The CIRD Team

The Citizens' Institute on Rural Design™ (CIRD) is a leadership initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts conducted in partnership with the Housing Assistance Council.


The National Endowment for the Arts funds and oversees the CIRD program. The NEA was established by Congress in 1961 as an independent agency of the federal government. To date, NEA has awarded over $4 billion to support artistic excellence, creativity, and innovation to the benefit of individuals and communities. The NEA extends its work through the partnership with state arts agencies, local leaders, other federal agencies, and the philanthropic sector.

The Housing Assistance Council is a national nonprofit that strengthens communities across rural America through investment and assistance with affordable housing and community and economic development. Based in Washington, DC, HAC is actively involved in shaping federal policy and the affordable housing industry with its research, lending and conferences. We also deliver technical assistance, training and affordable loans to local organizations that help rural communities prosper.

TBD (To Be Done Studio) harnesses the inherent goodness in people and the power of design to create sustainable solutions to the endemic problems that our world faces. We seek a relevant practice, one which is accessible to all rather than the few. To do so, we design and build spaces that uplift, inspire and support power within the communities we work.




Community Placemaking Program Manager
Housing Assistance Council

Born and raised in Michigan, on the ancestral lands of the Potawatomi peoples, Hillary earned a bachelor's degree in Art History from Kendall College of Art and Design before serving in the Peace Corps as a Youth Developer teaching ESL and Art in Morocco, North Africa. Following her Peace Corps service, Hillary completed a Coverdell Fellowship at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF), where she earned a M.S. in Rural Development. Hillary also holds a M.A. certificate in nonprofit management.  For more than a decade in the nonprofit sector, Hillary has worked nationwide with indigenous communities in the arts and tribal public health fields, focusing on program management and technical assistance. Hillary continues to volunteer to for several organizations supporting rural and tribal arts.  

Hillary is thrilled to be supporting CIRD as a Program Manager and building upon the fantastic programming, collaboration, and engagement that serves rural and tribal communities.



Director of Training and Technical Assistance
Housing Assistance Council

Shonterria Charleston brings to her work both a military sense of duty to get the job done and dedication to serve those in need.

Charleston has relied on both instincts during her 21 year career at the Housing Assistance Council, a national organization that helps build homes and communities across rural America.



To Be Done Studio

Omar Hakeem, AIA, is an architect working in the DC area as well as nationally to bring greater social and environmental equality through thoughtful design and planning. His work has been focused on geographical, social cultural frontiers and works to address the systemic poverty, health issues that plague these communities. Through these efforts he has completed award winning affordable housing, rapid response disaster housing prototypes, urban bike and pedestrian infrastructure, regional drainage improvements and community based rural planning initiatives. Omar’s passion for design has taken him from the cloud forests of Costa Rica to the ravaged communities of the Gulf Coast and many places in between. Omar was recently named one of Grists 50 Fixers for his work on climate resilient housing solutions. He is the principal and founder of To Be Done Studio.



Research Associate
Housing Assistance Council

Manda LaPorte is a Research Associate at the Housing Assistance Council. Her areas of interest include farmworker housing, placemaking and community development, and rural housing policy. Prior to HAC, she served as a Peace Corps Volunteer and a Peace Corps Response Volunteer in Nicaragua and Guatemala, respectively. After her service, she worked for Habitat for Humanity in the Greater Charlottesville area in a variety of bilingual positions ranging from construction to financial coaching. Manda holds a B.A. in Global Studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara and an M.S. in Political Science with a focus in Applied Community and Economic Development from Illinois State University.



Project Manager
To Be Done Studio

Caitlin MacKenzie, Project Manager at To Be Done Studio, combines her expertise in rural affordable housing development, institutional advancement, and architectural design to give full-circle support to each project. She holds a Masters in Architecture from the University of Washington. Her previous work as a grant and loan underwriter at HAC and rural housing developer in Maryland and Maine helped clients negotiate complex funding pathways. Her seasoned skills in building community support, site development, and project management, support stakeholders at every step of the design/build process. She is excited to have the opportunity to draw on both her design background and community development work with TBD.



Senior Project Designer
To Be Done Studio

Candace was born and raised on the small Caribbean island of St. Christopher (St. Kitts), where the importance of community and looking out for one’s neighbor was instilled in her from an early age. From early on in her career, Candace has carried these values into architecture - approaching her work with the deep belief that the input of residents who personally understand the history, assets and challenges of a community is critical to design and that thoughtful design should be accessible to all.

Candace has had the opportunity to work on various project types and scales throughout her ten-year career, ranging from housing and mixed-use developments to education and healthcare. Candace is excited to bring her passion for creating impactful long-term solutions through research and engagement.



To Be Done Studio

Brandon is a Designer at To Be Done Studio and holds a Bachelor of Architecture from the School of Architecture at Virginia Tech. Their work seeks to balance an affective and speculative potential in architecture—situating its process in narratives informed by social, political, and environmental contexts. Their current interests involve a direction toward collective/community stewardship within the realization of projects. They continue to pursue these realities of architecture that respond to and work for the communities+environments in which they exist.

Their experience has allowed them to collaborate on varying projects, ranging programmatically from commercial to residential. Bringing their strength and passions to supplement discursive practices. Notably, affordable housing projects, "New Neighborhood Block" and "H.P.H.S," synthesize housing potential with new construction methodologies. And recently, their contribution to the designs of NRDC's new Chicago office. They hope to continue their growth to realize these hopes for architecture and our built environment.



Design Specialist
National Endowment for the Arts

Courtney manages the Design program for the National Endowment for the Arts, overseeing the agency’s relationship with and support for the design field nation-wide. She also coordinates the Citizens’ Institute on Rural Design, working with small-town, rural, and tribal community leaders to enhance the quality of life and economic vitality of rural America through planning, design, and creative placemaking. Courtney has also worked with arts and design non-profits, in landscape architecture practice, and with a tech startup. Her educational background is in landscape architecture, architectural history, and art history, with degrees from University of Virginia and Rice University.



Director of Design & Creative Placemaking
National Endowment for the Arts

Ben Stone is the director of Design and Creative Placemaking at the National Endowment for the Arts. In this position, he manages the NEA’s grantmaking for design and creative placemaking, and oversees the Mayors’ Institute on City Design, the Citizens’ Institute for Rural Design, and the Creative Placemaking Technical Assistance Program. Previously, Ben served as Smart Growth America’s (SGA) inaugural director of Arts & Culture, leading the advocacy organization’s efforts to integrate the arts into neighborhood revitalization, equitable community development, and transportation planning and design. Prior to SGA, Ben served as executive director for Station North, where he transformed central Baltimore’s arts district into a national model for arts-based revitalization, civic engagement, and creative placemaking. Ben’s educational background includes city planning, American studies, and studio art with degrees from MIT, Tufts University, and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. 



Special Projects Manager
Housing Assistance Council

Before joining HAC as a Government Relations Manager and now Special Projects Manager, Stephen Sugg worked as a U.S. Senate staffer, a state-level higher education lobbyist, and as a senior policy officer at the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC). Stephen is a published short story writer. He holds a master’s degree in rural sociology from the University of Missouri and a doctorate from the College of William and Mary. His academic research interests include rural education, place-based education, and environmental education. Stephen spent four years as an adjunct faculty member at St. Leo University and Tidewater Community College.


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