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Woodstock resident spurs Courthouse childcare room remodel

by: Elizabeth Ussher Groff Woodstock resident Mary Rower, center, coordinated the creative remodel of this “CourtCare” childcare center in the Multnomah County Courthouse. Artist and Lents resident Kari Dunham (not pictured) painted the mural; Michelle Galindo and Cynthean Franklin (standing), and Jennifer Edwards (seated), are longtime VOA childcare staff.

Whether you are a single mom, or a dad, or part of a two-parent family, finding childcare in an emergency or for a non-routine appointment can be more than challenging.

As a divorced working mom with extended family living out-of-state, Woodstock resident Mary Rower is no stranger to childcare needs.

And her awareness of childcare need increased during the twelve years she worked as a paralegal at a law firm that is very supportive of CourtCare - which is a free, drop-in childcare center located in the Multnomah County Courthouse.

'Markowitz, Herbold, Glade and Mehlhaf has been a big supporter of CourtCare since its inception in 2001,' explains Rower. A project of the Multnomah Bar Association, CourtCare is operated by Volunteers of America Oregon for the MBA, and serves 80 to 100 children and their families every month.

CourtCare makes it possible for parents going to court to have a place for their children to be safe and happily occupied, rather than be exposed to upsetting family details hashed out in court, or running disruptively through the courthouse halls, expending typical childlike energy.

'Most law firms have a CourtCare 'coach', or liaison, who helps raise annual operational funds - a role I took on four years ago,' says Rower. 'In 2008 we decided to take on a community service project to celebrate the firm's 25th anniversary. When CourtCare was suggested, they said, 'Mary, see what they need'.'

'The CourtCare staff put together a list of small things they needed - like a microwave. They were thrilled that their walls had recently been painted beige instead of white, but I was overwhelmed with how small the room was, to meet the very different needs of children ranging from six weeks to five years old.'

'Knowing my firm's personality, I thought we could do more to make the room more functional. This is such a generous firm, with good-hearted people. They turned me loose. I saw the need, and had a lot of ideas,' says Rower.

With a small budget in hand, Rower contacted the architecture firm that had recently done remodeling for Markowitz, Herbold. They agreed to donate their time. The architectural plans were so exciting that Markowitz, Herbold, increased their support.

'There were all sorts of hurdles to using private money in a public space. I had to get approval from so many different people,' says Rower. After three years of organizing, the project was ready to go, but had to be executed over one three-day weekend to avoid disruption to the childcare center's services.

So, this past Memorial Day weekend, Rower and other volunteers from her firm, as well as the architecture firm, the contracting company, and others - all donating their time, money, and energy to the project - got together for a marathon of hands-on work to renovate the space.

As a result, CourtCare now has different zones in the small room, geared toward different-aged children: An above-ground tunnel room for fun, exploration, and quiet space; a Plexiglas mirror for all ages; a brightly colored mural; and books, toys, and stuffed animals. A special ball-drop maze, requested by Rower and designed and built by one of the firm's attorneys, adds to the room's creative diversity. Shelves and cupboards are hung for storage space.

The generosity of all those involved has transformed a small, slightly-clinical space into a unique childcare room. Rower says the project has increased awareness about CourtCare beyond the legal community, which has been raising money each year for over a decade to keep the center operating. Markowitz Herbold Glade and Mehlhaf recently gave $10,000 to cover remaining costs, bringing their total contribution to $25,000.

Coincidentally, two of the three longtime VOA trained specialists who daily take care of the children live within the BEE readership area - Reed, and Creston-Kenilworth - and the third just recently moved out of the Reed neighborhood. For more about this project, and to see a compelling four-minute video about why CourtCare is needed, go online to: http://tinyurl.com/3envc5p .