Ten employees at Dallas-based AUI Contractors took a break from their heavy industrial and commercial construction jobs to put their skills to work on a different type of project: building life-size playhouses for local children in foster care. 

Dallas Case Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) is a nonprofit organization comprised of volunteers who advocate for the best interests of abused and neglected children in the community and in the court system, as well as help children find safe, permanent homes. The group’s largest fundraiser each year is the Parade of Playhouses, in which custom-built playhouses are displayed in Dallas’ NorthPark Shopping Center. During the two-week event, visitors can purchase raffle tickets for a chance to win one of the extraordinary playhouses. 

This was the first year AUI Contractors participated. Tim Guedry, director of commercial construction for the company, had been involved with the event at his previous job and brought his enthusiasm for Dallas CASA to AUI.
 
"Not only is this a fun and worthwhile cause, it’s good exposure for the company,” Guedry says. “It’s a lot of fun for us to work on something different and apply our specific skills as construction contractors for children within our community.” 

Guedry also works with the American Institute of Architects (AIA), serving on a panel that reviews designs for playhouses submitted by the Young Architects coming up through AIA’s training program. More than 60 designs were submitted, with four finalists chosen for AUI to build for the Parade of Playhouses. 

“Bringing in the Young Architects of AIA and major companies like AUI Contractors has really raised the profile of this event,” says Carolyn Newham, director of development and finance for Dallas CASA. “The expertise and ability of these professionals has added a whole new layer of authenticity and art to the program.” 

The four winning playhouse designs were the Easel House, Tangram House, Zoo Playhouse and the Hillside Bed and Breakfast. Ten AUI employees were involved in the construction, with vendors and suppliers donating the necessary materials. The houses took about six weeks to complete. 

The 15th annual event last year featured CASA’s largest parade to date. Twenty playhouses were featured and $150,000 was raised to help Dallas CASA train and supervise volunteers. The Parade of Playhouses also serves as an important recruiting opportunity for the organization by bringing awareness of its work with vulnerable children to the community. 

“We’ve had such a great reaction from the community. People look forward to bringing their kids every year. They’ve built it into their lives,” Newham says. “We’ve had people come forward asking how they can be involved, whether by advocating for children or donating time and resources for the Parade of Playhouses fundraiser. So many members of the community are concerned with child welfare; they just didn’t know how to help until they attended this event.” 

AUI’s experience was equally rewarding, according to Guedry, and the company plans to participate again next year.