Playhouses built by Altanta contractors help homeless
by Paul F. P. Pogue
Atlanta-area contractors are donating their time, money and materials to help provide transitional housing for homeless families - and they're having fun in the process.
Through Project Playhouse, local builders and contractors compete to see who can construct the most elaborate and imaginative children's playhouses, which are later auctioned to raise money for the group.
The annual fundraiser originated 20 years ago with the Southern California HomeAid chapter and has since expanded to chapters around the nation. "The builders get over-the-top, outrageously fun and creative," says HomeAid Executive Director Ann Carey. "They're very competitive in their designs."
Lee Graves, owner of highly rated Cumming-based Graves Overhead Doors, got caught up in the enthusiasm and contributed to help build the Captain's Quarters playhouse last year.
"We wanted to help out HomeAid Atlanta, which does good things for folks that are in need of assistance," Graves says. "We appreciated the chance to do our part and give back to the community."
Other local contractors have embraced the project, such as Atlanta's Builders II co-owner Dan Mattox, who assembled donations of goods and services from nearly 50 subcontractors and vendors in 2008.
"You can let your imagination go wild on ways to make little dream houses," Mattox says. "A lot of the playhouses are very technologically sophisticated, with televisions and working plumbing, but I wanted to build a quiet place where a child could daydream, and go and use their imagination."
Mattox, who got involved with HomeAid Atlanta in 2005 when he worked on a building renovation project for the group, constructed a woodland playhouse he dubbed The Three Bears Cottage. Bijon Memar of Buckhead made the winning $7,500 bid for the cottage, and his children, Michael, 3, and Madeline, 1, spend hours at a time in the fully furnished mini-house, accompanied by three stuffed bears.
"It was like something you'd find in Disneyland," Memar says. "The quality is amazing, with functioning doors and windows and child-sized furniture. I told Michael to call it his man cave. Madeline will say it's her dollhouse."
Man cave or dollhouse, Project Playhouse adds up to significant support for HomeAid Atlanta to build real housing for those who need it. It's raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from auctions and raffle ticket sales since the first display in 2004, according to Carey, and it all goes to support the organization's mission.
"It's a miracle of generosity," she says. "More than 1,000 homeless folks sleep in HomeAid-built housing every year in Atlanta."
HomeAid also recruits builders and contractors to renovate or build transitional housing for the homeless, and partners with other nonprofits to operate it. "
We look for groups with a good success rate at turning these families around and getting them back on their feet," Carey says. "It's more than a meal and a place to sleep. It's teaching new life skills so people can rebuild their lives and live independently again."
In some cases, those who receive help from HomeAid benefit directly from the playhouses. In 2008, the raffle winner of an Atlanta Braves-themed playhouse asked that it be donated to an agency where children could use it. It ended up at the Drake House in Roswell, which maintains a 16-unit apartment complex for homeless women and children.
Drake House Executive Director John Smith says it's a popular spot for reading and tutoring. "The kids just go nuts for the playhouse," Smith says. "They love that it's their size and it's built for them. These are kids who haven't had an easy time in their lives."
Smith says HomeAid also was instrumental in establishing the Drake House in 2006 by helping to renovate derelict apartment buildings. "It was huge for us to have 16 brand new apartments, and now we don't have to worry about the hassles of maintaining old buildings," Smith says.
After purchasing The Three Bears Cottage two years ago, Memar says he also caught playhouse fever. "I landscaped it with a fake stream and a bridge leading to the house," he says. "I spent more money landscaping than I did on the house itself!"
But he says it's worth it, both for the good cause it supports and the reaction he gets from children - his own and others. "Every time a kid goes to the backyard for the first time, they run back inside screaming to their parents that they've got to see it," Memar says. "And I get more reaction out of the parents than the kids! It's a great conversation piece."