This playhouse is built on a family’s foundation of love
The playhouses go on display again Friday at NorthPark Center. They’re always cute. But this year, one playhouse was built with an extra measure of devotion.
It’s one that stands as testament to turning sad situations into happy families. The annual display and raffle of custom-built playhouses at NorthPark is the primary public awareness event for Dallas CASA. That’s the nonprofit agency whose volunteers represent abused and neglected children in court proceedings.
Three such children now form the family of Brad Thurman and his wife, Elizabeth. And Brad is a homebuilder by profession. So the Parade of Playhouses was practically invented for them.
“It was a natural fit,” Brad said. “We struggled with infertility issues for eight years,” Elizabeth explained. Then they began looking at foster parenting as a path to adoption. “We were licensed as a foster home on Thursday and the boys arrived on Friday,” Brad said. “We weren’t quite expecting that.” But it speaks to the need for good foster homes, especially those willing to accept siblings and older children.
Brad and Elizabeth suddenly found themselves foster parents to 9-year-old Ryan and his 1-year-old half-brother, Will. That was two years ago. They’re 11 and 3 now and legally adopted.
The Thurmans then fostered and adopted a third son, Ridley, who is almost 2.
“All three were in foster care because of drugs. I guess that’s the usual reason,” Brad said. The two older boys were living with drug-addicted parents in a motel. The youngest son went straight into foster care from the hospital nursery – just as the mother’s four previous children had done. All three boys are doing very well now, though the Thurmans don’t kid themselves about the realities of early abuse and neglect.
“All children in foster care have a lot of pain. I think it’s probably a lifelong process of dealing with that hurt,” Elizabeth said. Only Ryan remembers the hardships of his earlier life. But Brad jokes that adjusting to suburban affluence hasn’t been a problem for him. “He has adapted well to being entitled and spoiled,” Brad said, joking about Ryan, who is away at summer camp this week. As Brad and Elizabeth look back over this journey, some of the most important people to them were the CASA volunteers. “The state’s caseworkers come and go. You never know who is going to show up for a hearing. But those CASA advocates were steadfast and did such a wonderful job looking out for the children,” Brad said. The Thurmans’ saga took a devastating turn eight months after Ryan and Will arrived. An aunt and uncle suddenly demanded custody of them. The boys were taken from the Thurmans. State caseworkers were obligated to give first priority to family. But Brad said it was the CASA volunteer who intervened and helped the aunt and uncle see what the real act of love would be. “Five days after the boys left, the uncle texted, ‘Would you still want the boys?’ ” Brad said. “I started to cry.” “We all cried,” Elizabeth said. “We never thought that miracle would happen.”
Imagine what a difference that CASA volunteer made in the life of those boys. It’s the kind of work that 770 such volunteers do in Dallas County on a daily basis.
But even with that big number, only about half of children in the legal system are able to have a CASA volunteer to love them, support them and advocate for them through the process.
CASA executive director Kathleen LaValle said, “Our goal is for 100 percent of children to have that one constant adult to be there for them in this unbelievably frightening time for a child.”
You can visit www.dallascasa.org to learn more about volunteering. And if you’re at NorthPark between now and July 26, help support the work by buying a playhouse raffle ticket.
Look for one cheery playhouse from C.R. Thurman Homes in particular. And smile to know what it represents.
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