Austin’s House marks a decade of service
November 24, 2017
For 10 years, Austin's House has been a beacon of hope and security for rural Nevada children who can no longer remain at home.
The 5,000-square-foot facility in northern Douglas County is a safety net for children ages birth to 18, providing a home-like atmosphere until the young residents can be returned safely to their families or other caregivers.
Taylor Lane, now an 18-year-old college student, is one of those former residents. She recently "aged out" of the foster care system, and was willing to speak about her time at Austin's House.
"I felt safe," Taylor said. "The staff was nice, and I knew what to expect. I had room to be myself and concentrate on school without worrying about the issues of where I was living. I felt like they wanted me to succeed, and I knew they cared and I met some lifelong friends there."
Taylor's experience is what Austin's House original dreamers envisioned in 2003 when they began addressing the critical shortage of shelter care for abused and neglected children in rural Northern Nevada.
Originally called The Carson Valley Children's Center, the nonprofit organization was incorporated on Dec. 31, 2003.
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In 2005, following the suicide of 15-year-old Austin Kirby, the shelter had a new name.
The middle school student's family directed their grief toward creating a lasting memorial to Austin, and after years of planning, fund-raising and educating the community, the 10-bed facility was opened in 2007.
Since then, nearly 500 children have been sheltered at Austin's House.
Patty Clark, Austin Kirby's grandmother, said Austin's House has exceeded her expectations.
"I like to think it was a confluence of perfect people to get it built and keep it going. We were so blessed," Patty said.
"Sure, it got built, but it's the day-to-day grind where miracles occur."
Austin's house is operated 24 hours a day, 365 days a year by trained and caring staff who work closely with the placement agency to ensure that a child's needs are met until a more permanent placement can be identified or until family unification can be achieved.
At the stressful time a child arrives at Austin's House, the top priority is to meet immediate needs for shelter, food and emotional support.
Local medical and dental practices partner with Austin's House to provide all children with physicals and dental checks on short notice.
All school-aged children in residence attend school within one or two days of their placement. Transportation is provided and efforts are made to keep children in the school they were attending before placement.
When visitation with parents, other family members or friends is approved by the child's caseworker, Austin's House provides an appropriate visitation room, handles visit logistics and provides supervision as required.
In addition to Douglas County, children come from Carson City, Lyon, Storey and Churchill counties.
Executive Director Kathleen Miller said it's important to highlight the 10th anniversary to thank the community for its generosity over the years. Although Austin's House receives fees for service for children in residence, the money covers about 50 percent of the operating costs.
In 2007, construction of Austin's House was completed, built and furnished entirely with private donations of cash, labor and materials.
Former board of directors chairman Linda Cuddy said time was devoted in the early years to educating the community about the purpose of a children's shelter.
"We had many, many meetings with people who thought the shelter would be full of 'bad' children and their property might be in danger. We had to teach them what the concept was all about," Linda said.
Now, many of those local neighbors stop by often with food and other supplies for the children in residence.
Now living in Mesquite, the former Douglas County director of Court-Appointed Special Advocates said, "It makes my heart happy to see what it became."
"Without Austin's House, so many children in our community and in Northern Nevada wouldn't have a chance. Lives have been changed for the better," Linda said. "I just can't say enough about it."
Linda served as board president for five years, and was succeeded by Terry Palmitier who has taken a strong leadership role at Austin's House since its inception, and also has served as a CASA volunteer and trainer for 16 years. Rick Lusby, a local dentist, currently heads up the Board of Directors, comprised of 10 community members who provide oversight and governance to the agency.
Terry was honored in October by Gov. Brian Sandoval as one of the state's 2017 Points of Lights.
Executive Director Miller said at this 10-year anniversary, she wants the community "to share in our happiness, amazement and gratitude that we have come this far.
"The reality of Austin's House and the children we care for is so different from the 'plan,' but the day-to-day working (and living) to care for these kids is pretty amazing. Our community did a great thing. Maybe, in these very difficult times, that is an important message," Kathleen said.
When Douglas County was hard hit by the 2008 recession, Austin's House suffered along with the rest of the community, Cuddy recalled.
"When the economy tanked, things were not looking good," she said. "But I believe when you are doing something inspired, doors open and that's what happened with Austin's House."