Preparing a refuge for children

Hoping it can serve as a model for other communities, Austin's House, a refuge for foster children in Douglas County, will open its doors Thursday to the public.

Court Appointed Special Advocates President Linda Cuddy said Austin's House is special for a few reasons but especially because it was built entirely by community donations.

"I think this is a model project for this reason and I think this will serve as a model to other counties," Cuddy said.

The 5,300-square-foot house, located behind the Douglas County Sheriff's Substation in Sunridge, will temporarily house children who have been taken into protective custody.

The Austin Kirby Foundation - named after the 15-year-old boy who took his life in October 2005 - raised enough money in a year and a half to design and build a house without a mortgage.

"If you ask any other charitable organization about their goals and achievements, what has been accomplished (with Austin's House) has been so far above what anybody has expected," said Patty Clark, founder of the foundation and Austin Kirby's grandmother.

Clark said working to raise money for Austin's House started as a sort of therapy after the death of her grandson, but became much more.

"Just knowing how many kids are going to be helped is a comfort," Clark said.

One of the goals of Austin's House is to keep children in their own community while they're waiting for placement in a foster home.

"For years and years in Douglas County when children are taken into protective custody ... they have been removed from their community," Cuddy said. Austin's House will enable them to stay in their own school and be close to their teachers, friends and family members.

Children placed at Austin's House will stay for a maximum of 45 days, but exceptions may be made for some.

"Occasionally there are children that we just can't place," Cuddy said. "Some of our children that have been abused just need so much that our average foster home can't take care of them."

Austin's House can accommodate supervised visits between parents and children, work that CASA does, but had to do in public places, "which was never ideal," Cuddy said.

After beginning to take in children in mid-August Cuddy expects Austin's House to fill up and stay full. Although the center was built for Douglas County children, Austin's House will accept children from other jurisdictions if space permits.

Now, children waiting for foster care are sent to a shelter in Carson City or placed in emergency foster care anywhere space was available - often as far away as Reno, Sparks or Fallon - for a short period before moving them again.

"We built this facility for Douglas County children because we were tired of them leaving our county," Cuddy said.

Aug. 2 is the only chance the public will have to tour the facility, unless special arrangements are made. Once the house is operating, confidentiality and safety issues will prevent the public from touring the grounds.

Austin's House will also be raffling off a 1991 Mercedes two-door coup to raise money for the center. Tickets are $25 each or $100 for five.

Austin's House will continue fundraising for operational expenses with its second annual "Deal or No Deal" fundraiser Aug. 25 at 6 p.m. at the Horizon Casino Resort at Lake Tahoe.

Box:

What: Austin's House grand opening

When: Thursday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m., ribbon cutting, 12 p.m.

Where: Austin's House, 3589 Sunridge Drive, behind the Douglas County Sheriff's Substation

For information, call 782-6247 or www.austinshouse.org

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