Amanda Sturgell 3

Rising seventh grade girls from Chicot and Desha counties recently experienced architecture first hand, flipping the McGehee Train Depot into a makerspace during the Alex Foundation’s 2017 DIY (do-it-yourself) Architecture and Design Summer Camp. The week-long summer camp exposed the girls to project-based learning in architecture, design and the built environment.

Wyndolyn Adams, the Alex Foundation’s board of directors’ vice president, said the summer camp was more than architecture and design. It was also about empowering girls. “We wanted this camp to give girls the knowledge, tools and power to know they can do anything they set their minds to,” Adams said. “From learning about blueprints, and building structures to making creative spaces, we believe our summer camp gave them that opportunity.”

The campers watched demonstrations and heard presentations then put that information to use. They built a birdhouse as a community service project, built their own jewelry boxes, designed their own t-shirts, created a makeshift pop-up clothesline to display their t-shirts, designed a chalk art walkway leading to the clothesline, and built models of the McGehee Train Depot and Japanese American Internment Museum. The campers also visited a construction site in Dermott, toured Paul Michael’s in Lake Village, and toured the Japanese American Internment Museum in McGehee where museum curators told them about the history of the building.


Designer-Artist Yolande Van Hereem, a South Africa native and current resident of Greenwood, Mississippi, was the camp instructor.

Yolande Van Hereem

Yolande Van Hereem_campers

Yolande Van Hereem 2

Architect Amanda Sturgell of Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects, pictured in the photo at the beginning of the article and the photo below, introduced the girls to architecture. Sturgell showed the campers projects she designed and pointed out the connections of architecture with science, technology, engineering and math.

Amanda Sturgell 2

The girls also got a lesson in interior design and stained glass making. Lisa Hutchison, president of Lisa’s Floors and More of McGehee, who provided interior design services for the McGehee Train Depot and the Japanese American Internment Museum, explained the aesthetics that complement the interior of structures. Katherine Dawson of Lake Village, who is pictured below, showed the girls her stained glass designs and explained the process of creating stained glass and the function it has in the built environment.

Katherine Dawson 1

Willene Courtney, an area carpenter, demonstrated basic construction skills and assisted the campers with their creation of a multifunctional wooden jewelry box that doubles as a centerpiece. As a community service project, the girls also designed and built a birdhouse. The Alex Foundation donated it to the McGehee Nursing Home.

Building 1

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The campers participated in a t-shirt design competition sponsored by Teresa French. French awarded each of the top three designers a $25 gift card.

tshirt desiging

Clothesline 1

The top three designers, pictured on the left in the photo below, were Anessa Rowland, RaDeja Ford and Zakiah Tyler.

Top 3

Judges for the design competition were Jessica Reeves, Donna Beatty, Rubye Emerson, Theresa Abraham, Sharon Cantrell and Kay Roberts. Abraham, a 25-year U.S. Army veteran, discussed the importance of teamwork, and awarded a $25 cash gift to Madison Bruce of Dumas for her explanation and understanding of teamwork.


Highlighting creative placemaking in landscape architecture, the campers designed a chalk art walkway leading to their popup clothesline where they displayed their t-shirts.”


Using the Center for the Understanding of the Built Environment (CUBE) curriculum and cardboard boxes, campers built models of the McGehee Train Depot and Japanese American Internment Museum. A camper is pictured below with her design and construction project.


The Alex Foundation donated a birdhouse to the McGehee Nursing Home that the campers worked on as a community service project.

The Alex Foundation donated a birdhouse to the McGehee Nursing Home that the campers worked on as a community service project.

The 2017 DIY architecture and design summer camp was funded by the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame Foundation, Cabe Foundation, Delta Regional Authority, Mrs. Lisenne Rockefeller and Southeast Arkansas Community Foundation.

Supporters of the Alex Foundation’s 2017 architecture and design camp also included the City of Dermott, City of McGehee, Japanese American Internment Museum curators Susan Gallion and Kay Roberts, Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects of Little Rock, Hord Architects of Memphis, Tenn., Lisa’s Floors and More of McGehee, The Arkansas Woman’s Economic Development Corporation, Lightwood M.B. Church of Halley, True Value Lake Village, Ideal Lumber Company of Crossett, North Little Rock Lowe’s, Greenville Lowe’s, McGehee Lumber Company, Herschel Ponder Construction of McGehee, Probuilders of North Little Rock, Walmart Greenville, Walmart McGehee, Walmart Monticello, Blue Bell Ice Cream, Turner Snax, Sonic McGehee, SaveMart McGehee, Jalisco’s Restaurant, Richardson’s Catering and Bar-B-Que, Subway’s McGehee, Desha County Cooperative Extension Service, UAM College of Technology-McGehee, Charles Giles Photography of McGehee, Constructor James Courtney of Dermott, Lephew Dennington of Dermott, Don Glover of Dermott, Teresa French of McGehee and Melinda French of McGehee.

“We appreciate and value our funders and supporters from near and far, who believe in our mission driven work, and who made it possible for the youth to experience a high level of experiential and interactive engagement,” said Alex Foundation Vice President Wyndolyn Adams.

The Alex Foundation is a 501(c) 3 nonprofit organization. The mission of the Alex Foundation is to engage youth in architecture, design and the built environment. For more information on the Alex Foundation or to donate, visit the Alex Foundation website.