As a mom of three, Garcelle Beauvais knows how important teachers are in shaping kids' lives — and now she's saying thank you in one of the best ways she knows how: through good design.
The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star and design enthusiast, 53, recently teamed up with HomeGoods to make over the previously bland teachers' lounge at Benjamin Franklin K-8 Center in Miami, Florida, where Beauvais, who was born in Haiti, grew up.
"HomeGoods wanted to find a school that we could refurbish and give back to the teachers in a way that would really give them a cool space to be inspired and hang out," Beauvais tells PEOPLE. "And this particular school, Benjamin Franklin, has predominantly Haitian children. So it just spoke to me on so many different levels that it really was a no-brainer."
Together, the actress — who is also known for her roles in The Jamie Foxx Show and NYPD Blue — and the popular home store brought the school's teachers' lounge from drab to fab, bringing in pops of colors, new furniture, fresh greenery and inspiring decor to help breathe new life into the space.
"Before, it was just a sterile room, really, no life to it. It was just sort of bland," Beauvais says. "So when the teachers walked in and saw what we did, they were speechless. Their mouths were open. They were truly amazed."
The heartwarming moment was captured in the video above. The surprise was even more emotional, she says, because the teachers had recently endured the loss of one of their colleagues.
"We did a memorial plaque and it was just really emotional and they were so appreciative," Beauvais explains.
In addition to the plaque, Beauvais also decorated using inspirational artwork — including signs reading, "Superhero Lounge" and "If it was easy, everyone would do it" — and created a gratitude jar where the teachers can give and receive kind messages.
"It's just inviting and warm and a place they can go whether it's grading papers or just taking a moment for them and having a cup of tea," Beauvais says, adding that good design can make a huge difference in one's day and mood.
"You want the teachers to be inspired, because if they're inspired, they will then, in turn, inspire the kids. And that's really what we want them to do," she continues, adding that the teachers she had as a little girl in Miami really worked to shape her into the woman she is today.
"When I first came to the United States, I didn't speak English and teachers inspired me to dream big," Beauvais says. "I couldn't possibly have dreamt the life that I have today if it wasn't for them giving me the permission to, because I didn't even know it existed."
She continues: "My sister, Chantal, is a vice-principal at a school in Miami also, and that's where my family is. And when I go there, it just brings me back to all the good memories I have about being from Haiti. So being able to give back to a Haitian community is everything to me."
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With the new school year on the horizon, Beauvais says she's thrilled that her two youngest sons, twins Jax and Jaid, 13, will be able to go back to school in person — especially after struggling through the last year learning from home.
"I can't wait for this new year when they get to go back," she says, "and I can't thank [teachers] enough for taking my kids for hours at a time. We just don't give them enough credit."
"Teachers can definitely set the tone for where you go in life," she says. "So we've got to give them what they deserve."