In October, Paula Malmfeldt, executive director of CASA of Forsyth County, a local nonprofit, posted a picture on the organization’s Facebook account of the entire staff standing in front of a pile of rubble.
The rubble was the site of an old motel building that the Forsyth County Juvenile Justice Court had been using. CASA had used been using some of the rooms for its offices, but the county made plans for a new 62,000-square-foot juvenile “justice center” on the site, so the building was demolished. Several users of the space had to go elsewhere, including CASA.
Malmfeldt and her staff appealed to the community for help. On their Facebook photo, they added a message: “CASA needs a new casa.”
A week later, the picture showed up on Bettina Hammond’s Facebook feed. Hammond, a former board member at CASA, called Malmfeldt with an offer: she wanted to donate a two-story, 3,000-square-foot office building in north Forsyth built by her late husband, Allen, to become CASA’s new home.
“When I saw that on Facebook, I thought, that’s it: we give it back to the community,” Bettina said, “and that’s really what I’m doing it for, is the community, and the children of this community.”
On Thursday, Feb. 27, CASA moved into the white Colonial-style building at 3250 Keith Bridge Road at Hammonds Crossing, and the nonprofit’s staff of eight have been busily getting situated.
CASA’s six advocacy specialists, who advocate for neglected or abused children involved in juvenile court proceedings, and train others to do the same, work upstairs. The organization’s administration works downstairs. There are two conference rooms, a small kitchen area and a simple front entrance space.
“It’s an amazing space,” Malmfeldt said.
Allen Hammond built the space in 1996, where he operated a small mortgage business for several years. At the time, it was the latest imprint by the Hammonds in an area central to the family’s history in Forsyth County, which dates back to 1832, Bettina said.
Generations of the Hammond family have owned businesses at the intersection of Keith Bridge Road and Browns Bridge Road. The area came to be called Hammonds Crossing, and the Georgia Department of Transportation recently made that the intersection’s official name, cementing the family’s legacy.
That was important to the Hammond family, Bettina said, but she didn’t want Allen’s legacy to just be “a piece of dirt.” She thought instead of the small group he started at a local church “of people that he had helped and had helped him have the best life ever,” she said. She thought of an old article, from 1962, in an Atlanta newspaper, about the Forsyth County community rallying around the Hammond family when their house burned down.
And she thought of her own involvement with CASA as a board member for nine years. She had been there when the organization held its first Superhero 5K at Coal Mountain Park. Their late grandson, Jacob, had once won the race for his age group. She brought grandchildren to CASA events to hand out flyers.
“It’s kind of a tradition,” Bettina said.
Bettina saw a connection between Allen’s story, the Hammonds’ legacy and CASA’s work, and felt compelled to help when she saw that photo come across her Facebook feed.
She donated the office building, as well as a 2,400-square-foot warehouse building next door. CASA plans to use the warehouse for storage as well as to train their volunteer court-appointed special advocates. The Hammond family also owns 5.35 acres of greenspace behind the properties that CASA can use to host events.
The new space comes at a time when CASA is enhancing its educational support services for children in foster care. Foster children lose six months of education every time they move, and kids move an average of six times during their first year in foster care, Malmfeldt said, and the effects are long-lasting. According to one study, only 20% of foster kids who graduate from high school attend college.
So CASA created the position of advocacy and education specialist last August to fill that gap and hired Stacy Archer to fill the role.
Archer now occupies a corner office upstairs in a building that Malmfeldt said will one day be called the “Allen Hammond Heritage Building.”