At Gresham Smith’s annual Celebration event, employees across the firm gather to recognize their colleagues’ achievements and project successes. As part of the event, one employee is honored with the Community Impact Award, which recognizes outstanding commitment to the firm’s Core Purpose of creating healthy and thriving communities, and for displaying an unwavering dedication to improving the lives of others.
This year’s award was presented to Sivilay Xayasaene, a senior interior designer for Life and Work Places in our Charlotte, North Carolina, office. Sivilay identified an opportunity to lend her creative talents to Do Greater Charlotte, a nonprofit organization empowering underserved communities to do greater by facilitating exposure and access to creativity, technology and entrepreneurship. We recently sat down with her to learn more about the significant impact seen by her project, the CRTVLab, and how it has propelled their mission to “turn ideas into future opportunities for good” throughout the Charlotte community.
What prompted you to get involved with an organization like Do Greater Charlotte?
Sivilay Xayasaene: I knew I wanted to get involved in an organization that fostered a creative environment for students, specifically starting at a middle school level. There are plenty of programs and resources for high schoolers, but to make a lasting impact on children’s lives, we need to start sooner. Young people navigate their lives and future decisions based on their formative years and experiences. Middle schoolers are at a vulnerable age and it’s important to take the opportunity to provide a positive and safe environment where they feel empowered to discover their creative confidence. In my search, I stumbled on exactly what I was looking for—Do Greater Charlotte.
Do Greater Charlotte really exists to build creative confidence in kids, and they do that through training in design, entrepreneurship and creative technologies. Kids come in and have fun, but they also start to see what it looks like to develop businesses around their interests and skills. They practice the process of critical thinking and problem-solving, providing them with the tools to make great decisions around what the next steps in their lives could and should be in the future.
What role have you played as part of Do Greater Charlotte? How did you discover that you could use your professional knowledge as a form of service?
Sivilay: Do Greater Charlotte started as a mobile program, but quickly outgrew the space during the pandemic. They needed a physical space that could hold more students and would involve a curriculum that would grow with their path of interest. They began to look for partnerships that would allow them to expand and plant roots in the community, and eventually our paths crossed and our wants and needs aligned! This was the start of the CRTVLab!
I was the interior designer and project manager for the CRTVLab, an 8,000-square-foot innovation and creativity hub, in what was formerly used as a day care at Shiloh Institutional Baptist Church. The design was intended to ignite that creative spark in students with exciting programing and four studios for music and video production, photography and podcast recording. The coworking, co-learning vibe creates a safe and comfortable place for youth to learn, engage and create. In addition to my role as interior designer/project manager, I also serve on the organization’s board.
Describe the “Apple-meets-Nike” design. How is that relatable to young people in the community?
Sivilay: When you think of Apple, you think of design, technology, innovation—we definitely wanted to implement that clean and modern design in the space. We then aimed to blend that aesthetic with the accessibility and familiarity of Nike, creating a comfortable environment where no matter where someone is from or who they are, they feel like they belong.
Why do you think exposing young people to opportunities in different professions and possibilities is important?
Sivilay: There is a concept that is often passed around very casually—We only know what we know. If we were all given the same opportunities and experiences, the world as we know it could be very different. Where one child sees a world of opportunities around them, another child only a few blocks away can’t see beyond their own room. It is important to expose young people to a world of possibilities. Otherwise, they might never know how big their dreams and ideas could be. This is a nurturing community that helps kids discover their potential through the power of creativity and access to technology—propelling their confidence and ideas toward lasting impact now and in the future.
Had it not been for the opportunity to try new things throughout my childhood and adolescence, I would not be where I am now, being in this creative world where I can be unique and take risks. I just love the challenge, and I want other young people to have those same limitless experiences.
Tell us about what this project impact means to you personally.
Sivilay: I can’t help but get excited when I talk about the project, it’s just so rewarding and I feel like I’ve grown so much in the process. I feel so fortunate and thankful to have had a chance to delve into this world and take risks with new ideas. Not everyone has that chance and it’s so unfortunate. I think all of us can do justice for future generations by making sure that each child has those options and the same exposure to technology so that they can really see what the world could be.
What is your hope for the young people of the CRTV Lab?
Sivilay: Do Greater Charlotte is doing real work in its city—it’s shaping communities, breaking cycles, providing opportunities for these kids. I hope the creative space we’ve built and designed inspires young people to pursue their passions and realize their infinite potential.
Check out the full interview here!