Home building professionals are an active part of any community, but sometimes their building skills can be used to provide support in various capacities outside the home building industry as well.
Sarah Foster, CEO at the Home Builders Association of the Upper Peninsula, saw a Facebook post by her friend Neily Collick about a core communication board at a playground in St. Louis and the difference it could make at her daughter's school in Michigan. Foster thought, "I have HBA members who can do that." She put out a call for different materials and labor to help create the signs, and the first project began.
A core communication board provides a series of photos, symbols or illustrations to help individuals with limited language skills express themselves and communicate with those around them. To help create the designs, Foster initially works with each organization to understand their needs, then the organization collaborates with speech therapist Jennifer Bleckiner, who uses special software to design each sign, to identify what symbols need to be on each board based on the setting.
Project Jade, the nonprofit Foster and Collick created to construct these boards, provides two different types of boards, depending on an organization's needs. One is a 15-by-17-inch board that’s intended to be portable, and it is often used for places such as libraries. The other requires two treated 8-foot 4x4s to mount the sign, plus any special mounts for the sign, and labor to install the signs, often involving digging two deep holes with an auger. These are perfect for outdoor areas, where a portable sign or electronic device can be less efficient to use.
The project began with Signs Now printing the signs, 41 Lumber donating the posts and Bromley Hall from Tom Hall Contracting installing the signs — all of whom are recognized as sponsors on the boards they help create and install. As the need has expanded beyond the immediate local area, Foster has been able to engage other builders and groups, including NAHB student chapters, in helping to create and install these boards, and recognizes their efforts on each board as well.
Overall, the organization has been able to help create nearly 20 portable signs, the majority for local schools, and has been expanding into parks, including six Michigan state parks with boards currently underway.
"It has been nothing but positive, and HBA members have been great about helping out," Foster shared.
Other future projects include boards for gyms, occupational therapy rooms, waiting rooms and rehabilitation clinics, as well as Boston Children's Hospital. Expansion beyond Michigan provides some unique challenges, such as the shipping costs, so Foster has been reaching out to collaborate with other members in these locations to help create and install the signs.
For more information, visit projectjade.org.