During the winter months, the Upper Valley Haven’s Caruso Café undergoes a quick makeover each evening, transforming from a cafe, gathering place, and registration area for the Food Shelf to a temporary overnight shelter that can host 15 guests (and the reverse process occurs every morning). The change requires dedicated staff and volunteers, a lot of efficiency, and maximization of the space, which is at a premium at the Haven. This past spring, the student-led group, Dartmouth Humanitarian Engineering (DHE), began a project that will help improve those conditions—through the design process, they are developing a new sleeping cot for the Seasonal Shelter.
Nat Healy is the co-President of DHE, which started with two people and has grown to ten students. The research for the project started in his Introduction to Engineering course, where it ultimately was set to the side. It gained life past the research stage when Nat contacted the Haven to inquire whether this type of project could be helpful. Then Executive Director, Sara Kobylenski, had done some research of her own and knew a cot like the one we were looking for didn’t exist, so the DHE team started looking at improvements to an existing cot on the market. The current cots in use are camping cots, which are helpful for portability, but break often and require replacement; priorities for an alternative would be storage, comfort, and ease of set-up.
After research of existing options, DHE began to come up with a concept for a new stackable cot that would be easy to store, has zero set-up and is durable, without hinges or extra stretching of canvas that would create pressure points and lead to breakage. Last term, the group executed their testing and they have now moved on to creating prototypes that will be used in the Seasonal Shelter this winter.
The Haven is always eager for community connections, but Nat mentioned that a project like this is a special experience for the engineers as well. Many in DHE are incoming freshmen and projects like this provide hands-on experience that will show students physical outcomes as well as how their work can improve lives. This project will impact the comfort of the guests who seek shelter during the cold winter months, enhance the set-up process for staff and volunteers, and help the Haven’s bottom line with fewer equipment costs over time. We are incredibly grateful to Nat and his team for their investment in the Upper Valley Haven and the community!