Court Appointed Special Advocates of Grant County has been operating out of a new location for about a month.
The organization moved into 303 S. Norton Ave., next to Cancer Services of Grant County, on May 22 and officially opened the new place May 27, CASA Executive Director Leslie Hendricks said.
CASA had a ribbon cutting and open house Thursday.
The move wasn’t exactly planned, but it has turned into a “blessing in disguise,” Hendricks said. The former location at 904 W. Third St. was about 1,300 square feet, and the new structure is 2,700 square feet, allowing the organization room to grow if needed.
CASA and First Light Child Advocacy Center shared the property on Third Street, moving into the building in April 2011. The move provided both agencies with more space and was a cost-saving measure for both. First Light purchased the building and still owns it, while CASA, as part of the agreement, paid utilities.
But Hendricks said her organization in January was asked to be out of the building by June because First Light needed the entire building.
First Light Executive Director Janet Bailey said the number of children interviewed by the organization doubled last year.
“We really have been seeing a lot more families and children, and it’s getting to the point where we’re seeing enough of them that at times they overlap,” she said. “So, for confidentiality and privacy, what we have done is we’ve moved our office part to the front where CASA was.”
The former office area has been turned into another waiting room, and another office will be used as a supply room because First Light has more clothing and personal hygiene items that have been donated for the kids.
Another board room also is being created. In the past, whenever there has been a board meeting, one room is tied up so if there is an emergency interview that needs to be done, it cannot happen until after the meeting.
First Light last month interviewed 70 children — about twice as many kids as the organization usually sees. On Thursday, officials finished their 13th interview of the week, Bailey said.
She said she wasn’t concerned about paying for the property and the utilities without CASA’s help.
“We could always use the funds, there’s no doubt about that,” she said. “We just have to do more fundraisers. But it was necessary to accommodate the space.”
She said she knows CASA needed more room too.
“It’s helped all the way around,” Bailey said. “We wished them well, and as always we support CASA wholeheartedly and believe in their mission.”
The two boards met in January to work out a plan.
Hendricks said the move was unexpected, but she agreed it turned into a win/win situation for everyone involved.
After looking at multiple vacant properties, she and a special committee comprised of board members agreed to purchase the former Gary Oradat property.
“It was the first property that we took a look at,” Hendricks said. “When we walked into it, it really was already configured in a manner that would fit our needs perfectly. Very little construction was needed. It was a quick turnaround.”
CASA Board President Darrell Smith said the listed price of the property was more than $100,000, but Grant County State Bank gave $40,000, so the organization only had to pay about $60,000. The Community Foundation of Grant County gave an $18,000 grant to help with building upgrades and decorations.
Inmate work crews from the Grant County Jail, many of whom have children who are part of the CASA program, spent about a month working on the building, Smith said.
“It’s been a great community event,” he said. “We’re able to give back to the community to make the community stronger.”
He said CASA is trying to help kids before they end up in the system.
“We need to help them before they even come to court,” he said.
Superior Court 2 Judge Dana Kenworthy attended the open house and said she was impressed with the building renovations.
The first thing she noticed was the space — there is enough room for the volunteers to visit with the kids and get on the floor to play with them as opposed to going somewhere else to talk to them.
It also allows for future growth, which might be necessary, Kenworthy said. The program has grown in the number of volunteers, and once the organization has so many volunteers, an additional staff member will be needed.
CASA volunteer Martha Miller said the new building is beautiful and has plenty of parking. She is at CASA once or twice each month.
“The whole room can be used for kids, and there is more room for classes and board meetings,” she said. “There is also plenty of privacy.”
Other amenities the property offers include accessible parking, Hendricks said. It’s also one-level, is halfway between the Department of Child Services and the Grant County Courthouse, where the volunteers go, and has extra office space.
“We’re so blessed,” she said. “I’ve been here for five years, and when I started we were in a single room. It kind of brings tears to my eyes because it’s a testimony to how the community has stepped up and realized what we do is valuable and that what we do affects the lives of children.”
State CASA Director Leslie Dunn, who stopped by the open house, said she was pleased with the work the Grant County organization is doing.
She said the inside of the new office is beautiful, and she especially liked how welcoming she felt by the plants, paint color, quotations and pictures on the walls. She described the atmosphere as “comforting and safe.”
Dunn said she was even more impressed, however, with the community support she saw in Grant County. Board members, volunteers, judges and law enforcement were all represented at the open house — not something she sees in other communities.
“People came together to accomplish a goal,” she said. “It shows what a quality program it is. (Grant County) has one of the best directors, and I don’t see that everywhere I go.”
Dunn said she hopes the new building allows CASA to attract more volunteers and eliminate the waiting list the county has. More than 3,000 kids in the state are waiting on a CASA.
The state organization is preparing to push for more volunteers across the state and will go to legislators during the next session to ask for more money, Dunn said.
“I want all the kids to have a CASA because if they don’t have a CASA, then they don’t have anybody advocating for them,” she said.