Open Works is building learn-at-home desks for Baltimore city students - Technical.ly Baltimore

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Open Works is building learn-at-home desks for Baltimore city students

The makerspace is seeking to fill a gap for Baltimore youth by manufacturing and distributing desks for virtual schooling. The flat-pack design is open source.

A student with one of Open Works' flat-pack desks.

(Paint job by Dajuan, Photo courtesy of Open Works

Like many orgs navigating the pandemic, Open Works has made pivot after pivot as it sought to keep serving the community. The latest: Creating desks for students to use at home for virtual learning.

It’s the latest iteration of the Makers Unite project, which formed to crowdsource components and assemble face shields for frontline medical workers at the onset of COVID-19.

For the current effort, the nonprofit makerspace in Greenmount West worked with Desks by Dads to create dedicated desks for at-home learners in Baltimore City schools. With many stores backed up on desk orders because the whole world now works from home, Open Works has stepped in to get more desks to students that need them.

Desk by Dads was a Facebook group in Prince George’s County dedicated to building desks for virtual learners that couldn’t afford or find a desk, but they had a problem with distribution. Building desks isn’t as hard as delivering multiple fully-built desks. After all, a flatbed truck can only stack so many desks, so many ways. Open Works came in and designed a flat pack desk that can be assembled at home with students. Instead of delivering six fully built desks, the redesign made it possible to deliver 20 at a time.

workers standing at workbenches using saws and other tools

Making desks for Baltimore students at Open Works. (Courtesy photo)

So far, Open Works has delivered 175 desks to students, and manufactured 250. By June 15, it plans to create and deliver 1,000 desks for Baltimore youth. To subsidize the desks, Open Works has set up a pay it forward system where people can pay for the cost of the desk and stool for students. Additionally, the design is open source, so anyone who owns a Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machine, a heavy machine used to cut wood or other hard material can make a desk themselves.

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For Open Works, the initiative fills a need in the community, but also keeps their employees working and creates revenue for the nonprofit that lost a huge part of their revenue stream as a coworking space and maker education center. Innovations and pivots have become a needed, if exhausting, norm for the organization during the pandemic. First, there was the pivot that led to making 28,000 face shields for frontline workers. The team also introduced online workshops, revamped their reservation model and redesigned the coworking space for social distancing.

“We’ve just been pivoting until we’ve worn holes in the bottom of our shoes,” said Will Holman, executive director of Open Works.  “It has felt like an endless cycle of reactions to the moment to try and keep operating. While we’re doing all this, the community outside of our walls are struggling. Trying to figure out how we continue to be of service and help those worse off than us is a primary concern.”


Donte Kirby is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation.
Companies: Open Works
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