Willis Dady meets $3 million fundraising goal for Cedar Rapids shelter expansion, renovation

Groundbreaking for the expansion taking place today

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Willis Dady Homeless Services has reached its $3 million fundraising goal to begin an expansion and renovation of its decades-old shelter.

The update was announced at Monday’s groundbreaking for the expansion, the first phase of the project.

In March, Willis Dady kicked off its capital campaign. The expansion, to be built on the back of the existing shelter, will change the 7,720 square-foot facility to 17,140 square feet. The project also would entail a renovation to update the more than 30-year-old shelter at 1247 Fourth Ave. SE in Cedar Rapids.

With the expansion, organization officials estimate they could serve more than 15,000 people over the next 30 years. The extra room would add more shelter space for families, handicap accessible rooms and space for third-shift workers, said Phoebe Trepp, executive director of Willis Dady.

In August, the organization announced that though it was close to reaching its fundraising goal, it wanted to reach $2.5 million before breaking ground. In September, it reached that goal but still had $500,000 left to go to reach the goal of the capital campaign. The last $500,000 would be put into an endowment for Willis Dady.

Trepp and Sam Jones, board president, said they expected it to take a few months to reach the final goal. However, Trepp said she found out in late October they hit the $3 million mark.

“We had a very limited donor base where if someone gave a $1,000 gift, they would almost immediately become a top donor,” Jones said. “Five hundred thousand dollars sounded almost as daunting as $3 million, given where we come from. I’d mentally prepared myself with a lot of asks, but I feel very surprised and fortunate with how fast things moved. Every aspect of this $3 million is essential to the ongoing viability of Willis Dady.”

Trepp said she believes the community’s belief in the projects’ payoff was the biggest reason why donations rolled in at the end.

“This was a huge, awesome, wonderful surprise,” Trepp said. “We have an incredibly generous community willing to give to something they aren’t necessarily affected by directly. People started hearing about the condition of our building and where we want to be. It was really obvious that we need the facility in place to improve our effectiveness. I think a huge key was that we had so many volunteers and committee members and everyone was going to push until the very end. People were really going to bat for the agency and the clients we serve.”

The $500,000 for an endowment is a critical piece for Willis Dady’s future, Jones said. While Willis Dady currently has a $30,000 endowment, the interest payments are not significant enough to be used for operational expenses. As the footprint of the building and services offered expands, Jones said the board felt an endowment to help with operational costs was vital.

“Willis Dady’s ongoing viability depends on grants and individual and foundation gifts,” Jones said. “We’re so appreciative of those funding sources, but it’s also somewhat troubling as an organization to be completely dependent on outside sources to pay salaries, to keep the lights turned on. We also needed to be honest with ourselves about the ability to pay for this new building after the mortar dried on the bricks.”

Trepp agreed.

“I’ll be honest, I’m in budgeting season for operations, and it’s really tight,” she said. “I think a lot of nonprofits have those challenges as federal funding decreased (and local funding stretches). This is huge to return some funds every year toward ongoing repairs and maintenance, even if we’re only able to get $10 to $20,000 from the endowment, that’s $10 to $20,000 we didn’t have before.”

And though Willis Dady reached their campaign goal, Trepp and Jones said donations are still welcome and will be added to the endowment.

“I’m so thankful that people when they see a need, come and fill it,” Trepp said. “I don’t think this is the solution by any means, but this is part of a new strategy and a better strategy (to serve homeless individuals). Ultimately, we have to work together and keep pushing the envelope.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8516; makayla.tendall@thegazette.com

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