PLANET Community Stewardship Award winner: Inside Out Design

July 2, 2014 -  By
For the Good Shepherd Catholic School project, Inside Out Design donated the master plan, 26 trees, a reclaimed pergola, plus labor and equipment for installation. Photos: Inside Out Design

For the Good Shepherd Catholic School project, Inside Out Design donated the master plan, 26 trees, a reclaimed pergola, plus labor and equipment for installation. Photos: Inside Out Design

Inside Out Design puts outdoor classrooms and environmental projects front and center of community efforts.

Last spring, 100 sets of little hands were digging in the dirt at Good Shepherd Catholic School in Frankfort, Ky. Overseeing their efforts to install a new outdoor classroom were Andrea Wilson Mueller and a four-person Inside Out Design crew. The team of elementary students and landscaping professionals planted 26 trees and sowed the seeds for the classroom.

“It’s by far the largest and most special space we have been able to donate because so many children and teachers get to use it,” says Mueller, co-owner of Inside Out Design.
Since their company’s inception, Mueller and her husband, co-owner Michael Mueller, have made outdoor classrooms and environmental causes the focal points of their community service.

Their passion for outdoor classrooms stems from their own idyllic youths, when Michael Mueller and his siblings played outside until sundown and Andrea Mueller splashed in a creek. In helping create an outdoor classroom, kids can dig in the dirt while learning lifelong lessons about plant life, habitats and the origins of food, they say.

It’s one of the most important issues to educate children about, Michael Mueller adds, because it sets the stage for their future health and environmental habits.

Environmental projects

With a father who was an assistant director of the U.S. Department of Interior, Michael Mueller has appreciated nature and wildlife for a lifetime. Today, he volunteers with wetlands advocacy group Ducks Unlimited, and for five years he has been a crew leader for Reforest Frankfort, which plants trees around the city one Saturday a year.

“A lot of our company will come and volunteer,” Michael Mueller says. “So many people come out who have never planted trees, so we take teams of 15 people and teach them how to do it. It’s a pretty big deal.”

Inside Out Design also donates a large tree to the cause, which is planted by city officials. It’s rewarding, Michael Mueller says, especially because “you can go back to some
of the first places we planted and see the progress.”

While he is reforesting Frankfort, Andrea Mueller’s serving on the board of the Frankfort Tree Coalition, which identifies and saves historic trees in the area. She also was part of a team that reduced parking space requirements for new construction in Frankfort. The achievement reduces runoff and pollution and preserves green space, among other benefits.

Inside Out Design staff members stand with the Haas family in their backyard after the company built raised beds and made other improvements with partners KB Construction and Woodland Tree Care. Photos: Inside Out Design

Inside Out Design staff members stand with the Haas family in their backyard after the company built raised beds and made other improvements with partners KB Construction
and Woodland Tree Care. Photos: Inside Out Design

The Haas family

But as close as environmental issues are to their hearts, the project the Muellers did for the Haas family last year was among the most memorable, they say. Subcontractors, vendors, two Inside Out Design crews and the couple came together to create a better life for a family that rises to their daughter’s battle every day.

Sylvie Haas can’t walk or verbalize what she needs. The 4-year-old has seizures, is vision-impaired and can eat only blended food.

But last year her life got a little better, thanks to Inside Out Design.

The company spearheaded a $6,000 renovation of the Haas’s backyard. It built four raised garden beds, where the family grows food Sylvie can eat. “That had the biggest impact,” Andrea Mueller says.

It also removed trees, installed a garden where the family can relax and added pavers to the patio so Sylvie’s wheelchair won’t track gravel into the house. “We feel giving to people like the Haases helps make their journey better by knowing there are people in the community who care and are there to support them,” Andrea Mueller says.

Impact of volunteering

Community service also has allowed Inside Out Design to forge lasting bonds with other local businesses
and residents.

“When the company gets involved with any project or organization, we meet new friends and contacts, which leads to more projects,” Andrea Mueller says. “When people in our community see we help others, I believe it makes them more likely to use our services. They can see we care and are making investments in our community.”

That community-driven mindset also has helped Inside Out Design gain its footing as a local service provider, Andrea Mueller says. “It gave our company a great backbone to grow on, with the right end in mind,” she says.

Plus, it gives its staff a sense of pride and accomplishment that inspires their own volunteerism outside of work.

“Part of our mission statement is ‘engaging fully with our community,’ and we act on that statement not only as a company, but as individuals,” Andrea Mueller says.

She adds it’s easy in today’s fast-paced world to worry about inconsequential things. But “helping others and building community is what matters,” she says. “The best way to do that is to choose doing something you love.”


At a Glance

Company: Inside Out Design
Location: Frankfort, Ky.
Co-owners: Andrea Wilson Mueller and Michael Mueller
Select Project Listing
▶ Good Shepherd Catholic School
The firm designed and donated an outdoor classroom for the elementary school so students can learn in nature. With students and teachers, the firm planted 26 trees, cut out paths and made other enhancements.
▶ Franklin County Public Schools
Inside Out Design worked with Go Frankfort to install two pollinator gardens for outdoor classrooms.
▶ Haas family project
Also in 2013, the company designed, installed and donated materials for a backyard project at the Haas home. Sylvie Haas, 4, has problems with vision, eating and walking, among other things. The garden enhancements the firm, its vendors and subcontractors donated made Haas’s life a little easier.

Photos: Inside Out Design

About the Author:

Geraci is a freelance writer based in Cleveland. She has worked as a professional journalist for more than 15 years, including six years as a writer for the Chicago Tribune. A graduate of Allegheny College and Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Geraci began her career as an editor at a newswire service in Washington, D.C., where she edited and distributed press releases from the White House and congressional leaders. She went on to become the community news reporter at the Jackson Hole Guide newspaper, winning two national feature writing awards. Her other experience includes working as a book editor in Chicago and as a professor of business communications at Cleveland State University.

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