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With a little help, flood victims construct new homes
CEDAR RAPIDS — There was very little pomp and circumstance surrounding First Lady Mari Culver’s volunteer work Wednesday on one of 20 homes under construction by Cedar Valley Habitat for Humanity. The legions of twenty-something volunteers maneuvered amid the the houses on Cedar Rapids’ far west side, measuring vinyl siding, hauling bundles of shingles to bare rooftops while barking occasional orders to one other.
Had it not been for the steady stream of television and print news crews showing a great deal of interest in the tan siding slowly climbing the side of one home, it’s likely Culver, clad in jeans and a souvenir hat from a previous Cedar Falls Habitat effort, would have been just another volunteer.
“I love to support the work of Habitat,” Culver said while indulging in a short break from hanging siding. “I’ve met several of the home owners today, and several of them were displaced by the floods a year ago.
“This is just a great way to serve the community and try to help rebuild an even stronger Cedar Rapids — nail by nail, piece of siding by piece of siding.”
Culver took obvious pride in the work she had accomplished that morning, noting that she had experience “previously helping with siding” on a different Habitat building project. She also acknowledged that the Cedar Rapids project, which combines the forces of local and national Habitat for Humanity groups in a $3.2 million undertaking, is different.
“There are between 500 and 600 AmeriCorps and Vista volunteers from all over the country working here in Cedar Rapids,” she said. “I’ve not only had the opportunity to meet the local home owners and learn their stories, but I’ve been able to meet these wonderful young people who have heed President Barack Obama’s call to national service. It’s just really neat and such a great movement. I wish I were twenty-some years younger because I’d be an AmeriCorps volunteer for a year or two.”
The volunteers were welcomed to Cedar Rapids Sunday evening at a rally featuring Arizona Cardinals quarterback and native son Kurt Warner. Warner and his wife Brenda raised more than half a million dollars for the project through their First Things First Foundation. The couple remained in Cedar Rapids after the initial rally to physically help with the building of walls and raising of roof trusses.
While the Warners are definitely the most celebrated of the dignitaries lined up behind the project, Cedar Valley Habitat for Humanity President Karen Hufnagle reports they aren’t the only ones who have weathered Midwestern rain storms to help and celebrate the week-long building efforts.
“We partnered with Habitat International and the AmeriCorps Build-a-Thon, and that has allowed us to bring in some very high profile people like Kurt Warner. But we’ve also gotten a lot of help from all levels — local, state and national,” Hufnagle said. U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack (D-Mt. Vernon) and numerous state and local officials have visited the building sites either during or in the lead-up to the current mass raising.
“We just have had tremendous support,” she continued. “So many individuals and organizations have turned out to help in any way they can. Also, city government here in Cedar Rapids has been fantastic.”
Members of the local affiliate went to the city last fall, according to Hufnagle, and requested assistance. The group wanted to build 20 houses this year, but also wanted to build an additional 20 houses during each of the next two years. The project was born not only of the realization that much of the city’s affordable housing had been washed away during the 2008 flood, but with a belief that the Cedar Valley affiliate needed to ramp up and sustain greater productivity. The city agreed to provide the organization enough land to accommodate the lofty project for the three-year span.
In order to qualify for a Habitat home, future owners must provide a down payment and maintain a monthly mortgage. In addition, the home owners provide “sweat equity” by physically contributing to the construction of their home and those built for others. Applications are available on the organization’s Web site.
The massive influx of volunteers are expected to finish raising and finishing the homes’ exteriors this week. Local contractors will provide electrical, plumbing and other interior specialties. That being said, Hufnagle and the Cedar Valley crew anticipate they will be needing more volunteers in the weeks to come. Anyone interested in helping out can visit their Web site or phone the Hiawatha-based office at (319) 366-4485.