The American Red Cross has partnered with the Iowa City Fire Department to offer free smoke alarms for residents of Iowa City's South District. Upon solicitation, volunteers will come to your home to: 1) install smoke alarms in your home, 2) help you create a home fire safety plan, and 3) aid in mapping out a two minute escape plan in the event of an emergency in your home - all for free!
If you are in need of a smoke alarm or fire safety plan in your home, or have any further questions about this partnership, please feel free to reach out to either Brian Greer, the Iowa City Fire Department Fire Marshal, or Solano, IVHFH AmeriCorps Vista member and American Red Cross point person, with the contact information listed below:
Phone: (319) 356-5257
Phone: (410) 842-7227
Earlier this year, Iowa Valley Habitat for Humanity was approached by a man who was experiencing more than his share of bad luck. Jim, of Lowden, IA, had been in a car accident that left him unable to work. In addition, medical concerns had him in and out of the hospital through the winter, and his home’s roof sustained catastrophic damage in last summer’s derecho. When the plaster cracked and began to fall in the dining room, he knew he needed help. Knowing that he would not be able to afford the repairs on his own, he reached out to our organization.
Our Helping Hands program was able to secure grants to pay for the replacement of Jim’s roof, install some much-needed grab bars throughout the home, and arrange for weatherization improvements to the rest of his home. These repairs will help him stay in his home and ensure his continued access to decent, safe housing.
Our partnerships with the Eastern Iowa Regional Housing Corporation and the US Bank Foundation and US Bank Tipton branch were instrumental to the success of this. These organizations provided the funding to pay for the labor and materials needed to get the job done. Without their commitment to the Cedar County community, homeowners like Jim would be without options. Expressing his thanks, Jim said, “I’m very thankful. God bless the people that reached out and made it possible for me to afford to get the work done.”
Iowa Valley Habitat for Humanity is excited to announce some recent staffing changes! We sat down with Scott Hawes and Aaron Kiesey, who have both recently transitioned into new roles, to discuss what’s changing for them and for the organization.
IVHFH: Can you tell us what your previous position was?
Aaron: I was the ReStore Co-Director. In addition to overseeing store operations, I focused on building relationships with local corporate and individual donors.
Scott: I was the Helping Hands Program Director, so I worked to connect qualified applicants with local funding, subcontractors, and other resources to make the housing improvements they needed.
IVHFH: And your new role?
Scott: I’m now the Associate Executive Director. I’ll be focusing on organization-wide operations with an emphasis on our ongoing partnership with the South District Neighborhood and developing our Financial Literacy and Homeowner Education program. I’ll continue overseeing Helping Hands operations as well, especially Emergency Repairs and Major Appliance Replacement (ERMAR) projects that we undertake in Johnson County.
Aaron: I’ve moved into the role of Helping Hands Program Director. I’ll be taking over the work of connecting homeowners with the necessary resources to remedy their housing problems, and I’ll be focusing on projects in Cedar, Iowa, Louisa, and Washington Counties.
IVHFH: What are you excited about being able to do in your new role?
Scott: I’m really looking forward to how this staffing change will allow us to increase our reach in the community. For example, these first 9 months of the ERMAR program have shown us that there is a huge unmet need for these types of repairs in our community. Being able to focus on developing and expanding that program is going to be very impactful.
Aaron: I love that I now have the opportunity to directly interface with our clients. In ReStore my focus was raising funds for our affiliate. Now I get to experience up close what those funds can do. I really enjoy building relationships with clients and helping them achieve critical home repairs—I love the direct service aspect of this job.
IVHFH: And just for fun, can you share an interesting fact about yourself?
Aaron: I’m a Certified Mediator in the states of Iowa and Minnesota. Several years ago I opted to take a course through Mitchell Hamline School of Law’s Dispute Resolution Institute. The skills I learned have benefitted me both personally and professionally. It was very enriching.
Scott: I actually used to be a teacher! I taught social studies to students in grades 6 through 12. I’ve taught in Greeley, Iowa, in China through the Peace Corps, and spent 5 years at the Colegio Bolivar in Colombia.
Congratulations, Aaron and Scott! We are so blessed to have you both on our team. Your dedication to service and determination to make community-wide improvements is a major asset to our organization, and we can’t wait to see the amazing things you will do in your new roles.
Through Iowa Valley Habitat for Humanity’s Helping Hands repair program, a single-mother in North Liberty has replaced the flooring throughout her home.
Homeowner Geri’s son, Tajiri, has severe allergies. As a baby, Tajiri was experiencing hair loss, breathing problems, skin irritations, and more, but it was difficult to determine what was causing his symptoms. At the time, the family had pets in their home, but suspecting an allergy was causing Tajiri’s health problems, Geri removed the pets from their home. Later testing showed Tajiri suffers from several allergies including pet dander. Tajiri continues to struggle and his allergies make it difficult for him to sleep. Even after years of not having pets, the pet dander in the carpet throughout their home and vent/duct system triggers Tajiri’s allergies. Geri says, “If you have a situation where a child has severe allergies and is allergic to the home, what do you do? Not everybody can just move to another home. It really was a no-win situation.”
As part of the repair project, Iowa Valley Habitat for Humanity will had the vents and ducts in the home cleaned. Sobaski Abbey Carpet and Floor donated the labor, materials, and supplies to remove all the carpeting in Geri and Tajiri’s home and replace it with vinyl plank flooring.
Homeowner Geri says, “I tell my foster children from day one, "No matter how it looks, you are never alone. There's always someone in your corner, they just have to find you." I got that saying from my grandmother. When I found out what was wrong with my son and not being able to do what I needed to help him, as a single mother, I felt helpless. But true to my grandmother's words [Iowa Valley Habitat for Humanity has] now proved to me that I too, am not alone.”
IVHFH would like to thank Sobaski Abbey Carpet and Floor for their generous sponsorship of this project!
This project is part of Iowa Valley Habitat for Humanity’s annual Women Build program. The 2021 Women Build is in honor of Jane Hagedorn, master plumber and former owner of Bea Day Plumbers. Jane and the IVHFH Women Build committee are working with Habitat staff to raise $55,000 to support construction of a new Habitat home in Iowa City as well as the Helping Hands repair for Geri and Tajiri.
Geri and Tajiri's project was recently featured on KCRG: https://www.kcrg.com/2021/04/30/north-liberty-mom-receives-free-flooring-to-help-autistic-son-with-severe-allergies/.
This month we are featuring Cliff Haynes for our Community Partner Spotlight. Cliff is Disaster Program Manager for The Eastern Iowa Chapter of the Red Cross. He has filled numerous roles with the Red Cross and has deployed to multiple disasters, including forest fires in Canada and Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Cliff enjoys being able to assist people with recovering from disasters, whether it is a hurricane or house fire. Prior to moving to the Midwest in 2015, he was in emergency services for 20 years as a volunteer firefighter and EMT. Cliff has a wife and two children.
In March 2021, The Eastern Iowa Chapter of the Red Cross partnered with Iowa Valley Habitat for Humanity and is working together with The Iowa City Fire Department to help make homes safer in the South District of Iowa City.
IVHFH: Can you talk a little bit about current work of the Red Cross of Eastern Iowa on Emergency Planning and Disaster Preparedness?
Cliff Haynes: The American Red Cross Disaster Cycle Services group is responsible for preparing communities for disasters, responding to the immediate needs of those affected by disasters, and helping individuals and communities affected by disaster recover successfully.
Currently, the Red Cross is building partnerships with government agencies and community advocacy groups across the entire country. In the Nebraska/Iowa Region, and more specifically the southeast Iowa territory, we are partnering with school districts for youth preparedness programs, fire departments, and other community agencies for fire safety programs, and county emergency managers for disaster response planning. Our workforce is ready to respond to disasters, helping present prevention and preparedness programs, and working to make sure we are ready to serve the community if needed.
IVHFH: The 2021 Iowa Region Fire Campaign was recently launched officially. What are some of the ways residents of Iowa City can be involved and participate?
Cliff Haynes: Home fires are the number one disaster the Red Cross responds to. In an effort to reduce the number of fires and the number of fire deaths, we have a project entitled Home Fire Campaign. This consists of two parts. One part is “Sound the Alarm” and the other is “Homes Made Safer”. Through these two programs, we partner with various community agencies to target high fire risk homes and neighborhoods to educate the residents on making their homes safer from fire dangers. This includes fire safety education, the making and practicing of escape plans, and testing of smoke alarms. If a home does not have a smoke alarm, the Red Cross will arrange to have smoke alarms installed at no cost to the resident. Residents can go to redcross.org/smokealarmIA or call 833-422-1751 to register for the “Homes Made Safer” education and request a smoke alarm.
IVHFH: The American Red Cross serving Iowa is currently running three blood donation centers. What resources are available for blood donors in Johnson County specifically?
Cliff Haynes: The Blood Services division of the Red Cross has regular blood drives throughout the community. To find a Red Cross blood drive in their area, people can go to redcrossblood.org or download the Red Cross blood donor app from either the Google Play store or the Apple store. Blood donations to the Red Cross are used both locally and outside of the local area to meet any needs. A donor can even see how their blood was used to help a patient.
IVHFH: “Prepare with Pedro Fire Safety”, and the “Red Cross Pillowcase Project”, are two of the most effective Red Cross Disaster Preparedness programs specially created for children K-2 and Grades 3-5. Tell us a little about these.
Cliff Haynes: The Red Cross has two programs targeted towards youth preparedness, “Prepare with Pedro” and “The Pillowcase Project”. “Prepare with Pedro” is a program designed to be presented to kindergarten through second graders. It teaches the children basic safety tips for a variety of emergencies as well as some simple coping skills to help manage stress. “The Pillowcase Project” teaches youth in 3rd-5th grade fire safety skills, preparedness skills, as well as coping skills for managing stress. The students are encouraged to take what they learn in the presentations and teach it to their families to make their homes safer.
IVHFH: The Red Cross is a volunteer driven organization. What are some of the current opportunities for volunteers to work on for the Red Cross in Eastern Iowa and Johnson County in particular.
Cliff Haynes: 90 percent of the American Red Cross workforce is volunteer. We are always looking for people who are called to serve their neighbors. There are dozens of positions available. Many are virtual positions, so where you live isn’t a limiting factor. Individuals can volunteer in numerous areas, including Disaster Cycle Services, Blood Services, and Services to the Armed Forces. To learn more and explore areas that might be of interest, visit: www.redcross.org/volunteer/become-a-volunteer.
Iowa Valley Habitat for Humanity is working together with the South District Neighborhood Association (SDNA) to deliver Iowa City Community School District school meals to children's homes in the South District.
This is a concerted effort between the SDNA and IVHFH to ensure that all children living in the South District have access to breakfast and lunch combined, delivered at their door step.
Soon after the school year started in the Fall of 2020, the ICCSD rolled out a free Grab & Go Meal Program for all children enrolled in the public school district of Iowa City.
Facing uncertainty, whether it is safe for children to return to a hybrid system, in January 2021, The South District Neighborhood Association and their President Angie Jordan started regular conversations with many parents in the South District to assess the current situation. They concluded that, while a majority of children in the SD were still enrolled in 100% online learning from home, many did not have the facility to pick up their meals directly from their school on a daily basis.
In the same month of January 2021, Angie Jordan gathered a list of interested families and started driving school meals from SE Junior High directly to families in need. Shortly after, IVHFH joined efforts with the SDNA to help support the newly created Grab & Go lunch home delivery program and expanded to more families in need living in the South District.
Since then, we have seen an amazing response from our families in the South District, as we grew from driving and delivering 26 to 97 meals day in a matter of weeks. The positive feedback from families in the SD has been very humbling as we continue to welcome new families to join our list of deliveries every day. As more families are showing interest and requesting to be included in our meal distribution program, we are adding 8 new families per week and delivering 25 added meals a week, on average.
Moving forward, we are quickly approaching the 100 meals a day threshold, and we are in need of more volunteer drivers to continue to deliver those meals on a daily basis, so we can continue to expand while making sure every meal gets delivered on time every day of the week.
Those interested in helping the SDNA and IVHFH with this continuous effort to help feed more home-schooled children in the SD, can sign up for any daily shifts still available, any weekdays this Winter and Spring of 2021. You can sign up here or log on to your volunteer account on United Way volunteer opportunities and sign up here.
For more information, please visit the SDNA Facebook page or contact the SDNA Grab & Go Lunches Delivery Program Coordinator for the South District at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We look forward to working with you to provide relief and happiness to children all over the South District neighborhood.
We recently had the opportunity to catch up with long-term Habitat supporter and community partner, John Barr. We came to know John through his volunteer work on construction with First Presbyterian Church. Since then, he has remained involved with our organization as a member of our Interfaith Builds committee as well as through the Consultation of Religious Communities where John currently serves as Communications Secretary. We were most excited to learn that John is a poet!
IVHFH: Tell us a little bit about yourself. What is one interest/hobby that people are usually surprised to learn about you?
John Barr: Composing haiku
Requires concise expression
From this verbose guy
IVHFH: You are Professor Emeritus in Physical Therapy at St. Ambrose University, where you tenured for over twenty years, and you were a faculty member at the University of Iowa before that. What values and beliefs as a clinician, a researcher, and a professor inspired your religious community agency work, and vice-versa?
John Barr: My personal values of compassion, interest in social justice, and stewardship of personal and natural resources have inspired most of my community work.
IVHFH: Do you remember your first experience as a faith community advocate for social and economic justice?
John Barr: One of the projects of the Servanthood Ministry at First Presbyterian Church, Iowa City, was to help address food insecurity through Table to Table and the Free Lunch Program (FLP). I was involved in fundraising for both organizations and continue to serve as a FLP volunteer.
IVHFH: How would you describe the impact that had in your life, and how did that change your outlook on things?
John Barr: The Free Lunch Program partnered me with a range of volunteers from other local faith communities and allowed me to directly interact with individuals who received our meals. It opened my eyes to this real need that many caring individuals in our community were also striving to meet.
IVHFH: You are currently the Consultation of Religious Communities (CRC) Communications Secretary. How would you describe your current role, and what CRC programs are you working on at the moment, or planning for the near future.
John Barr: The primary duties of the Communications Secretary are to oversee our Google Group network and website (www.crc-ic.org). Group members from faith communities and local service agencies/organizations receive regular notifications about social justice issues, lectures/educational programs, and volunteer needs. The CRC hopes to add a “portal” for community volunteer opportunities on our website.
IVHFH: What is your favorite part of your work at the Consultation, and what is the part of your work that you least enjoy?
John Barr: I do enjoy the daily ritual of sharing information via the Google Group; least enjoyable, with my limited skills, is attempting to keep our website up-to-date.
IVHFH: Give us one or two more recent examples of your work with communities of faith that illustrate why interfaith dialogue is key to success for different religious communities in Johnson County.
John Barr: Gabe Martin oversees the Interfaith Committee of the Iowa Valley Habitat for Humanity. Participating representatives from local Christian, Muslim, and Jewish faith communities have worked with Gabe to review national Habitat interfaith resources in order to develop a worksite orientation manual, promotional materials, and formats for devotions at worksite groundbreaking ceremonies, workdays, and dedication ceremonies. In 2019, two Interfaith Build homes were constructed on Blazing Star Drive in Iowa City, through the diligent work of hundreds of interfaith volunteers. I have had the honor of serving as the First Presbyterian Church and CRC representative for these projects which resulted in joyful outcomes.
IVHFH: During these particularly challenging times, not only through COVID, but also with misinformation spread in news media, spikes in hate crime, and a growing perceived mistrust of public institutions, what can interfaith dialogue do to help bridge that social and economic divide in our communities today.
John Barr: I believe that this divide is fueled by fear and lack of opportunities for members of diverse faith communities to meaningfully interact. While dialogue certainly is important to eliminating this divide, there is much to be gained through working shoulder to shoulder on community projects (e.g., Habitat home building), sharing culturally diverse meals, and together celebrating the successful completion of these projects.
IVHFH: Finally, what do you find is quite unique about the faith communities in Johnson County that could inspire other religious communities all across Iowa and the Midwest?
John Barr: Our organization was originally founded in the late 1960s as the Ecumenical Consultation by exclusively Christian churches in Iowa City. In 1996, at the request of faith communities other than Christian, membership was open to all faiths and we became the Consultation of Religious Communities. It is my belief that intellectual and spiritual curiosity, respect for other faith traditions, sincere concern for the welfare of members of our community, and the desire to celebrate our common accomplishments have been important motivators for our faith communities. I prayerfully envision that these and additional factors could be inspirational to faith communities throughout our country during these challenging times.
Want to learn more about the Consultation of Religious Communities of Iowa City? Or interested in getting involved? Visit their website at https://www.crc-ic.org/.
Fiston and Nadege's family have been anxiously awaiting two important events: the completion of their new Habitat home and the birth of their third child. 2021 started off with the arrival of their son, John, and they will soon be moving into their new Habitat home this spring. We recently spent some time with them touring their newly completed home and presenting them with gifts from the community, including the keys to their new home!
Fiston and Nadege are from the Democratic Repulic of the Congo and came to the US through the Diversity VISA program. They have a daughter, Fistina, and two sons, James and John. Fistina says, "Thank you to everyone who is building our house. They make us feel welcome in our community." Read more about Firston and Nadege here.
Before and After Photos of Fiston and Nadege's Remodeled Home
Fiston and Nadege's future home is a Habitat renovation project that was started in summer 2020. Some updated features include a remodeled kitchen, newly finished basement to add additional living space, construction of a deck, and installation of new flooring throughout the home.
If you’ve been on an Iowa Valley Habitat for Humanity construction site any time in the last 25 years, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve run into D’Grouch. William “D’Grouch” Laubengayer helped build over 100 Habitat homes with our affiliate—102 to be precise. William passed away in December of 2020, and we would like to take this time to honor the incredible man that he was.
William was always a bit of a legend around the Habitat offices. He’d been with the affiliate much longer than any of our current staff members and many of our volunteers. That coupled with a nickname like D’Grouch might have caused one to be a bit intimidated upon meeting him. However, getting to talk to and work alongside William, it quickly became clear that the self-imposed nickname was a bit of a misnomer. Grouch was a stickler for quality. Double- and triple-checking Construction Manager Christy’s measurements—often to wryly announce that she was off by a 64th of an inch—wasn’t out of the ordinary. If he was stern, it was because he wanted Habitat homes to be the best, pushing us to exceed code and permit requirements. Grouch wanted Habitat homes to be the highest possible quality, and he knew it could be done.
William was also an endless fount of knowledge that he was always happy to share. Countless Habitat volunteers and homeowners know the proper way to use a tool, the most efficient way to use materials, and the importance of not being done until it’s done right because they learned it from him. Grouch donated his personal shop’s tools to Habitat so that we could open D’Grouch Workshop in 2017. For years to come, Habitat volunteers will continue to learn important construction knowledge in a space built to honor him.
In the spring of 2017, William was one of three Iowans that year to be inducted into the Iowa Volunteer Hall of Fame. As a part of the nomination process, we did the math on all the time he has given over the years, and the numbers were staggering. In his 25 years with IVHFH, Grouch averaged 1,000 volunteer hours each year. On paper, or in a day planner, that looks like a lot of time. In reality, that looks like so many walls raised, volunteers taught, and families in safe, quality homes. Not to mention relationships built and smiles and laughs that were the result of a classic Grouch joke.
While this loss is impossibly difficult to bear, we vow to keep William’s spirit alive. We will continue to honor volunteers that go above and beyond with the annual William “D’Grouch” Laubengayer award. We will continue to instill in others the values he has instilled in us. And we will always remember that beneath that gruff exterior was a heart so filled with love, so filled with compassion, who we were blessed to know in this life. To William.
-Article written by Leda Rouse, IVHVH Volunteer Coordinator
Even in 2020, some traditions couldn’t be changed. Like each preceding year, autumn in 2020 brought pumpkins, costumes, piles of leaves, the first snow of the season, debates about the best Thanksgiving side dishes, and difficult decisions about white or dark meat. For Dana, the comforts that come with these traditions were nearly overshadowed by the stresses of a broken stove and critters sneaking through the gaps in the skirting of her mobile home. These worries were worsened by a loss of income. Without the financial means to replace her stove nor the ability to pay someone to winterize her home, Dana and her son were facing a winter of microwaveable meals and constant anxiety about whether the unwelcome guests below her home were causing damage. After hearing about our new ERMAR service, Dana called IVHFH to learn more about our work and request an application.
Since rolling out our ERMAR (Emergency Repair and Major Appliance Replacement) service on October 1, 2020, the response has been noteworthy. Our office has been inundated with calls from members of our community needing speedy, affordable, and trustworthy home repairs. Even prior to the pandemic home repairs and appliance replacement was a financial burden for many of our friends and neighbors, but the COVID-19 economy brought further hardship and greater demand for our services. Fortunately, our generous donors and amazing partners including the Community Foundation of Johnson County, St. Mary’s Peace and Justice Commission, Mid-American, and West Bank, have supported us in meeting these needs. Together we provided ERMAR services -including furnace replacement, furnace repair, simple electrical and plumbing repairs, roof patching, stove replacement, and winterization- to nine households in the last quarter of 2020. In keeping with our values and mission, each project was completed without creating a financial burden for the homeowners. And with demand remaining strong into 2021, we look forward to continuing our work so that members of our community have access to safe homes.
As for Dana, soon after receiving her application our staff saw to it that her home was winterized. Best of all, staff also arranged for a new stove to be installed before Thanksgiving. Even in 2020, she was allowed her to fill her plate with white meat, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and cranberries on the side. Some traditions can’t be changed.
-Article written by Scott Hawes, IVHFH Helping Hands Manager