Playhouse helps county’s neglected children

Tim Windholz, of Cardinal Construction, work to build a two-story playhouse at his home in west Lawrence. Windholz is utilizing donated material from local companies to build the house for the 17th Annual Casa4CASA fundraiser. For a donation people can enter a drawing to win the playhouse.

A miniature cottage is going to have a huge effect on children’s lives.

Not only will it bring smiles to the faces of the lucky ones who get to play in it, but it will raise funds to help those who are abused and neglected.

The playhouse is part of the 17th annual fundraiser for Douglas County CASA, which provides trained volunteers to work one-on-one with children who have been removed from their homes. The volunteers are called CASAs, or court-appointed special advocates.

“This is a wonderful community awareness opportunity just to let more people know what CASA does, and the fact that it is a house kind of ties in very nicely with our acronym,” said Diana Frederick, CASA executive director.

The playhouse will be on display until July 19 at various locations in Lawrence where people can donate a dollar for a chance to win the playhouse and learn more about the nonprofit agency. The event typically raises about $15,000 for Douglas County CASA, which served 77 children last year.

“The funds raised from this event represent a pretty good chunk of our budget, so we are able to serve more children as a result of funds raised from this benefit,” Frederick said.

She said they were lucky the Lawrence community, especially the builders, designers and suppliers, were so giving. Some CASA organizations in the state have dropped their playhouse fundraisers because of lack of support.

“The fact that Lawrence has such a generous community and that we’ve been able to find a designer and architect and builder every year, just speaks volumes, I think, for the compassion and concern that the Lawrence community shows.”

Gene Fritzel designed the two-story, 7- by 13-foot playhouse, and Tim Windholz, of Cardinal Construction, built it. Both said it was a collaborative effort that involved many donations and volunteers.

Windholz, who estimated the house’s value at $5,000, described it as a “little fairy-tale cottage.”

The playhouses are always one of a kind. Last year’s house was a fisherman’s cottage. Other themes have included a Japanese Zen sanctuary, Renaissance-style castle and whimsical house fit for Dr. Seuss.

Lisa Barnes, Lawrence, recalls driving behind a playhouse years ago as it was being transported from one location to another.

“I was following that crazy playhouse down the street,” she said. “It was so darn cute. I wanted to follow it wherever it went.”

Barnes didn’t actually follow the playhouse, but she did follow through with plans to become a CASA volunteer. Last week, she completed the required 30 hours of training.

“It’s a good volunteer opportunity where you really do something and not just sell tickets or are a name on a list,” she said. “You are a really active participant for a good cause.”

Barnes said she was “nervous, but excited” about helping children who get caught in the crosshairs of bad situations.

“We are an extra set of ears and eyes, and we get to interview the child and family and everybody involved in the child’s life and report back to the judge,” she said. “We also offer recommendations in the interests of that child.”

Barnes said she hoped the playhouse drew attention to “a good organization and a good cause.”

The winner of this year’s playhouse will be drawn during a party from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. July 19 at Cielito Lindo restaurant, 815 N.H. The event is open to the public and costs $40. A silent auction has been added to the night’s festivities when the agency also recognizes the Honorable Jean F. Shepherd Volunteer of the Year Awards to a CASA volunteer and a Citizens Review Board volunteer.

How to help

The Casa4CASA playhouse will be on display at the following locations: July 7-10 and July 14-16, The Community Mercantile, 901 S. Iowa; July 11-13, Kohl’s Department Store, 3240 S. Iowa; July 17, Downtown Lawrence Sidewalk Sale, Ninth and Massachusetts streets; July 18, Wal-Mart, 3300 Iowa St.; July 19, Farmers’ Market, 824 N.H. Donations of $1 will be accepted at the locations for the opportunity to win the playhouse. Donations also can be made at the CASA office, 1100 Mass., Suite 302, and the Mercantile.

The winner will be drawn at a Casa4CASA party from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. July 19 at Cielito Lindo restaurant, 815 N.H.

For more information, call CASA at 832-5172.