In Cedar Rapids, homes and hope bloom anew

It's been two years since a flood forced him and his wife to move away, but Tuesday, surrounded by family and volunteers, Donald McSpadden saw the rebirth of his home. "He's been so excited he can't sleep at night," says Donald's daughter, Sandy Dighton.

CWS worked to repair homes in and around Cedar Rapids' most damaged areas. Many houses are still boarded up, with families living elsewhere.
Photo: Matt Hackworth/CWS

By Matt Hackworth/CWS

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – It’s been two years since a flood forced him and his wife to move away, but Tuesday, surrounded by family and volunteers, Donald McSpadden saw the rebirth of his home.

“He’s been so excited he can’t sleep at night,” says Donald’s daughter, Sandy Dighton.

Bound to a wheelchair and coping with a disability, McSpadden’s eyes welled with tears as he saw newly-finished floors, fixtures and fresh paint on drywall. In a strained voice, he thanked each volunteer he saw.

More than 40 volunteers looked on as Church World Service national and local partners celebrated the end of the Neighborhood: Cedar Rapids project. The six-week effort brought together volunteers from across the U.S. and Canada to help 14 families return home.

Sandy Dighton and Don McSpadden
Sandy Dighton pushes her father, Don McSpadden, around his newly repaired home. The McSpaddens hope to move in by the end of June.
Photo: Matt Hackworth/CWS

Needs still abound in Cedar Rapids, where devastating floodwaters gripped this city along the Cedar River for more than a month in 2008. In the McSpaddens’ neighborhood, nearby homes are being demolished as government officials readjusted the floodplain based on the disaster two years ago.

The McSpaddens’ home sits just beyond the new floodplain line. Many of their neighbors have already seen their homes bought out and demolished in the floodplain readjustment.

“The people in the neighborhood--they were angry for a long time,” says Melzor Hill, site coordinator on the McSpadden home. “It’s still hard for them.”

Even during the Neighborhood: Cedar Rapids ceremony, the sounds of demolition could be heard over a polka band playing for the event. Yet the focus of the volunteers and partners in the recovery—as well as the 14 returning families themselves--was solely on the effort of returning as many families home as possible.

“We can’t help where they say the line is drawn for the floodplain,” says Bonnie Vollmering, CWS Associate Director for Domestic Emergency Response. “All we can do is help as many people as we can return to the homes allowed to stand.”

The spirit of helping people is what drew retired federal executive Shirley Mehan, of Rock Spring United Church of Christ in Arlington, Va., to give of her time. “The spirit moves you to make a contribution,” Mehan said, taking a break to wipe sweat from her brow as she sanded drywall. “We’re taking all the time; we should be doing some giving.”

Melzor Hill, Don McSpadden, and Sandy Dighton
Site Supervisor Melzor Hill shows off his work to Don McSpadden (seated) and his daughter, Sandy Dighton.
Photo: Matt Hackworth/CWS

The Neighborhood: Cedar Rapids project builds on the first CWS ecumenical rebuilding project, Neighborhood: New Orleans. That effort returned 12 Hurricane Katrina-displaced families to their homes in just four weeks with more than 500 volunteers.

CWS partners brought more than 400 volunteers to Cedar Rapids, some of whom worked on Bill Parrott’s home. Also disabled, Parrott has lived upstairs in his home while coping with flood damage and repairs downstairs. He spent most of the six-week project working side-by-side with volunteers.

“I wouldn’t feel right to just stand around and watch them,” Parrott said. “I can say I’ve met the good people of the world.”


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