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Heidi Warren, Starfinder Foundation


Clad in utilitarian metal, and distinctly lacking high quality design, Starfinder Foundation’s building offers just one exterior clue that it is an organization worth noticing: an intricate mosaic mural lines the façade at pedestrian eye level. It reads, “Soccer for social change… Leadership beyond the game.”

Starfinder Foundation is a youth development organization focused around soccer. Their goal is to help young people “match their boundless aspiration with purposeful action, finding the ‘stars’ in themselves, and becoming agents of positive change.” Despite their modest facilities, Starfinder Foundation is full of ambition, serving as a soccer refuge for young people across Philadelphia. This summer alone, they have led athlete trips to both Sweden and Brazil, creating life-changing opportunities for their participants. In 2013, Starfinder received a Collaborative Design Grant, and was able to work with a volunteer team to explore ways to upgrade and improve their facility.

Inside Starfinder, it is clear the dedicated staff will not allow their facility to hold them back. One of the key players in the organization’s success is Heidi Warren, current executive director. As she explained, ”Since 2009 onward, I’ve had a pretty significant role in Starfinder – helping to manage it, to figure out how we pay for it, and ultimately dreaming with the Collaborative about enhancing it and making it something much more special for our kids.”

Heidi remembered clearly the moment she decided to apply for a Collaborative Design Grant. When asked, she laughs, saying, “I know the exact moment that made me think of it. I was in our bathroom and looking at the fact that the tile floor in the girls’ room has some parts that are loose and coming up, and I was like, ‘Man we really should redo the floor, we really should redo the tiles.’ Then I was like, ‘We really should redo the whole bathroom.’ And then it just escalated. And I thought, this is a Collaborative project! It went from just a patch, to we need to repair, to we need to re-envision, to we should really do a full-on planning process. But the inspiration came from the girls’ bathroom.”

A few months later, the Collaborative design team began dreaming up solutions for everything from the ladies room to the backyard retaining wall. The design process was centered on community meetings with the volunteer team and the Starfinder task force, which included a selection of young members. This gave them the opportunity to sit in and voice their opinions to board members, staff and designers.

Heidi emphasized how valuable it is when the kids are privy to “how these kinds of conversations happen, and the decision making that goes on in the world of adults.” This is a central part of Starfinder’s mission, and even the striking exterior mural was designed and created by young members over two years of hard work.

“It was amazing to get a sense of what’s possible with this building. We know the things we wish would change, but we don’t actually know what the possibilities are. They brought all these ideas that I never would have thought of."

With so much to do in the Starfinder building, the Collaborative design team broke the master plan into three phases, so that their goals would be attainable in small steps. Phase 1 is centered on practical improvements that will have immediate impact on operations: a better heating and cooling system, bathroom and locker room renovations and waterproofing. Phase 2 adds vital program space, such as classrooms and workout areas. Phase 3 creates a mezzanine where onlookers can comfortably watch games, along with a new exterior skin and entrance, making the building more recognizable and inviting.

During the design grant process, the Collaborative was also able to help engage the Starfinder youth through the Architecture in Education program of the AIA. Over 8 weeks, architect volunteers led sessions to help the young people re-imagine their own facility and learn about visualization and architectural skills. Heidi remembered, “They loved it. It was a really great experience. We let them dream really big, and it gave them real exposure to what architects do. By the end, most of the kids were like, ‘I want to be an architect now!’”

Heidi and her team are currently taking steps to restructure and stabilize their organization. With their kids excited about the future of the building, she is aiming to begin fundraising for Phase 1 of the project within the next year. “What’s really wonderful about this plan is it that gives us something very clear and very concrete that we can get people excited about.” Motioning to the report on the table, she explained, “It feels like this potential energy just sitting there waiting to be tapped.”



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