A CALMING, SOOTHING CASA FOR CHILDREN
Designers, volunteers donated time so kids in need could meet their court-appointed advocates in a calming and safe space
It took a village of volunteers to transform a run-down Denver square on Capitol Hill into a homey spot for kids and their court-appointed advocates to hang out together.
A team of volunteers stripped peeling paint, crumbling plaster and battered floorboards to prep for a renovation that drew a new headquarters for Denver’s Court Appointed Special Advocates — or CASAs — from the tired old house, its walls painted in calming colors and spaces designed to convey a sense of peace and safety, if only for an afternoon.
CASAs are trained and vetted volunteers who assist children who have been removed from their homes during dependency and neglect cases. Founded in 1977, CASAs advocate for kids in 49 states. There are 16 Colorado CASA locations, five in metro Denver.
CASAs typically meet twice a month with their assigned kids and often their siblings.
“This house is nicer than most kids have at home,” said Nancy Stewart, CASA Denver executive director. “Some have suffered severe abuse, witnessed domestic violence, have parents who are addicts, or for other reasons are under the care of the Department of Human Services. CASAs are assigned to get to know the child and act as their voice. This house is a place for them to be that’s more homey.”
Owned by the neighboring Metropolitan Community Church of the Rockies, the house was built at 960 Clarkson St. in 1910 as a pastor’s home, but had served as the church’s office space and then sat empty for a couple of years. CASA Denver’s “before” photographs showed exposed wiring and dimly lit rooms cluttered with cardboard boxes.
The redesign was led by members of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) and carried out by church congregants, including Final Touch Construction owner Glen Bullock. Together, the volunteer laborers redid the floors and kitchen, pulled down walls and painted to prepare the stately old house “for the designers to work their magic,” Stewart said.
“Our vision was to have a place where CASAs could bring kids to spend time without spending their own money. CASAs already give their time,” Stewart said. “Here, they can bake cookies or a birthday cake, play Wii and other games. Kids want to be here. They want stability and routine. They want to know they’re safe.”
ASID president Lynn Coit marshaled volunteer designers and organized them into teams. Each team redecorated a room in the house.
“When children come into this space, design matters,” Coit said. “They’re not coming from the best home environment, and they get interested in the painting or the red chairs. Children see these things and remember these places, and it changes the energy. You can drive energy just off design.”
The “after” photos of CASA Denver spotlight inviting rooms with chic appointments: handsome window treatments, fine art, and on a bay window-seat, a quartet of pillows appliqued with letters that spell “CASA,” which also is the Spanish-language word for “home.”
Stewart and her staff have offices in the house, and the welcome mat is out from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week. There is an open-door policy for anyone working in the realm of human services.
“This house is open to all CASA programs, not just Denver,” Stewart said. “I want it to be used. It’s a central location, and CASAs with kids, caseworkers, clinicians, therapists or juvenile court lawyers can stop by to use our Wi-Fi, grab something to eat or just hang out.”
ASID member Ann Wolff designed and donated the leaded glass windows flanking the fireplace in the dining room.
“Those two areas were just begging to be filled — a very traditional place for glass. I wanted something that was a nod to the architecture of the older house, with a bit of con- temporary blue bevel and German rondels,” said Wolff, who owns Ann Wolff Glass Design.
“It was nice to participate and nice to see people so generous to those less fortunate in these trying times,” she said. “When social services are being cut by this administration, it is good that other people step up.”
In fact, three volunteers from the design project became CASAs.
“These projects can turn the light on in some people that hadn’t volunteered in a while,” said Coit, who has served on a number of boards. “There’s gratification in making a difference. The real heroes are the CASAs and all the people working for similar nonprofit organizations.”
Denver Juvenile Court Judge Laurie A. Clark praised the effectiveness and importance of CASAs.
“They have more time to devote to the children and family then other professionals, so they often are able to observe nuances. This additional information is very helpful in making sound decisions in the best interest of children,” the judge wrote in an email.
“I find CASAs involvement with cases very effective, especially when children are placed in foster care,” she wrote. “They are visited more frequently and are less likely to feel they are lingering outside his or her family and possibly forgotten.”
The American Society of Interior Designers gave their time, money, expertise and other materials to redesign an older home for use by Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASAs, to give the children and their advocates a nice place to meet.
Designers wanted the living room to be comfortable and homey.
Designers used soothing colors in the CASA home.
The dining room in the CASA house. “You can drive energy just off design,” said American Society of Interior Designers president Lynn Coit.
The living room of the CASA house.
The CASA house’s art room.