IOWA DERECHO 2020

Volunteers fan out to tackle storm debris in Wellington Heights

'If a person needs help I want to be there for them'

Candace Lynch (left) of Cedar Rapids and Mindy Fisher of Waterloo carry a log out of a yard during a cleanup Sunday at a
Candace Lynch (left) of Cedar Rapids and Mindy Fisher of Waterloo carry a log out of a yard during a cleanup Sunday at a home on Second Avenue SE in Cedar Rapids. Jess Karma of the Wellington Heights Resource Center organized the branch and tree removal effort for those in the neighborhood who have not yet been able to clean up their homes. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Signs of the derecho’s destructiveness can still be seen on every street in the nearly two weeks since the storm hit, but there also are signs of communities coming together to help.

On Sunday, roughly 45 volunteers gathered at Redmond Park in Wellington Heights to clean up debris and help clear tress from homes. The event was organized by the Wellington Heights Resource Center.

Jess Karma — the center’s event coordinator — said the past two weeks have been some of the most challenging yet amazing she has seen in Cedar Rapids.

Judging by damage to her own home, Karma said she knew the damage to the rest of the city would be extensive and a lot of people were going to need help.

“We jumped right into work mode,” she said. “At first we focused on the resource center — we knew people were going to need food and tools and toiletries and so many other items. Only in the past few days have we branched out into see what we can do to help with the cleanup.”

Sunday, she said, was the first cleanup day the center has organized.

“It’s been so amazing to see so many people come out and help,” she said. “But that’s been happening here (in Wellington Heights) every day since the storm hit. This neighborhood just steps up and comes together when our community needs help.”

Some volunteers spent the day cleaning Redmond Park on Third Avenue SE while others cleared sidewalks and other common areas. There also were crews who worked to clear downed trees from homes. A few blocks away from Redmond Park, one of the crews worked to clear trees from 1809 Second Ave. SE in the historic district of Wellington Heights.

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“I just like volunteering,” said Naume Nayino, of Hiawatha. “If a person needs help I want to be there for them and serve the community.”

The 22-year-old certified nursing assistant is a student at Kirkwood Community College, studying nursing.

Homeowner Janet Bergman watched as a crew of about eight volunteers cut up and hauled several downed trees off her 100-plus-year-old property, piling the debris at the curb.

“This neighborhood gets a bad rap,” she said. “But it isn’t true. Just look at all these people who came out to help. I can’t talk about it without crying.”

Bergman said Wellington Heights is the epitome of #CRstrong.

“As soon as the storm ended, people came out of their houses and started helping right away — checking on each other, clearing roads, directing traffic,” she said. “And that’s the real story about this neighborhood.”

One of the volunteers, Candace Lynch, is the principal at Johnson STEAM Academy, on 18th Street SE.

Over the past two weeks, Lynch said she has arranged for the school’s teachers to volunteer in a variety of ways including handing out food and cleaning up the neighborhood.

“I didn’t know what to do at first,” she said. “You know, we had no power, no internet connection and barely any cellphone service, so I couldn’t reach out to our students and their families to check on them and see what they needed.”

So Lynch said she started walking the neighborhood, talking to residents, making note of damage, and organized the school’s teachers to help where they could.

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One of those was kindergarten teacher Mindy Fisher. Fisher lives in Waterloo where the Aug. 10 storm was pretty much like any other rainstorm in Iowa.

“I had no idea what had happened until I got an email from the school,” she said. “I was shocked and all I could think about was our families and the kids.”

Fisher said she’s been in Cedar Rapids almost every day over the past two weeks helping out.

“You know, I have one biological child,” she said, her voice thick with tears. “But I have hundreds of kids that are my kids, and not all of them have the resources that I or my child have access to. I had families messaging me back and forth about the damage and how they were ready to go back to school, but now they can’t. And it hurts my heart to think of what they’ve lost and how they might be struggling right now.”

l Comments: 319-398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com.

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