Executive Director and Founder of Joy Collaborative, Mark Ostrom, has a long history of working with those affected by life-limiting conditions. While in college studying design, Mark began working with an organization that helped kids with clef palates. It was during that time that he connected with the families and individuals affected by this condition and learned where they needed the most support.
It wasn’t until years later, on Mark’s first major design project (the Rainforest Café in the Mall of America) that he realized his idea of starting a non-profit. The restaurant was designed in sound and feel, like a genuine rainforest with animatronic animals, fake plants, and even weather affects. According to Mark, "At some point, I thought, "They're serving food here, but this is a unique experience. How can I bring that great design experience to families I knew?" Seeing how the Rainforest Cafe become a destination for happiness, and then watching families enjoy their time in that space inspired Mark to bring that same experience to the youth he had worked with back in college.
Mark’s combined experiences finally led him to start the Minneapolis non-profit, Joy Collaborative in 2019, which was created to bring a better quality of life to youth affected with life-limiting conditions. The Joy Collaborative does this through “Joy rooms.” Joy Rooms are uniquely designed spaces that allow families to have greater control of daily living, as well as granting more autonomy to the youth themselves. Referrals for Joy Rooms come from parents, medical practitioners, health care workers and close friends to recipients. And once selected, these spaces are funded through generous donors, trade partners and sponsors, never at any cost to the family.
The non-profit now has a board of directors and over 100 volunteer staff. It has completed 4 "Joy Rooms" for youth with wide-ranging concepts from a physical therapy jungle gym basement to an ADHD-complementary treehouse bedroom to a soccer stadium playroom. Its designers are set to complete five more projects in 2022 and have already begun booking for next year. Joy Collaborative has a goal of 6 to 8 builds a year at its current staff and volunteer numbers.
The non-profit recently completed a Joy Room called "The Bennett Project." The non-profit's youth client, Bennett, is diagnosed with spina bifida, and his doctor required that he prioritize physical therapy to stay healthy. Bennett's family was having difficulty providing their son with the space needed to support his physical needs. "The Bennet Project" started as a family basement that was used as half storage, half hangout room—but could not suit Bennett's physical needs. In renovating the space, Joy Collaborative goal became: "How many opportunities can we create for him to get physical in this space?" Says Mark.
Joy Collaborative stepped in and renovated the family basement into a Minnesota Twins baseball-theme physical therapy jungle gym. Now, the room better complies with Bennett's spina bifida and allows him to be an active kid. "His personality and his character really come through in the room design. It's very purposeful and very spirited. It supports his need for physical therapy in many covert and nuanced ways," Said Mark.
Beyond building Joy Rooms, Joy Collaborative creates spaces for organizations that help youth. This year the non-profit completed a "Serenity Space" inside a Minnesota Ronald McDonald House and is currently working to build a room for an adult living shelter in Uptown, Minneapolis. In the next few years, Mark plans to create more accessible mental and physical health products for youth in need. "If someone wants to create a spectacular Joy Room in their house and isn't in our financial parameters—talk to us and let's create something fantastic for your kid," Said Mark.
The work of Joy Collaborative has been so successful, people have reached out to Mark from other states to ask if the non-profit could take its work nationally. "It would be really easy for me to say that I would love us to be a national relief organization, but the need is so great right here," says Mark: "The facet will never turn off." So until then, Joy Collaborative will be continuing the work Mark started back in college helping those in need, right here in Minnesota.
For more information on Joy Collaborative, visit joycollaborative.org or call (612) 245-8453.