Hands On Disaster Response returns to help with rebuilding

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Nearly two years after organizing volunteers to help with flood recovery in Cedar Rapids and Palo, members of Hands On Disaster Response are back in Linn County to aid in rebuilding efforts.

Bill Driscoll Jr., director of U.S. operations for the Boston-based organization, and Jeremy Horan, project manager for the Cedar Rapids project, recently re-established a command base at Cedar Hills Evangelical Free Church, 6455 E Ave. NW.

Hands On Disaster Response is a volunteer organization that deploys teams to disaster areas around the world. Horan just returned from two months in Haiti, working on earthquake relief, and Driscoll returned to the East Coast Tuesday night to aid in flood relief efforts in Rhode Island.

Horan said volunteers from across the country — many of whom worked with Hands On teams immediately after the flood — will be in Cedar Rapids through the rest of this month to work with Block by Block and the Community Recovery Center. He said teams hope to work on at least six homes while they are here.

 “It’s pretty heartening to see those who can move forward have been able to,” Horan said. At the same time, though, he said, “when you do go down and see empty neighborhoods that haven’t been worked on, it hurts your heart a little bit.”

“There are still houses with ‘Hands On’ signs on them,” from 2008, Horan said. “It hurts my heart to go down and see that.”

The group’s return, the first of its kind for Hands On volunteers, is being aided by the donation of $15,000 from the Greater Cedar Rapids Home Builders Association. The money will be used to buy tools and materials to allow Hands On volunteers to help flood-affected homeowners get back into their homes.

Steve Erusha, president of the Greater Cedar Rapids Home Builders Association, said the donation came from a national fund after local officials had applied for help for flood-affected homeowners.

“If you take that $15,000 and then look at all the hours our members have put into helping these efforts, there’s a lot that’s happening,” he said. “I couldn’t be more proud of this group.”

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