Basketballs dribbling, drums drumming, and kids dancing. Passing by the Dream Center in a pre-COVID world, there’s no doubt you would feel a buzz of energy radiating from the community space. While the building has been a little more quiet since COVID-19 hit, the impact of this rooted community organization has never wavered.
For nearly 10 years, the Dream City has been a place where “Dreams Come Alive.” The organization was founded in 2012 by Frederick Newell. After graduating from the University of Iowa, Newell joined the Iowa Department of Human Services, working closely with mothers and other target populations. Quickly after starting the job, Newell realized that there was a lack of services catered to fathers and young parents. Seeing an opportunity for improvement, and having gone through similar experiences as a young father himself, Newell sought to start something new, the Dream Center (now known as the Dream City).
Located on the South Side of Iowa City, Dream City is a hub for community, connection, and dreaming big. Before the time of COVID-19, the Dream City could be regularly found buzzing with programming activities focused on inspiring change through advocacy, art, wellness, and community connections. While the City has had to bring their programming online, the organization’s impact hasn’t stopped. They continue to offer a variety of programs for both youth and adults:
Youth Leadership Academy
The Dream City Youth Leadership Academy consists of providing leadership and service opportunities. This Academy also provides tutoring for Connection Academy students (mandatory), and mentorship programming.
Performing Arts Academy
The Dream City Performing Arts Academy consists of different forms of dance, spoken word, acting, video & photography.The Performing Arts Academy can be seen performing at churches, schools, parades and special events.
Health and Wellness Academy
The Dream City Health & Wellness Academy’s number one goal is to promote physical wellness. This Academy hosts nutritional, sports, and health- based cooking programming to the local community.
Family Connection Academy
The Family Connections Academy provides resources for families in the Iowa City community. This academy serves as a resource for the physical, mental and emotional wellbeing of families they serve.
Young Fathers Network
In early 2020, Dream City partnered with United Action for Youth to launch a Young Fathers Network. The weekly meeting is an opportunity for young men to discuss many topics including fatherhood, careers, sports, life, and more.
After 8 years of dreaming big, the Dream City continues to grow — helping young men and women develop leadership skills, build character, and give back to the community. If you’d like to support the Dream City in furthering their mission, you can make a tax-deductible donation here.
The following article was originally published by the Iowa City Press-Citizen on February 27th, 2020
Cross Park Place, a housing-first program by Shelter House, wrapped up construction just one year ago and was at full occupancy by June 2019. The program provides 24 units of permanent supportive housing for individuals for whom homelessness has become a chronic condition and people dealing with complex health and behavioral issues.
Thursday morning, Crissy Canganelli, the executive director of Shelter House, presented data gathered from Cross Park Place’s first year of operation.
“Through the evidence, we were able to show that permanent supportive housing reduces returns to jail, reduces utilization in medical systems and reliance on emergency health services, and overall improves the quality of life,” Canganelli said.
To get a sense of how housing impacted individuals, Shelter house took an accounting of Cross Park Place residents’ medical costs for the last four years. Fourteen of the 23 residents’ medical expenses were well below $200,000, one resident had expenses in excess of $1.8 million, in their prior four years. Based on figures Shelter House presented, these were well in excess of any legal or treatment related expenses.
For example, one resident between Feb. 5, 2018 and 2019 racked up five emergency room visits, nine inpatient admissions, four clinic appointments, and 10 no-show or canceled appointments. This totaled $211,617.05 in medical bills in just one year. After moving to Cross Park Place on February 5 2019 and as of November 15, the billed cost for the resident is $957.
According to an analysis by David Schwindt, the project manager for Iowa City Police Department’s Data Driven Justice program, the average number of nights in jail for residents in the three years prior to entering Cross Park Place was 107 nights. However, in the first three quarters since entry, Schwindt found that the average was far below that at around 28 nights.
Currently, Shelter House is working with the University of Iowa to develop a more formalized study of the program. Caganelli said she is immensely pleased both with the results she showed in the slides, but also the results they couldn’t.
“What’s not able to be captured by a slide here is to talk about just the incredible transition that it takes for a person to move from having lived outdoors. Some folks for over 30 years they’ve been homeless,” Caganellis said. “There’s no way to anticipate what that looks like and feels like.”
The following article was originally published by the Cedar Rapids Gazette on January 6, 2020
Like a lot of young adults, Matt Morrison wanted to buy a starter home but hadn’t built the reserves for making a down payment or paying for improvements often needed with a first home.
Through the Neighborhood Finance Corp., he found some of both.
The program designed to spur reinvestment in neighborhoods teetering on decline provided a no-interest deferred down payment loan, a mortgage and a $10,000 forgivable loan for repairs if Morrison stays in the home for five years.
“It really helps with the down payment if you don’t have a nest egg,” said Morrison, 28, of Cedar Rapids. “It helped me to find something between the $80,000 and $100,000 price range and have a shot at it.”
Neighborhood Finance Corp. has provided 45 loans to 41 borrowers worth more than $2 million and representing $915,582 in renovations since beginning lending last year in targeted areas of Cedar Rapids.
In December, the Cedar Rapids City Council expanded eligible areas to include additional neighborhoods in the southwest quadrant along Kirkwood Boulevard, Wilson Avenue, Johnson Avenue and C Street/Ely Road. The expansion came in response to demand from those areas and from recognizing the program had more capacity, officials said.
All low-moderate income census tracts, core neighborhoods and certain neighborhoods adjacent to the core, chosen by age of the housing stock, assessed value and homeownership rates, already had been established as lending areas.
A map of eligible areas is available at neighborhoodfinance.org/lending-map/cedar-rapids.
“Our goal is to provide loans to 60 homebuyers or homeowners in Cedar Rapids in 2020,” Preusch said. “We look forward to reaching this goal in year two as more people know about the value we bring to homebuyers and homeowners, and we increase our outreach and marketing.”
As real estate agents gain familiarity, they can promote it to potential homebuyers, which is what happened for Morrison.
He had found a home on Indiana Street SW that was dilapidated but had potential. The two-bedroom, one-bath home had been in foreclosure and empty for a year. Pipes had burst, causing water damage, and the house “smelled like a musty pond dog,” Morrison said.
His uncle, Tim Hanna, who’s also a builder, purchased the home from the bank initially for $38,000 in October 2018, and began repair work for Morrison.
Morrison purchased the home for $60,615 in February, plus the $6,000 down payment loan, which does not generate interest and doesn’t need to be repaid until he sells or refinances. After five months and an interior renovation including new floors, cabinets, kitchen and bathroom, he had invested $80,000, including the sale price.
“I probably wouldn’t have gotten a house,” he said. “I would have had to wait longer to save money.”
He credits the program for allowing him to begin building equity much sooner.
Overland said the renovated home has been a boost for values in the neighborhood, which is an important goal for the city because its operations are funded largely by property taxes heavily influenced by assessed values. Neighborhood Finance Corp. helps with lending on properties that banks and credit unions might shy away from, he said.
“By taking the worst house on a block and making it usable — in this case completely redone — is a huge benefit to the neighborhood,” Overland said. “Nobody wanted to live next door to that.”
This spring, the Iowa EdTech Accelerator welcomed its first cohort of educational technology companies. The Accelerator, a collaborative project led by NewBoCo, is an intensive, highly-focused 14-week program aimed at early stage (pre- or early-revenue) companies that are located in Iowa. The Accelerator program is one of the key pillars of the newly-formed Iowa EdTech Collaborative initiative, which is working to grow K-12 and lifelong learning in the state of Iowa. The first Accelerator program took place on the ACT campus in Iowa City, until going virtual in response to COVID-19 safety concerns.
“The Iowa EdTech Accelerator really reinforces Iowa’s status as an EdTech oasis and we’re honored to host the first accelerator cohort on the ACT campus and provide mentorship.” - Ada Woo, Sr. Director of Strategy Implementation and Operations, ACTNext.
Four companies were selected to participate in the first cohort:
With the help of fellow Iowa EdTech Accelerators participants, education professionals, and experienced EdTech mentors, companies are able to receive direct feedback from customers and develop a deeper understanding of their product in order to build solutions that students and educators actually want. The Accelerator is modeled after NewBoCo’s successful Iowa Startup Accelerator framework and will provide companies with benefits such as $25,000 in initial seed capital; coaching with experienced entrepreneurial leaders; education workshops around topics like funding, marketing, and more; access to an extensive mentor pool; software perks; and technical services.
“In the Accelerator, we’ve learned principles around business modeling, marketing, and clearly defining what problem we want to solve for our customers and how our services and products will do it. This new knowledge helps us build a valuable and sustainable business that delivers life-changing impacts for the students, families, and schools we serve,” said Beth Connell, Education Specialist at IEP Equity and Iowa EdTech Accelerator participant.
The following article was originally published by the Cedar Rapids Gazette on June 24, 2018.
Standing in one of her old classrooms in Monroe Elementary School, Sue Serbousek still can envision where her kindergartners would play with blocks, page through books and make crafts.
The school where she taught for 22 years recently has been rehabilitated into apartment and loft units. For Serbousek, who remembers a school where staff felt like family, she looks forward to the building’s next life.
“It was our home, our second home, for a lot of us,” she said, looking around one of the building’s two-bedroom units. “ ... It’s still very school-like to me. It will be different when there are people actually living here.”
The building, which the Cedar Rapids school board voted to close in 2012, is set to open to its first tenants in July as Monroe Place.
Elected city and school representatives as well as historical preservationists say the renovated school, 3200 Pioneer Ave SE, could be a model for other Cedar Rapids schools slated to close over the next 20 years.
Chances a vacant school would remain empty in Cedar Rapids are slim, said City Council member Scott Olson.
“Cedar Rapids has been very fortunate compared to the rural communities,” said Olson, an architect and Realtor. “That’s where the problems are — where the buildings sit there and deteriorate, they can’t get enough rent to make the numbers work, they become an eyesore and they’re torn down. Where here, most of our (former school) buildings are in areas that are doing really well.”
The 1961 Monroe school — with its large classroom spaces, wall-to-wall windows and tall ceilings — is “perfect for a great apartment,” Olson said.
Monroe is the first school building in Cedar Rapids to be converted into housing, said Mark Stoffer Hunter, a research historian for The History Center.
“As a historian, it’s groundbreaking for Cedar Rapids preservation on so many levels,” Stoffer Hunter said. “ ... I’m really anxious to see how successful this turns out, as it could be a great prototype for what could happen down the road.”
The Cedar Rapids Community School District, which used to own and operate the Monroe building, intends to shed eight elementary schools over the next two decades, though funding for the district’s extensive facilities plan has not been secured.
Plans for the schools slated to close under the plan — Garfield, Grant Wood, Kenwood, Madison, Nixon, Taylor, Truman and Van Buren elementary schools — will be set as the school district looks to space out closures over the next two decades.
Predicting what school buildings might become, or if the school closures will even more forward as planned, is so unclear it’s like “looking into a crystal ball,” said City Council member Susie Weinacht.
If the school facilities plan goes forward, Weinacht said she hopes residents will have ample time to discuss the future of their community’s school building.
In discussions thus far, school board President John Laverty said he’s heard interest in adapting vacant schools into senior centers, day cares, health care centers and housing.
“There are a lot of people talking about things, and there have been things talked about in our community for quite some time,” said Weinacht, who is a member of a joint city-school committee tasked with reviewing the community impact of closures. “The No. 1 thing is these schools should not, would not — and we don’t want them to — sit empty. Monroe is great example of what a community can do with the building.”
None of the post-World War II school buildings once owned by the Cedar Rapids district have been abandoned or left vacant, Stoffer Hunter said. Former schools have gone on to become churches, privately-owned schools and office space.
The level of preservation in Monroe — which is owned by the Affordable Housing Network, an affiliate of Four Oaks — has been encouraging for the historian.
The multicolored, glazed tiles and cubby spaces in the hallway are valuable markers of a baby boom-era school, Stoffer Hunter said.
“A building like Monroe here really details the feel of that incredible period of American history, when we had so many kids coming up in American society and we needed to build so many schools,” he said, noting Monroe was one of seven schools opened in 1961 in Cedar Rapids.
Nearly 60 years later, the district is facing the opposite problem as enrollment declines and it weighs closing eight schools.
“If we do go forward and close some of our Cedar Rapids school buildings, this is a great option,” said Stoffer Hunter, standing in one of Monroe’s long hallways. “It’s a great fit.”