Building hope, Hawkeye students rehab blighted Waterloo home for low-income family

posted on Thursday, August 13, 2020 in  College News

WATERLOO – A vacant home that was riddled with bullet holes and filled with remnants from years of squatting on the city’s east side is being revived under a new partnership aimed at helping struggling families and improving neighborhoods.

Hawkeye Community College and One City United, a Waterloo nonprofit organization, launched the first session of WE Build Waterloo in June. The 12-week program introduces 18- to 24-year-olds to a variety of construction trades.

A cohort of five has helped with gutting the house at 414 E. First St., which once housed a beauty parlor, down to the studs. The crew was tasked with ripping out old plumbing and electrical systems, removing floors and reframing the house.

The next cohort will begin at the start of the fall semester with the classroom portion of the program followed by the hands-on experience at the home, which is owned by One City. Once the house is completed, it will be sold to a lower-income family.

“It gives hope. The biggest struggle in this community and many communities around the city is that they’ve just lost hope — the hope of ever owning a home, that they’re going to be stuck renting homes that are substandard,” said Dean Feltes, founder and executive director of One City.

The small group of participants allows for more one-on-one interaction with program administrators like Val Peterson, workforce development coordinator with IowaWORKS, who help them overcome obstacles to securing a job, a registered apprenticeship or further education after the program.

It’s for those who “need a little extra encouragement — a little extra training to get to where they need to be,” Peterson said. “We stay in touch with them as long as they want.”

“Our idea of revitalization is not to move a population out then move a new population in, but to help a population that currently lives there be able to own homes,” he said.

The passion Feltes has for his community can be seen in his personal life. He moved into the neighborhood of the blighted home and is working full time to help end “crisis, poverty and addiction and equip those who desire transformed lives” in Waterloo.

“I had things in my past that caused me a lot of pain,” he said. “So I understand the struggle and what people are going through and understand how that step can look very large without support systems.”

The community has stepped in to support as well.

Rosemont Companies and several area organizations have donated $150,000 to the program, which Peterson estimates will cost about $250,000. Other organizations that donated are the Otto Schoitz Foundation, Max & Helen Guernsey Charitable Foundation, Ferguson, Dupaco, Community Foundation of Northeast Iowa, Team Builders, Lincoln Savings Bank, Dalton, US Bank and IowaWORKS.

“To own a home means hope. It means that somebody believes in me. Somebody cares about me. Then they can bring their family and friends and say, ‘I own this.’”

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By Kristin Guess, Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier


  1. Apprenticeship
  2. Cedar Valley IowaWORKS
  3. One City United
  4. WE Build Waterloo
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