A newly renovated space at the Centre County Courthouse is designed to calm and comfort some of the most vulnerable participants in the legal system.

Court officials, community volunteers and supporters on Wednesday dedicated the new children’s space, a bright and peaceful room for kids who must be at the courthouse for meetings, hearings and other proceedings.

A “substantial portion” of the court’s cases involve children, and many of those require kids to be in court, said Judge Katherine Oliver, who helped shepherd the project. Few courts in Pennsylvania, however, have such kid-friendly spaces.

“That’s despite the fact that there is a general recognition that having a child-friendly environment can help reduce anxiety,” Oliver said. “It makes the process less traumatic for them and overall more effective in terms of the court process. I think you’ll see more and more counties on board. We are all proud to be at the forefront of those efforts.”

The idea for the space came from Amy Frank, executive director of the State College-based creative studio The Makery. Frank spends most Saturdays working with the Centre County Youth Service Bureauhttps://ccysb.com/‘s Stormbreak group home for girls, and one day about a year ago she asked two girls why they seemed especially down.

The girls told her that they had upcoming court hearings, and while that alone would be stressful, they were particularly concerned about how long they would be waiting and who they might encounter in the courthouse hallways.

“Our mission at The Makery is to bring joy and delight to Centre County families through creative experiences,” Frank said. “We’ve developed and run inspiring family art studios in State College and Bellefonte. My colleague Lisa Cousins and I knew we could create a similarly generative nurturing children’s space here at the courthouse. From there, this is a really beautiful story of how our incredible Centre County community came together for an important cause.”

Frank and Cousins brought the idea to the county’s Court of Common Pleas judges, who were supportive. They worked with Grace Ryan Cousins of Grace Ryan Designs in Lemont, who brought expertise in spatial planning and trauma-informed interior design, to develop a plan for the space and the budget. And they worked with organizations like the Youth Service Bureau to address the needs of children going through a difficult situation.

In July, the Centre County United Way Women’s United group, which focuses on the needs of women and children in the community, awarded the project a $6,500 grant that made the children’s space possible.

“The bottom line is that we just would not be here today but for the work and generosity of those folks,” Oliver said.

Women United Chair Barbara Sherlock said the children’s space harkened back to one of the earliest projects supported by the group, the Centre County Child Access Center, which offers a safe location for custody exchanges.

“This was again something countywide supporting children when they were in difficult situations,” Sherlock said. “So of course we said yes. We were excited, thrilled to support the funding to get this started. It means a lot to us.”

Centre County Facilities Management, with support from the county commissioners, painted and rewired the room, and The Makery and Grace Ryan Designs installed the space to make their vision a reality. More than 100 community members purchased items including books, toys and art supplies from a wishlist to stock the room.

“We can’t wait to see children using this special space and are so grateful to all who helped make it a reality,” Frank said.

The end result is a bright, comfortable and quiet room with comfortable furniture and items to help children relax and take their minds off of a stressful experience. It’s a respite amid the stately, but not necessarily kid-friendly, two-century-old courthouse.

“As majestic and beautiful a building as it is, I think if you look around you’d probably agree that it was not designed and built with children users in mind,” Oliver said.

For Centre County United Way Executive Director Paula Williams, the children’s space shows what can happen when a community comes together.

“This is one of those incredible examples of when folks come together and decide to make a difference in our community,” Williams said. “Whether it’s the folks that actually painted or whether they were making donations, together Centre County is stronger because we come together, we stand together and care for those who need our help.”

The Makery Executive Director Amy Frank, left, and Centre County United Way Women United Chair Barbara Sherlock, speak at the dedication of the Centre County Courthouse Children’s Space on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2023. Photos by Geoff Rushton | StateCollege.comCentre County United Way Executive Director Paula Williams, left, and Centre County Judges Julia Rater, Brian Marshall, Katherine Oliver and Jonathan Grine at the dedication of the Centre County Courthouse Children’s Space on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2023. Photos by Geoff Rushton | StateCollege.com

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