CEDAR RAPIDS — Signs popped up this week in yards throughout the Taylor and Time Check neighborhoods, signaling that volunteers were lending several hundred helping hands to their neighbors.
Nonprofit organization Matthew 25, at 201 Third Ave. SW, held its fourth “Transform Week,” which ends Friday. Volunteers spent the days completing home projects including painting, yard work, flooring and garage and porch repair for their fellow community members.
Jana Bodensteiner, Matthew 25 director of development and communications, said more than 300 volunteers signed up to tackle 22 projects in the biggest Transform Week yet, and walk-in volunteers came through Matthew 25’s door every day to help. In addition, Matthew 25 this year began “Transform Your Yard,” she said, where volunteers went around to see if neighbors needed any yard work done.
About 50 volunteers completed five neighborhood projects during the first Transform Week in 2016, Bodensteiner said. In 2017, there were about 150 volunteers working on 12 projects, and about 300 volunteers completed 18 projects last year.
While Transform Week has done projects before in the southwest quadrant Taylor neighborhood, this is the first time its volunteers worked on homes in the northwest quadrant Time Check.
Bodensteiner said these two neighborhoods have a large population of Cedar Rapids residents in need who were impacted by the 2008 flood. The goal is to have Transform Week work in more neighborhoods in the future, she said.
“These are people that are trying to help themselves,” Bodensteiner said, noting that many applicants just can’t continue to repair their homes, especially those still with lots of flood damage. “To be able to come in and do projects that people can’t do, it’s a Godsend.”
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Each day, volunteers came into the Matthew 25 office to have coffee and sign up for one of the day’s projects. They took part in a morning huddle, full of safety tips and word of inspiration, before heading out to tackle the day’s work.
Some of the projects included helping widowed women with flood damage and repairing the front steps on the home of the woman who ran a day care.
Danielle Smith, a Cedar Rapids teacher, was waiting Wednesday to see what projects needed more help. She said she has wanted to help out with Transform Week since she heard about it, but this was the first time she was able to volunteer.
“As neighbors, it’s our job to take care of each other,” she said.
Another project included painting interior rooms, replacing laminate floor with hardwood and repairing porch joists at a home in the Taylor neighborhood.
Jan Vauthrin from Cedar Rapids worked on that house, and has worked on other Transform Week projects in the past.
“Everyone’s working together with the same purpose,” she said. “And you always meet new folks” during the week.
A home in the Time Check neighborhood had an old porch completely redone, said Aaron Saylor, Matthew 25 neighborhood building manager. The owner spent a lot of money on home repairs, Saylor said, but the porch didn’t qualify for federal funding aid since it’s in the 100-year flood plain.
Deb Steinbaker, from North Liberty, was one of the volunteers working on the porch as a way to give back to the community.
“It’s our responsibility to help,” she said.
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People who want their homes to be considered for a project started applying in January, Saylor said. Applicants needed to share what work they wanted and if they fit the income and homeownership guidelines. Then organizers judged whether they’d be able to complete the projects with the number of volunteers who had pledged, he said.
Knowing volunteers could help may give people motivation to address things they may not have been able to repair alone, Saylor said.
“It’s tough to ask for this kind of help,” he said.
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