LiA at the AIA National Convention

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LiA Co-founders Yesenia Blandon, Assoc. AIA and Jimmy Castellanos, AIA, were joined by LiA 2012 Co-chairs Lorena Toffer, AIA and Celi Sims, Assoc. AIA, to represent LiA and receive the 2012 AIA National Diversity Recognition Award on Saturday May 19th at the 2012 AIA National Convention, in Washington D.C. Sharing this moment with LiA were Jan Blackmon, FAIA – AIA Dallas Executive Director, Greg Brown – DCFA Programs Director, LiA member David Treviño – City of Dallas. Here are some of the highlights from the panel discussion in which Yesenia and Lorena took part:

CONNECTING DIVERSITY AND DESIGN
Started by crafting a series of programs to somehow remedy a list of “reality red flags”, this was what would eventually lead us into becoming a committee of the AIA. Facts like a growing Hispanic population in our communities, along with current voids in leadership, lack of connectivity/network between Latino architects in Dallas, the current interest by Architecture firms in reorienting their practices and expanding to the Latin American Market. LiA decided to focus on Professional Networking, Community Involvement and Educational Outreach.

LiA as an official committee of AIA Dallas was not a foregone conclusion. It took collaboration, determination and a positive attitude from Jimmy and Yesenia, as well as a few true visionaries and leaders of our chapter. We cannot thank enough to Perkins + Will for supporting the initial idea and hosting our first event, to Corgan Associates, for their support and mentorship for LiA to become part of AIA Dallas.

IMPACT ON THE COMMUNITY
In only two years LiA’s impact has been tremendous: membership has grown to four times from first event, able to reach 340 potential AIA members; AIA Austin followed our lead and became our first sister committee; “From an Architect’s Bookshelf” collected over 1,200 books, at more than 20 A/E firms and helped establish architectural libraries at six high schools; jointly with the Dallas Architecture Forum and the Mexican Consulate, Architect Alberto Kalach from Mexico City gave a lecture on his work, at an event open to the design community and the public; jointly with Dallas CityDesign Studio, LiA documented over 330 homes in a West Dallas neighborhood facing future development adjacent to the Trinity River; LiA’s annual Exhibit and Reception, has celebrated the work of 31 Latino Architects and Designers, and has become one of the most sought after events of the year and provides for great exposure of our members work.

WORDS OF WISDOM
Have a Plan – Write your ideas down, develop goals, objectives, and an overall mission of your initiative. You may want to start with just one program, perhaps organize your own book drive, similar to what AIA San Diego did.
Find a Mentor – Once you have a better idea of “the plan”, reach out for support. You will be gladly surprised at the individuals already around you that have an open mind and willingness to help you carry out your idea.
Reach out to your Community. Forget about boundaries for a little bit. You will also be surprised at how many organizations, groups or neighborhoods could really use our help.

NEXT STEPS FOR LiA
Lorena and Celi, co-chairs of LiA this year, recognize the tremendous energy LiA already has. They have been by focusing on LiA’s core programs, where they see the value of partnerships, the value of being an open source group and the value of reaching out to the community. They share two overarching goals: Collaboration and Continuous Growth. Earlier this year, LiA collaborated with Big Thought, at a Family Day event at the Latino Cultural Center, where LiA engaged 300 kids and their parents in fun design activities to commemorate the recent opening of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, the latest work of Santiago Calatrava in Dallas. This partnership with Big Thought has helped open other doors for LiA, such as LiA participation in a series of Architecture workshops at the 2012 Thriving Minds Summer Youth Camp, by the Latino Cultural Center; the LCC will be hosting LiA’s annual exhibit this year at their galleries, with a reception during the holiday season. This will bring added exposure to our members, our committee, and AIA Dallas; a new initiative being spearheaded by Celi, is LiA’s first Scholarship Fund, to directly impact the life of a student with the dream of a career in Architecture; DISD Leadership group has approached LiA to take on a new program, the Architecture Club. This program will allow for a selected group of middle school kids to be part of an after school series of tours and talks related to Architecture and the City of Dallas.

LiA emphasized that while figures are important and they help measure our progress towards or beyond an initial goal, some of the most important reasons of why LiA started are beyond measure: fellowship amongst colleagues, being the inspiration and role models for our youth, motivating them to stay in school – to go to College, becoming a go-to resource within our community by providing our knowledge and expertise, to expand the role of an Architect, and bring this noble profession back to its community. LiA started and exists so that you can get involved, so that you can make a difference.

This past Monday, AIA Dallas hosted a very special reception at the Dallas Center for Architecture to celebrate such a unique recognition, with LiA being the first committee of this kind in the nation, it is helping demonstrate the value of collaboration, persistence, and the visionary leadership of the Dallas chapter of the American Institute of Architects.


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