Editor's note: This is an initial story appearing exclusively on montrosepress.com. Education/Sports Reporter Andrew Kiser will have a follow-up story that will debut in the Tuesday, Oct. 24, print edition.
Carlton Mason was overcome with joy on Saturday evening as he looked on into the crowd from the podium inside the Montrose Pavilion.
When he joined CASA of the 7th Judicial District a few years ago as a volunteer coordinator, he was just looking to simply help those in need. CASA, or Court Appointed Special Advocates, provides trained advocates who represent the interests of children who are in the court system because of civil dependency and neglect cases. It serves children in Montrose, Delta, Gunnison, Hinsdale, Ouray and San Miguel counties.
Several years after first coming aboard, Mason now serves as the nonprofit organization’s executive director. And during the nonprofit’s annual Ray of Hope benefit, Mason and CASA Youth Services Program Manager Dan Mohr unveiled plans for a new bold initiative: “First Place on Second Street.”
Working with the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, regional foundations and several local organizations, CASA is actively developing an eight-unit, micro-home community on North Second Street in Montrose that will provide affordable housing for youths turning 18 and transitioning to being independent adults. And via a partnership with the Colorado Workforce Center, many of these young people will participate in the construction to learn the trade and problem-solving skills.
During the announcement, Mason drove home the need for such a place by citing several recent troubling situations. In the past year, according to Mason, CASA of the 7th Judicial District has had 10 kids emancipate out of its services. Six are currently homeless and four others’ locations are unknown, he added.
“How many others face similar situations?” Mason asked the crowd of well over a 100 community leaders and residents.
The idea for such a complex came after the success of CASA overseeing a tiny home building project, which introduced at-risk youths to the construction trade and other positive life skills.
Many of the young volunteers were transformed by working on the tiny house, which was completed in September after about a year’s work. That house was proudly on display Saturday outside the Pavilion.
The organization is just about at the halfway mark of its $1 million fundraising goal for the project, according to Mason. Those interested in contributing can contact Mason at CASA, 970-249-0337. DOLA, the City of Montrose, Western Colorado Community Foundation, Temple Hoyne Buell, David and Gaynelle Mize, Mick and Cathy Francis and Will Snowden were among those who were listed as donors to the effort already.
“We are going to build these homes,” Mason told the audience, to a loud applause. “We’re going to give it a try.”
The dinner itself was also quite eventful. Twyla Righter and Eli Power, the latter rocking a pink tutu, served as emcees and provided the comic relief for the night while introducing the teams for CASA’s upcoming “Dancing with the Stars” fundraiser, set for early 2018.
The night’s dessert dash, in which tables bid on sweet treats from various area restaurants, brought in over $1,000 for CASA. And a resident offered a moving speech on being a foster parent, chronicling her own experiences as one.
But without a doubt, CASA’s plan to build a housing complex for at-risk teens was the talk among the room. And for Mason, who recently became a grandfather, he likely wouldn’t have had it any other way. Helping youth in need isn’t just a job, he said, but rather a calling.
“Young kids, even the ones who are struggling, I know this sounds weird …” he said, getting choked up. “But they are our future.”
Matt Lindberg is the managing editor for the Montrose Daily Press and an award-winning journalist. He’s a University of Kansas graduate with years of experience in the news business, as well as a father of two and a husband. Follow him on Twitter @MattLindberg.