De­sign­ers, vol­un­teers do­nated time so kids in need could meet their court-ap­pointed ad­vo­cates in a calm­ing and safe space

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Colleen Smith

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.”

He­len H. Richard­son, The Den­ver Post

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.

He­len H. Richard­son, The Den­ver Post

De­sign­ers wanted the liv­ing room to be com­fort­able and homey.

He­len H. Richard­son, The Den­ver Post

De­sign­ers used sooth­ing col­ors in the CASA home.

He­len H. Richard­son, The Den­ver Post

The din­ing room in the CASA house. “You can drive en­ergy just off de­sign,” said Amer­i­can So­ci­ety of In­te­rior De­sign­ers pres­i­dent Lynn Coit.

He­len H. Richard­son, The Den­ver Post

The liv­ing room of the CASA house.

He­len H. Richard­son, The Den­ver Post

The CASA house’s art room.

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