give back and the skills that I learned there is just like being able to empathize with the end user. And you can apply that in all aspects of our work, it’s you know, not only are we having to navigate through clients, and navigating through different people to get the final product done. But it’s also always keeping in mind, the end user, and you know, making sure that they’re comfortable. And we do that through various avenues. But with mission driven work, it really ends up being that the things that you value are like the more essential needs, which is creating space, like individual space for our person, that they are able to, you know, I’ve always grown up like with the ones in need of my own room and, and like having being able to escape and being able to find a space to just kind of collect and recollect like everything that you might be going through and having that individual space to, you know, express yourself. Those are, you know, key things you end up taking away. What is really important and what is really needed. It’s understanding that we add so many layers of complexity, but sometimes the nitty gritty is really at the, the essential, right, like what we’re providing for them.

Sarah Steimer 09:49
Absolutely. And that’s, I mean, I love that you brought sort of, you know, you may not have the exact same experience that these individuals have, but just bringing in your or understanding of knowing what it’s like to want your own room like just to be able to have your own space. And like you said to safety, that’s there, even just being able to decorate it in a way that feels reflective of you, and what that means to sort of have that nest, can you give me an example of, you know, a time where I don’t know if it was maybe meeting someone who was affected by your work, or just thinking about what it would mean to them, that did help to peek a little bit of inspiration or creativity in how you were designing and putting this together?

Isaura Perez 10:35
Sure, you know, I do some volunteering at a local church in transitional housing, it’s kind of this nice little blend where they help people transition. And I had the pleasure of meeting, this elderly lady, and her name was Miss Janie, she is an older African American woman, definitely, you know, needing assistance, you know, has loss of hearing, a lot of these people that are in this transitional housing are coming off from the streets from either domestic abuse, drug abuse, and they have some kind of passed in some kind of use or another and she’s one of them. And one of the things that was very apparent is that she walks with an aide with Walker, right. And when you see a lot of things that are being built out there, one of the things that are always comes presents to mind is being able to provide some kind of accessibility for them. Because, you know, I see this lady’s struggle, like every day, you know, getting out the door, or even less small step was really a trial to get over. And so whenever we’re focusing on creating elements, it’s definitely especially when it’s a simplified elements like tiny homes, we do intend to provide the most accessible environment that we’re doing, right. Because at the end of the day, it goes back to catering to that individual and the needs of a person. And that means like thinking about everyone, and having that universal design to accessibility is an important thing. Because you know, when we decided to, at least in this location, put a ramp in. So she didn’t have to take a step, it was a lot easier, like the way that she navigated through her space was easier. And so seeing those things firsthand, you might think they are small, but they are definitely necessary, when you’re not living in the life of those people with any kind of hardship or you know, whether it be physical or emotional, those things do make a difference at the end of the day.

Sarah Steimer 12:49
And you get to affect that change, which is incredible. Those were, those are the bulk of the questions I have for you. And thank you so much for sharing your experience with me, one of the things that with us, excuse me, there’s a whole audience, but one of the things that is popping up is that you’re you’re talking about this in such a passionate way, you know, I can tell that when you’re when you’re talking about it, like you really do care about this. And, you know, if you were to sort of make the pitch to someone to find some mission driven work to help, you know, spark their creativity, spark their inspiration, just feel generally good and important about the work that they’re doing. What would sort of be your pitch?

Isaura Perez 13:28
Oh man, that, Sarah, that us are? Like, that’s a really good question, I think it’d be, I would say, imagine yourself as a little kid, we all tried to recreate the tent, whether putting two tables together, and putting a nice little blanket over it, whoever it may be, but we always try to find our own space and, and recreated that space and what that space meant to you. And to be able to provide that individual space to somebody else, to create an environment with somebody feel safe and is able to explore their individual self through you know, the safety of four walls is something that really can be really rewarding. And there’s many ways to to give back to do things but you know, also the challenge of creating it yourself, getting your hands dirty, and it’s another way of feeling it having a tactile experience to the change that you’re creating. And that’s what mission driven does for me. It really is front and center, but you’re getting dirty, you’re in the frontlines, you’re making some change. And it kind of goes back to just the very essence of creating space and shelter for being in being comfortable and being safe and everyone deserves that. Yeah.

Sarah Steimer 15:00
I absolutely love the way you painted that picture of being a kid creating that tent and really also the creativity that comes from really desiring that space and you know, you will find whatever tools within your home within you know the the pathway that this that that to make that happen. That’s you are painting such a beautiful picture for us. I love that well again, thank you so much for talking with us today and sharing your experience with us. I so appreciate it.

Isaura Perez 15:26
Thank you so much Sarah.

Producer 15:35
Music for Good, Thoughtful Hosts was written, produced, and performed by Sam Clapp. Our moderator is Sarah Steimer. Editing by Travis Estvold. And a special thanks to our content development team, Amanda Herzberg and Marni Moore. For more information about the podcast, visit thoughtfulhosts.com. Thanks for listening!

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