Cedar Rapids 'Block by Block' rebuilding program hailed

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A flood creates a thousand personal stories, but the great ideas that help a place recover come in smaller numbers.

By all accounts Tuesday afternoon in the 1300 block of Eighth Street NW, a new neighborhood recovery program called Block by Block is one of those great ideas.

The Rev. Clint Twedt-Ball, a Methodist minister who runs a non-profit neighborhood effort called Matthew 25, said after a rollout press conference Tuesday that he came up with the idea over many months of work in the city’s flood-damaged westside streets.

Inspiration also came, he said, in the Bible verse from which his group draws its name.

By Christmas, Block by Block will have mobilized most homeowners on eight flood-damaged city blocks to agree to finishing work on their houses. Heavy lifting will come from $1.9 million in cash donations, $100,000 or more in donated materials, and countless hours of volunteer help.

More information of the program, including how to nominate your block:

www.blockbyblockcr.org or (319) 350-2252.

John Smith, president/CEO of trucking firm CRST International Inc., and his wife, Dyan, have contributed $1 million to the cause; $700,000 is coming from donations to the community flood fund administered by the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation; and $200,000, plus materials, is coming from the United Methodist Church.

Matthew 25 is running the day-to-day operations of Block by Block, while Four Oaks’ Affordable Housing Network Inc. will provide fiscal and management oversight.

“By Christmas, you’re going to be saying that the vast majority of homes on each block we’ve taken on will have a solution and that people are living back in their homes,” Twedt-Ball said. “That’s a great thing.”

Jim Ernst, president/CEO of Four Oaks, told Tuesday’s crowd of neighbors, community leaders and elected officials that Block by Block came about when John and Dyan Smith approached him just six weeks ago, saying they wanted to support an idea that would get more done faster in flood-damaged neighborhoods. Ernst had coffee with Twedt-Ball, and Block by Block was born.

Ernst gave Twedt-Ball the credit.

Tami Coyle, 1312 Eighth St. NW, and Katie and Andrew Sandquist, 1307 Eighth St. NW, are homeowners on Block by Block’s first block who have completed most of the renovations to their homes already. The benefit to them, they said, will be to see others get the help they need.

“I’ve never called myself a victim, I’ve called myself a survivor from the beginning,” Coyle said. “I’m really in it to encourage others to become survivors as well. If (the program) promotes that, I’m all for it.”

Katie Sandquist talked about the joy that has come as family, friends and volunteers have brought one house and then another back to life.

“But it’s really hard when you see houses where people really have reached the end of what they are able to do,” she said. “So we’re excited that this is coming along to fill those gaps that have been left.”

Twedt-Ball said Block by Block is headed to the 1300 block of Ninth Street NW next, but he suspects that blocks will compete to be one of the other six. To qualify, at least 60 percent of block homeowners must agree to sign on, and the block must be outside the construction zone for the proposed levee system.

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