Clint Twedt-Ball uses a garden analogy to explain how Matthew 25, an organization he and his brother, Courtney Ball, started 10 years ago, has evolved.
“It’s grown organically,” he said. “Everything we start here comes from people in the neighborhoods we serve.”
That concept is what drove the organization’s capital campaign, “Grow Possibilities,” which kicked off last March. Now, less than a year later, the organization has exceeded its $1.8 million goal and has started renovations on its Cedar Rapids home in the Kingston Building, at 201 Third Ave. SW.
“It feels incredibly humbling and kind of overwhelming that they’ve entrusted us with this,” Twedt-Ball said, looking at a newly constructed wall in the building, which is covered with giant checks representing donations from major supporters.
Lead contributors include the Hall-Perrine Foundation, Diamond V Mills and the John Bloomhall family, AEGON Transamerica Foundation, Len and Marlene Hadley, McIntyre Foundation, and CRST and Smith family. To date, more than 30 corporations and 100 families have participated in the campaign, which had raised $1,834,931 as of earlier this week.
If they can hit $1.9 million, organization leaders would like to put solar panels on the roof to make the building more sustainable.
“There’s always more that could be done,” Twedt-Ball said.
The organization, which started with just the Ball brothers in 2006 and added its first staff in 2007, really took off after the 2008 flood with the Block by Block campaign, which focused in on fixing up flood damaged homes on 25 blocks on the city’s west side.
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Since then, they’ve continued with programs including an urban farm program, five school gardens, a tool library for residents, reading program Book Buddies and youth arts program Groundswell. The renovations made possible by the Grow Possibilities campaign will help those programs expand.
On the main floor, a stage area with lights and sound system will be constructed for the Groundswell program, along with seating for 80 people and a community gathering space and kitchen. Building that program up is part of Matthew 25’s mission of neighborhood building, Twedt-Bell said. Along with current open mic nights, he’d like to see film screenings, poetry jams and art workshops for kids in the space.
“We’ve focused in on housing and food and education, but arts builds community in a way not much else does,” he said. “Building community and renewing the fabric of community around here is important.”
Urban farm production manager Eric Christianson talked about how he sees the complexity of that fabric in interactions on the two-acre farm, grown on lots that held homes before the flood.
“One woman came by who had lived where we are now growing corn,” he said. “She said it was jolting to see but also kind of healing — that something good was happening there.”
Gardeners range from people who have lived in the neighborhood for decades to young families to recent immigrants.
The capital campaign will help expand the program with efforts from improving the Kingston building’s basement so it can support growing seedlings and mushrooms to building out the farm itself with high tunnels, an outdoor kitchen, an educational pavilion and more.
The Kingston building, which the city bought from Acme Graphics, was slated for demolition before Matthew 25 purchased it and moved in last year. The 23,000-square-foot building — 13,000 on the main level and 10,000 of basement — offers plenty of space to work with partner organizations, such as Green Iowa AmeriCorps, which has five volunteers based in the building, or the Taylor Neighborhood Association, which stores equipment for pop-up block parties in the basement.
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The basement also houses table saws, drills and other equipment from the tool library. HACAP is preparing to run a new program there working with homeless veterans, who will learn how to make wooden pens, which they will be able to sell.
Other partners help offset costs. The Iowa Valley Food Co-op rents space at a reduced rate for bimonthly produce distributions, and part of the building will be renovated into a 5,500 square foot rental space with a separate entrance and restrooms.
Twedt-Ball said when he first started, he could never have pictured where the organization would be a decade later.
“It’s been a pretty amazing 10 years,” he said. “One of our first programs was Book Buddies. Thinking some of those kids are on the precipice of graduating is kind of crazy. But there’s still so much to accomplish and do.”