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Catherine McAuley Center purchases former UnityPoint building

Organization to expand to four times its size

The former UnityPoint Living Center East building at 1220 Fifth Avenue SE was purchased by the Catherine McAuley Center. They hope to move into the space that is four times their current size by August 2020. (The Gazette)
The former UnityPoint Living Center East building at 1220 Fifth Avenue SE was purchased by the Catherine McAuley Center. They hope to move into the space that is four times their current size by August 2020. (The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — The Catherine McAuley Center is moving into a new space four times the size of the crowded, existing center.

The center is a nonprofit that works with people who need transitional housing, women experiencing crisis and settling immigrants and refugees. It purchased the former UnityPoint Health-St. Luke Hospital’s Living Center East building at 1220 Fifth Ave. SE in Cedar Rapids, and is planning on renovating it and moving in by August 2020, leaders announced Tuesday.

The center has raised more than $3.4 million toward its almost $5.5 million capital campaign goal, which includes the cost of the site, renovations and a $1 million endowment, which will help cover the increased operation cost of the facility.

The center received a $1.25 million grant from the Hall-Perrine Foundation, $500,000 from the Sisters of Mercy, $188,550 from the Catherine McAuley Center board of directors and an undisclosed amount from the AEGON Transamerica Foundation for the project.

There also was a $550,000 donation from an anonymous foundation and a $525,000 in-kind contribution toward the purchase of the building from UnityPoint.

Paula Land, executive director of the center, said officials hope to conclude the campaign next fall by reaching out to donors and community supporters, raising an additional $2 million to reach their goal.

Last year, the center provided resettlement, resource navigation and employment support services for over 300 refugees and immigrants, Land said. The center’s adult basic education program has grown 60 percent over the past five years, she added.

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Jacques Bisimwa, 26, who was a client with the center’s refugee and immigrant services in 2017, now is a refugee case manager there.

Bisimwa left the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2007 for Zimbabwe, where he lived for 10 years. In his first 90 days as a client at the McAuley Center, Bisimwa obtained a social security card, learned how to use public transportation and began learning English.

“Serving people was not my passion, but I was transformed by the Catherine McAuley Center to help people,” Bisimwa said during a mock groundbreaking at the site Tuesday. “I choose to help other people the same way they helped me.”

‘Quiet space’

Charles Crawley, longtime tutor at the center, said he arrives at 9 a.m. on the days he volunteers to secure a private space to teach his students.

“Now, we will each have a quiet space where students can focus on their lessons,” Crawley said of the new site.

With the new center, they also will be able to expand their transitional housing program from 15 to 22 residents and host more classes for their adult basic education program. The project increases the center’s space from 8,724 square feet to 32,802 square feet.

“It opens up more options to provide services to women who are healing from trauma and experiencing homelessness,” Land said.

The transitional housing program typically has a waiting list of 30 to 40 people. The adult basic education program has a backlog of more 100 people.

Tara King, a former client of the transitional housing program and now an on-call employee, said the program gives people time to get back on their feet.

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Suffering from depression, King would spent the night on the street, back in June 2009. Instead, it was her first night on in the McAuley Center.

“I just didn’t have a place to go. I kind of lost my way,” King recalled.

King spent a year at the center where they gave her time to find employment, helped her set up counseling appointments and encouraged her to seek medical treatment.

“To me, the Catherine McAuley Center means hope,” King said. “I’ve never walked in and not had someone smile at me and say, ‘welcome.’”

Volunteers needed

Officials at McAuley Center began working toward this project five years ago. Land said they were already “tight on space” and wanted to expand their services.

They explored 35 properties in the area and conducted a feasibility study to inquire whether they could build. In the meantime, the St. Luke’s venue became available.

“For me personally, it’s just so exciting to know we’ll be able to serve more people and be able to do it more effectively,” Land said. “It’s gratifying to know our community supports the Catherine McAuley Center mission.”

Land said in the next few years, they plan to add to their staff of 31, and will need more volunteers.

The center won’t start renovations until January. REM Iowa, an organization that provides services to adults and children with intellectual and developmental disabilities, currently occupies the space. REM Iowa plans to move out in December, Land said.

“It’s a 40-plus year old building. A lot needs to be fixed,” she said.

The current location of the McAuley Center at 866 Fourth Ave. SE is owned by the center. The land, however, is owned by Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, at 857 Third Ave. SE.

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When the McAuley Center vacates the building, per its purchase agreement with the church it will need to sell the building back to Immaculate Conception for $1, “assuming we will no longer be doing programming there,” Land said.

Comments: (319) 368-8664; grace.king@thegazette.com

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