YouthBuild Brownsville made a special delivery to Monica’s House in Brownsville.

In three days — as part of YouthBuild Day — the group built a playhouse that would benefit the children who had to be interviewed at the advocacy center.

Monica’s House is a center for abused children. It is named after 4-year-old Monica Castillo of Brownsville who died in July 1996 at the hands of her mother Maria Dona Castillo.

Janae Patmon, a member of the YouthBuild crew, said the group along with officials at Monica’s House held discussions to see what the organization could do to help the advocacy center. The YouthBuild crew had helped Monica’s House in the past.

“We started tossing ideas like shelves and stuff like that and we finally came up with the idea of a house. A little playhouse that we could put outside and just show the kids that this is basically like a home,” Patmon said.

YouthBuild Brownsville, part of the Community Development Corporation of Brownsville, constructed a 5 by 5 blue-and-green playhouse, and placed it near some of the tables, benches and chairs the students had previously constructed for the grounds at Monica’s House.

Patmon is in her second year of the comprehensive program that focuses on education, construction training, leadership development and community service.

“With a budget of $300, and our crew of six, we were able to build this cute little house in three days, Patmon declared. “We even re-used materials,” as she pointed to the underside of the playhouse roof, which was constructed of a plywood YouthBuild billboard.

“I think Monica would have liked playing in it,” she said.

YouthBuild Brownsville empowers young adults, ages 16-24, by helping them attain their educational and career goals. All YouthBuild Brownsville students are part-time AmeriCorps members, who, upon completion of the program, become eligible for a college scholarship.

Little Monica had been taken to a Corpus Christi children’s hospital that July 1996 by police and paramedics who briefly revived her.

Maria Dona had brought her daughter into the police substation after her daughter had stopped breathing. After a week in a coma, Monica passed away, and her 24-year-old mother was convicted of killing her daughter and sentenced to a 40-year prison term by Cameron County 107th state District Judge Benjamin Euresti Jr. Castillo had sought a lighter sentence after submitting a signed confession.

“What you did to the child was unforgivable,” Euresti declared.

Two years after Monica’s death, Monica’s House opened in Brownsville in October 1998. The coroner determined that the young girl’s death was due to severe physical and sexual abuse at the hands of her 24-year-old mother.

In San Benito, Maggie’s House, named after Maggie Dittman, a young girl from Harlingen who died from abusive head trauma at the hands of her babysitter, opened its doors in October of 2001.

Monica’s House and Maggie’s House each specialize in conducting videotaped forensic interviews of children between the ages of 2 to 17 who have been physically or sexually abused, or have witnessed violent crimes. These non-leading, non-suggestive interviews are conducted in a child-friendly environment.

There are three advocates for each case, according to Gabriel Garcia, the community outreach coordinator at Monica’s House, “an advocate/social worker who administers “follow-ups,” a highly-trained forensic interviewer, and the therapist, “Garcia stated.

“The purpose of our centers is to be able to allow the child to tell his or her story in a welcoming, non-threatening environment,” he said. “The surroundings aid us in that the child can tell us their story one-to-one, without having to re-tell it over-and-over again,” Garcia noted. “This can prevent them from being re-traumatized.”

The CCCAC offers free therapy services for abused or neglected children and their non-offending family members.

“Our focus here is the kids,” Garcia emphasized.

In 2018, both Monica’s and Maggie’s Houses handled over 1,300 cases of child abuse or neglect.

“The numbers increase every year,” Garcia stated, “but most of that is due to the increased awareness in the community that this is happening,” he explained,” kids don’t realize that they may be victims until “abuse” is defined for them, and sometimes, even their classmates might come forward when they see that their friends’ family situations at home doesn’t appear to be ‘normal’.”

The mission for the two Cameron County Children’s Advocacy Centers is to serve and advocate for child victims of abuse through prevention, intervention, and treatment. Their motto is: “This is where the healing begins.”

Monica’s and Maggie’s Closet regularly seek donations for their young clients when children are in need clothing, school supplies, and food items.

More information can be found on their website: www.cameroncountycac.com.