Design Serves

Training Youth as Civic Innovators

Design Serves equips adolescents with the tools and experiences to nurture their development as creative change makers who will impact socio-economic development within their communities. Using their local neighborhoods as learning spaces, youth identify what they deserve in their communities, and then use the D*Serve process to design and develop solutions that help rethink local cultural dynamics, socio-economy, physical spaces, and policies.


Design Serves is guided by a relentless belief that youth can trailblaze creative social progress and development. We equip youth with the skills, tools, and competencies needed to address challenges in their communities, but ultimately they are the changemakers.

Our vision for all youth we engage is that they emerge from the D*Serve experience with the abilities to:

  • Think critically and creatively about community needs and issues,
  • Develop the skills, tools, processes and knowledge necessary to identify progressive and sustainable solutions,
  • Create visual voice in the advocacy of others, and
  • Contribute dynamically to society as young creative civic leaders.


The idea for D*Serve was sparked in December 2010 by designer, De Andrea Nichols, during a visit to her childhood hometown of Cleveland, MS. A personal tour of the town revealed great stillness in development since her time there as a youth, and this sparked a service-for-story exchange that helped local youth serve older adults.

Design Serves was then crowdfunded via Kickstarter June 1, 2011, which allowed Nichols to work with as a Project M Lab designer in Greensboro, AL, and redevelop community spaces after a series of tornadoes leveled parts of Hale County.  From this experience, COMMON Hoops was launched, which now operates in Chicago, IL.

In 2013, Design Serves was awarded and slated as a featured Commitment to Action by the Clinton Global Initiative University. With support from the Sodexo Foundation and Youth Service America, it executed its first large project in St. Louis, MO, during the 2013 Global Youth Service Day.

With additional funding by the Gephardt Institute for Public Service, Design Serves launched its first D*Serve youth venture September 2013 with the community of Pagedale, MO.


Design Serves Projects






In America, youth poverty and unemployment plague over 16.4 million youth (under age 18). Accounting 22% of this population, youth poverty is the highest it has been since 1993.

Poverty is linked with negative socio-economic outcomes in communities, including substandard housing, inadequate health care, under-resourced schools and infrastructure, and more. This leaves impacted youth more susceptible to poor academic achievement, less readiness for postsecondary education and high-wage employment, decreased civic engagement, and negative behavioral outcomes.

Design Serves places education at the height of this by transforming youth’s communities into their classroom for learning and creative civic engagement.