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For Allen Brooks, chief creative officer at Building Momentum, there is no division between the company’s business model and its philanthropy mission. It’s more accurate to say they organically support one another. From where he sits, doing good and doing well are one and the same goal.
“This is why we started the company—so that we could have the facility and capacity to do good in our community at the drop of a hat,” Brooks said.
The small company, based in Alexandria, Virginia, has been very busy this past year. In addition to continuing its regular business—focused on creative-problem solving solutions and training for mostly military, high-security, and educational clients—the company has prioritized serving its community in a tough year.
The key way Building Momentum has given back is through its “Desks Project.” Earlier this year, the company quickly saw they would not be able to help out as they had during past crises by going to a disaster area. This time the challenge was closer to home: How could they help provide a learning space for all children in the local community no matter what their school or living situation might be?
In a matter of days, Brooks and the Building Momentum team zeroed in on a solution: offering ready-to-build desks free of charge to anyone in the community who wanted one. The company developed a prototype, a local carpenter’s union donated $10,000 worth of lumber, and a solution was born. The desk would be offered free-of-charge to anyone requesting them in the Washington, D.C.-metro area. Additionally, they are available for free pick-up or delivery. The desks require no screws or glue and can be assembled in five minutes. So far, 500 desks have been requested and about 200 have been delivered.
“It doesn’t help if we make a desk for free but charge $30 for us to drop it off at your house,” Brooks said. “For a lot of families, $30 is the difference between dinner for a week and a desk for their kid to learn—and that’s a position that we refuse to put anyone in.”
Brooks explains that the families requesting desks do not live in large suburban homes and personal space is a rare commodity. Having a desk when most schools are learning virtually, offers children their own space.
“Either they are kids who are in families of essential workers—whose parents have to be at their jobs all day long—so these kids have to go to community centers just to get learning done,” Brooks said. “Or they are kids who are in a family of five, or six, or seven all living in a very small, cramped space who don’t have their own bed, let alone their own desk.”
The Desks Project has also created jobs: to ramp up the project and make desks, the company hired three people who had found themselves out of work due to the pandemic’s economic effects.
Casa Chirilagua, a non-profit serving the Arlandria neighborhood in northern Virginia near Reagan National Airport, has been one of the largest recipients and distributors of the desks. Adriana Gómez Schellhaas, executive director of Casa Chirilagua, said the non-profit has distributed over 50 desks to homes and learning centers in their community.
“The desks can collapse, it’s a perfect design for close quarters,” Schellhaas said. “The children can focus, they can decorate, make it their own. It’s their own space to do their schoolwork. Facing all the barriers with online learning: doing schooling from home while parents work, limited childcare, it’s barrier upon barrier. These desks have been an answer to a prayer for us and helping students overcome one of the many barriers with online learning.”
Brooks says that Building Momentum has no plans to charge for the desks and may offer the desk schematics for free on the Internet in the future. When asked why a profit-based company would do such things, he has a simple answer.
“Because it’s the right thing to do,” Brooks said. “We are a bad business in that we don’t really care about optimizing for bottom-line profit…We care about having the best people that we can surround ourselves with doing really good work in the world. And any profit that we make is funneled back into that philosophy.”
Building Momentum has also found other ways to innovate and give back during the pandemic. The company has developed 36 technologies to combat coronavirus (some having to do with safe ways to sanitize objects and surfaces) and started a local drive-in theater project which has generated over $130,000 in donations to non-profits, a huge sum for one small business.
“Every single penny—beyond the expenses to run the drive-in—goes directly into the hands of non-profits,” Brooks says. “Companies can do good. They can do cool things. Make money and give to people. It’s awesome.”
Brooks says that if more companies had the same perspective, more communities and, ultimately, corporations themselves would benefit.
“We’re all part of these communities,” Brooks said. “If you stick a bunch of companies together that all agree that their purpose is not to answer to the profit line, but rather to answer to the community that they are part of and to make it better by their presence—either through job growth, job creation, or infrastructure support–as that community improves, so does the capacity of that company to improve. It becomes symbiotic.”