Public Safety

New Catherine McAuley Center damaged in storm less than a month after move

Staff member says she is leaning on the strength, resiliency of refugee and immigrant clients

The Catherine McAuley Center, which relocated to a newly refurbished building at 1220 Fifth Ave. SE in Cedar Rapids last
The Catherine McAuley Center, which relocated to a newly refurbished building at 1220 Fifth Ave. SE in Cedar Rapids last month, experienced water damage to walls, carpet and furniture Monday, Aug. 10, during the derecho storm when a portion of its roof blew off. (Photo by Grace King)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Less than a month after moving into a newly renovated building, staff and volunteers at the Catherine McAuley Center worked to clean up debris created by the derecho storm that blew through Eastern Iowa Monday.

The storm blew a portion of the roof off the former UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s Hospital’s Living Center East building at 1220 Fifth Ave. SE, in Cedar Rapids. Three days after the storm, carpets were still damp and walls that had been freshly painted mere weeks ago bubbled from the moisture.

“It’s been overwhelming,” said Paula Land, executive director of the center. “We were excited to introduce donors and the public to the new space. But it’s truly amazing the volunteers and staff who have jumped in to work.”

About 30 volunteers and staff reported to the center Thursday morning from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. to clean up tree branches and other debris blown onto the property in the storm.

Hearing a need from the community for food, the center opened its food pantry Thursday, and 20 households picked up food in the first hour. Center staff expected the pantry to be depleted of food by Friday.

Some families, after picking up their food, grabbed some gloves and pitched in to help clean up tree branches and storm debris from the property.

Five residents, who were living at the center before the storm, have been displaced. A few have moved in temporarily with family and others were moved to another location, said Kelsey Steins, the center’s development and communications manager.


Much of the furniture, which was donated to the Catherine McAuley Center for the move, is ruined, Steins said.

The damage at the center has not yet been assessed.

The center purchased the building last year and launched a %5.5 million capital campaign to renovate it. The campaign included a $1 million endowment to help cover the increased operation cost of the facility.

The center still is in need of $1.2 million to wrap up the capital campaign, Land said.

The center provided resettlement, resource navigation and employment support service for over 300 refugees and immigrants last year. The center’s adult basic education program has grown 60 percent over the past five years.

Its transitional housing program has the capacity for 22 residents.

Land said staff members began reaching out to refugees they have helped resettle and students in their education program earlier in the week to identify the needs of the community after the storm.

“For people who English is not their first language, it might be difficult to access services,” Land said.

Sara Zejnic, Director of Refugee and Immigrant Services, said she has sent text messages to some of the students and refugees she has worked with.

“People have responded there was some level of damage to their vehicles or homes. They’re grateful we were willing to open the food pantry,” Zejnic said.

Education Services Director Anne Dugger said the clients she works with are teaching her resiliency.


“We have a group of people we can learn from a little big,” Dugger said. “I’m going to lean on that strength.”

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