Two little girls in frilly dresses giggled with anticipation as they stood just outside the door Tuesday. They didn't care they would be among the first to cross the threshold.
They just knew there was a bunch of fun stuff inside.
As soon as the door opened, their gap-tooth grins widened and they ran inside, straight to the brown teddy bear with the cool sunglasses. They then split up to investigate the other colorful toys stacking the walls, including a blue and white doll house made by a Girl Scout troop.
Tuesday was the grand opening of the Child Development Center at Autumn House, a domestic violence shelter operated by PreHab of Arizona in Mesa.
Thanks to a $100,000 grant from the UPS Foundation and a $26,500 grant from the Sunrise Foundation, children staying at the shelter will no longer have to cram inside a 15-by-15-foot room for therapy and playtime. Instead, they will be able to spread out in a 1,100-square-foot building complete with computer lab, therapy office, playrooms and kitchen.
"I'm excited. I think this is just wonderful for the kids. It's A-plus all of the way," said Lisa, an abuse victim. "When they come here, the kids are just as distraught as the adults are, and this place will allow them to be kids again."
Lisa is one of more than 400 domestic violence victims and their children who seek refuge at Autumn House every year.
Employees at the 20-year-old shelter, the location of which is undisclosed, provide counseling, referral services, career assessments and a myriad of other services, said Torrie Taj, director of development for PreHab.
At any one time, up to 24 victims and their children live in one of four apartments at the complex, staying up to 120 days, Taj said.
The importance of having a private place for therapy sessions cannot be overstated, Taj said.
"We want to stop the cycle of violence so we are really big on the therapeutic approach and we were finding that the space we had was not fitting our needs," Taj said.
Lisa, 36, said the children's center adds a homey feeling. "It's more intimate here and that's really what I needed," Lisa said. "I feel more at home here."