Kansas City, Mo., designer Stephanie Stroud entered the Design for a Difference contest, sponsored by CCA Global’s International Design Guild (IDG), with hopes of being chosen as the winner, and receiving the opportunity to do just that—lend her design talent to make a difference in the Kansas City community.

Stroud, who learned about the contest from her local IDG showroom, Madden-McFarland, is an independent designer who had worked with the retailer prior to the contest. “I’ve worked with Madden-McFarland for years, so I knew if they were promoting something it had to be something good.”

The national contest was open to members of IDG’s Designer Program. To enter, qualified designers needed to complete an entry form at a participating IDG showroom—sharing in detail their design concept for a local charity of their choice that is in need of a makeover.

A panel of judges then selected the winning entry, naming one designer the national winner of the contest and four designers regional winners.

Stroud’s design, featuring a whimsical, park-like space for Operation Breakthrough—a Kansas City organization that provides children with a safe, loving and educational environment—was chosen as the national winning design.

“Operation Breakthrough is an organization that I’ve been involved with occasionally over the years and was familiar with, and knew that it needed some help,” said Stroud.

According to contest judges, Stroud’s entry was chosen for its design appeal, and ability to have a powerful and positive impact. Stroud and Madden-McFarland received $25,000 in goods and services to execute the design for Operation Breakthrough.

“One of the regional winners last year was one of our designers from Kansas City,” said Mary Madden of Madden-Mcfarland. “When [IDG] held the contest again this year, we were happy to participate; but this time, she was the grand prize winner.”

In addition to the $25,000 in goods and services Stroud received as the grand prize winner of the contest, the help of additional sponsorships, donations and contributions from Kansas City businesses allowed Stroud and Madden-Mcfarland to redesign four rooms at Operation Breakthrough.

“When [IDG] initially awarded $25,000 in goods and services, we thought we would really have to very carefully sort through all the needs of the center and determine the priorities,” said Madden-Mcfarland. “But upon their arrival in Kansas City, and after visiting the center and hearing about all the services they provide, IDG pulled out all the stops and extended the scope of the project significantly by utilizing its influence in the industry, and purchasing power, to secure far more than the $25,000 award could have ever paid for. It was truly remarkable. They really said ‘no’ to nothing.”

She credits a great deal of the project’s success to the incredible resources and staff of IDG and Design for a Difference.

With Madden-Mcfarland and Stroud receiving local recognition for their makeover, both agree that participating in this contest was about much more than gaining recognition and business.

“I don’t believe it was about helping our business,” said Madden-Mcfarland. “It was really just about giving back to the community, sharing our talents and our resources in a way that ultimately helped provide a beautiful and functional environment in a facility that otherwise was only able to offer outstanding services. They never had the luxury of creating an aesthetically pleasing, functional place for the mothers and families to gather. They worked with whatever donated items were sent their way, and did their best with what they were given. This contest allowed the designers to literally transform the space into something they can be so proud of. It was truly remarkable.”

Taking it Local

The popularity of this contest and the concept of retailers and designers partnering to give back to the communities they love is spreading like wildfire. In Indianapolis, Blakely’s Flooring has taken the contest to the next level.

A regional winner of the 2013 Design for a Difference contest, Blakely’s continued the momentum in 2014 with the help of one of the 2013 regional winners, designer Deanna Whetstone of Whetstone & Associates.

“[Deanna] did such a magnificent job on the regional level that it turned out to be more than a $50,000 makeover,” said Allen Gindt, retail manager of Blakley’s. “All because of her passion and her efforts and all of what she did to make that a bigger project than anyone ever expected.”

Now a spokesperson of the contest, Whetstone has once again partnered with Blakely’s, this time for a pilot program, Design for a Difference Indianapolis.

Sponsored by local Indianapolis businesses, this local version of the national contest is open to members of the IDG Designer Program who are registered with Blakley’s. The winner of this contest also receives $25,000 to provide a makeover for a local charity of their choice.

Barb Fleming, president and designer at BAF Corp. was the first winner of Design for a Difference Indianapolis.

Well connected with industry businesses in the city, Fleming, with the help of Whetstone and Blakely’s, was able to get quite a few contributors and donations for the project, in addition to the $25,000 she received in goods and products as the contest winner. According to Gindt, a total of $75,000 in materials and labor was used for the renovation of Fleming’s selected charity, Outside the Box.

But it didn’t stop there.

Gindt found that local businesses did not hesitate to help with the project. “All you have to do is ask and it seems like businesses want to help.” In fact, on the night before the design reveal, a company called and pledged an additional $25,000 for future Outside the Box renovation needs.

As a result of working with Fleming on this project, Blakely’s gained additional business, however, like Stroud and Madden-Mcfarland, Gindt believes the contest is about much more than gaining business.

“Part of this is to build relationships and to get extra business from the designers, but really what this is about is giving back to the community,” he said.

As a result of how well the Indianapolis pilot project went, both Gindt and IDG see the potential for major growth for the Design for a Difference contest on both the national and local levels in the future.