FAYETTEVILLE — There are few opportunities to see grown men attempt to clamber up a child-sized firemen’s pole, but it happened more frequently than not at the ninth annual CASA Playhouse Palooza, held Saturday (April 28) at the Northwest Arkansas Convention Center.
The event benefiting Court Appointed Special Advocates of Northwest Arkansas, featured dinner, drinks, live music, silent auctions and bidding on extravagant, 80-square-foot playhouses designed and built by local vendors exclusively for CASA.
One in particular, “Engine Co. #1,” won the People’s Choice Award as the favorite playhouse. Guests were impressed with the working fireman’s pole in the center of the playhouse, the playhouse’s maze of ladders and an exterior slide winding down from the second story.
CASA of NWA serves Washington, Benton, Madison and Carroll counties with a staff of eight employees and nearly 150 trained volunteers.
Volunteers are appointed to accompany children and “be their voice” as their cases go through the court system. CASA fights for the rights of abused, neglected and foster home children, said Sarah Evans, a Playhouse Palooza committee member. The organization served more than 400 children in court cases last year, said development director Diane Byram. However, there were nearly 1,000 cases of reported child abuse in the same year.
“We don’t have a CASA for every child yet,” Byram said. “But we hope to one day.”
Fundraisers like Playhouse Palooza fund the activities and work of advocates and go toward the training of new advocates. The event raised $58,000 in 2011; the goal for this year’s event was $70,000
But why playhouses?
“There are many children within the court system and foster system who don’t even know where they’re going to live tomorrow,” Byram said. “A playhouse is a symbol that every child should have a safe home.”
“I get really connected to these houses,” Byram continued. “These people put their hearts and souls into them.”
Take, for instance, the “Dora the Explorer” playhouse, built by TerCon Construction and designed by Nickelodeon. It was replete with Dora merchandise and details. Ann Terrill, owner of TerCon, is currently training process to become a court appointed special advocate.
The “Victorian Princess House,” designed and built by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office and county hail inmates was a girly, pink gingerbread number that looked sweet enough to eat. More than $8,000 worth of raffle tickets were sold during the event for chances to win the “Opportunity House,” built by the Walmart Transportation Department
Byram directed the playhouse auction, with Dick Trammel acting as auctioneer. The “Engine Co. #1” playhouse, designed by Julie Chambers of AVID Architecture and built by Crossland Construction, sold for $6,500, and the “Dora the Explorer” playhouse sold for $3,500. The “Victorian Princess” playhouse sold for $3,400, and the “Creative Cottage” went for a bid of $2,500.
Bidding was somewhat subdued until the last playhouse, the “Copa Cabana,” which brought a winning bid of $4300.
Several guests took home new playhouses, created specifically with CASA’s mission in mind, but all in attendance left with a renewed appreciation for children’s advocacy and a sharper understanding of the social justice work being done in their own backyard.