'Building Heroes' craft miniature desks for Philadelphia students

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. (WPVI) -- "So many families in the city lack a space for their children to learn at home," said Alex Gilliam. "Not even a, like, room. I mean, just a desk or a surface."

The globetrotting problem-solver and community builder is using his West Philadelphia workshop to fix that problem.

"Philly row homes are really small and a lot of the desks that are on the market don't fit," said Gilliam, who is the co-founder of Tiny WPA.

Last month, they took a survey to assess how many desks and stools they would need to start with.

"In a week, we had, like 800 requests," said Gilliam.

Since then, Gilliam and his team of 'Building Heroes' have been drafting prototypes for the best type of desk to mass-produce while balancing efficiency, compactness, and beauty. Many artists and contractors have volunteered their time and resources, but Gilliam says they need more help to reach their current goal.

The tremendous need has escalated at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has forced families into their homes. That's why Gilliam has made these requested desks and stools free of charge. Eventually, he hopes to make them available for purchase with a 'buy-a-desk-give-a-desk" model.

The teenagers that breathe life into his workshop are ready to give back to their communities.

"I feel like we have to do this whole Avengers: Endgame thing where we have to assemble all the Building Heroes together," said Sky Chandler, 18, from Northeast Philadelphia.

Chandler is one of many young adults that come to Tiny WPA for an extra-curricular hobby which builds their self-confidence and trade skills.

"Me, personally, I would like a desk at home," he said. "So, this could be an alternative and we could do this for them."

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, community members would have been able to participate themselves. Tiny WPA typically prioritizes in-person collaborations within the neighborhood, such as creating and beautifying public spaces. Alex Gilliam is hoping to bring more locals into his program sooner than later.

"Whether it's through the desks and stools or other projects that Building Heroes are working on, we have the ability here to radically redefine how integral people of all ages can be in the designing and making of an even better Philadelphia," he said.

To learn more, get involved, or request a desk and stool, visit their website.

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