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Small space a big help at county courthouse

SYCAMORE – The DeKalb County Courthouse opened a 42,000-square-foot expansion in the fall, but Cynthia Nicholson and her assistant are just fine caring for children in an old baliff’s room.

The Children’s Waiting Room, a small space on the first floor of the courthouse that offers free child care for parents making court appearances, was passed over for a new, larger area in the courthouse basement during the expansion that could have provided space for cribs and playpens.

Although Nicholson and assistant Kyle Hughes still have to hold every infant that comes through the door because of the lack of room for cribs, they said they are pleased with the setup and glad to help as many children and parents as they can. The room can handle about six or seven children at a time before Nicholson places a full capacity sign on the door.

“We try to do the best we can with what we have to work with,” Nicholson said. “The important thing is, it is a safe place for children and it’s nice to be so close to security.”

The room is just large enough for a front desk, some bookshelves and a small play area in the middle of the room. There is no TV, as Nicholson said the focus is on playing and reading with the children.

The space has worked well the past six years, but its history of expansion in a short time shows it could require more space as more people use the courtroom each year. The waiting room started as a three-day-a-week service, but is now open Monday through Friday and serves roughly 600 children a year.

Pat McMahon, president of the board for the Children’s Waiting Room, said it would be up to courthouse officials if the room should ever move to a larger space, but it is not a concern for the nonprofit, which has maximized its resources.

The operation has a $22,000 budget, which comes from a $5 fee applied to all civil cases, some grants and community donations. McMahon said Barnes & Noble has been especially generous throughout the years, recently donating 100 books. Each child who is cared for leaves with a free bag and book.

“We would have glady moved, but we are happy to stay where we are,” McMahon said. “It’s wonderful to have a place where the children won’t be disruptive in court or have to hear things they shouldn’t be listening to.”

Those interested in helping the organization can donate new or gently used books at the courthouse, 133 W. State St. in Sycamore. McMahon said board books are always needed because small children tend to rip pages in paper books. Cash donations are also accepted.

How to help

The nonprofit Children's Waiting Room at the DeKalb County Courthouse accepts donations of new or gently used books, as well as cash donations, at the courthouse, 133 W. State St., Sycamore. Board books for small children are particularly in demand.

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