(Summer 18) Charlotte D’Acierno, G, Growing Change, NC

Hi there! My name is Charlotte D’Acierno and I am heading into my second year of graduate studies in the Master of Architecture program at MIT. I’ve been lucky enough to spend part of my summer working with the amazing people at GrowingChange, a non-profit based in rural North Carolina. I was first introduced to GrowingChange this spring, when a handful of my classmates and I attended a talk given by Noran Sanford, the founder of the organization. After learning about their community-oriented mission, I knew that I wanted to become more involved.


Begun as a clinical pilot program in Scotland County, NC, GrowingChange finds ways to help “at-risk” youth channel their energy into productive, community-building projects after troublesome encounters with the criminal justice system. Trained as a clinical psychologist, Noran Sanford uses a combination of group sessions, agricultural education, and side by side engagement to “lift” members of his native community.


A little over a year ago, GrowingChange was given control of part of a former state-run prison in Wagram, North Carolina. While the prison site has been inactive since 2001, vestiges of its dark history remain across the campus. The challenge, and opportunity, is to transform the site from a decommissioned prison into a working farm, a community center that operates both in opposition to the site’s history, and yet remains respectful of it.


I made my first journey down to Wagram, NC – the location of the GrowingChange site – at the beginning of the summer. Over the course of my time there, I was not only taken aback by the warmth of the locals but also by the impact GrowingChange has on their youth leaders. The program provides a second chance for individuals who would otherwise be swept up into the growing problem of mass incarceration in the United States to reorient themselves and contribute positively to their community.


There were many moments during my short tenure in Wagram which gave me pause, but none more so than one afternoon when we were able to speak with the youth leaders in a more relaxed setting (read: none of the adults were around). This allowed the youth to open up and chat more candidly than they had over the course of the first few days. What struck me were the ideas they had for the site, a decommissioned prison, and how clearly their past experiences shaped these ideas. More importantly, it was amazing to see how GrowingChange has found a way to turn those experiences into something from which these youth can, for lack of better word, grow both themselves and their community.


Through GrowingChange I have found within myself a strong desire to pursue and find the intersection where socially impactful work meets thoughtfully progressive design. Stepping out of the sphere of academia and into the environment of Wagram, NC provided both the initial urge and a rewarding foundation from which to begin this pursuit. I believe that community-based design can and should play a critical role in our understanding of “good” architecture and urban planning. My hope is that this partnership with GrowingChange will find a lasting home here at MIT.


Moreover, I feel incredibly fortunate to have met the incredible youth currently in the GrowingChange program. They have taught me some important lessons which simply cannot be found in hours spent in the studio, within the pages of our textbooks, nor in the words of our professors. To them I am forever grateful. I look forward to meeting future youth leaders in Wagram and seeing their impact in North Carolina and beyond.

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