116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
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A longtime neighborhood landmark with a new identity, the ROC Center was just getting organized last summer when natural disaster boosted the new not-for-profit’s visibility.
“Really, it was the derecho that kind of put us on the map,” Steve Wilson recalled. “We had started to do some renovations in here and started communicating with folks about what we were trying to do.”
The August derecho forced some other not-for-profits out of their regular quarters, so the former church in southeast Cedar Rapids’ Oak Hill-Jackson neighborhood hosted a pregnancy-counseling service and other organizations for months.
“We had several organizations that were based out of here during that” recovery, Wilson said.
The national Eight Days of Hope disaster-recovery ministry found a temporary home there, as did Mercy Chefs, which prepared and distributed some 50,000 meals out of the church kitchen.
“That’s how word spread of what we were attempting to do,” Wilson said.
The ROC Center — the acronym stands for Renewing Our City — was formally organized this past December when its board filed as a 501(c)3 nonprofit. The organization maintains a connection between the old church’s last congregation, Oak Hill-Jackson Community Church, and the neighborhood.
The congregation moved to a northwest Cedar Rapids location after merging with another to become New City Church.
“Their hope and their wishes was to still have a presence here,” said Wilson, a church member. “They maintained ownership of the building and they wanted to have a presence here in the form of a community center.”
A strategic adviser for Iowa State University’s Center for Industrial Research and Service, or CIRAS, which advises businesses and communities, Wilson agreed to be ROC Center’s executive director.
“Our biggest challenge right now has just been getting word out about what we’re attempting to do,” he said. “We are an outreach of New City Church, but at the same time we are our own 501(c)3.”
Wilson and his staff are preparing grant applications to support ROC Center activities. Its first independent program, ROC Summer House, is set to launch in late July, offering twice-weekly activities for children in kindergarten through fifth grade.
Living Room Ministries Women's Center also has moved its programs to the center.
Executive director: Steve Wilson
Address: 1202 10th St. SE, Cedar Rapids
Phone: (319) 365-7297
ROC’s board identified five priorities:
- Business partnerships
- Community support
- Spiritual growth and development.
“Our big metric is just individuals served,” Wilson said. “One of the big things is the gap of individuals below the poverty level in this neighborhood as opposed to Cedar Rapids as a whole.”
While Cedar Rapids’ overall poverty rate is 12 percent to 15 percent, it’s about double that in Oak Hill-Jackson, Wilson said.
“How do we close that gap to at least match the rest?” he said. “We’re also looking at how many students are at least finishing high school, and how do we close those gaps.”
Addressing ROC Center’s priorities means working with allies such as Jane Boyd Community House and Metro High School, both located about a block from the center.
“Our big thing is trying to help other organizations that are already doing things, just to recognize some gaps where we still see opportunity,” Wilson said.
“One of the things we continue to hear as we talk with Jane Boyd, and we talk with some other groups around here, is things for youth. Not that they weren’t being filled, but we’re just trying to fill in gaps.”
ROC Center has a single employee who is paid for 10 hours a week.
“Other than that we’re all volunteers,” he said.
That employee and ROC’s board are starting to meet with neighborhood groups to determine their next move.
“With COIVD winding down we’re just starting to those dialogues and to meet and say, ‘Let’s put an action plan together. Here are some things we can do,’” Wilson said.
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