St. Ambrose students help with flood recovery in Cedar Rapids

Jennifer Tuite, Marie Adams, Breanna Neubauer, Bernadette Muloski and Mary Harmon, representing St. Ambrose University in Davenport, pose in front of the first garage they helped demolish during flood-recovery cleanup efforts in Cedar Rapids last month. (Contributed photo)

By Jennifer Tuite

Although nearly one and a half years have passed since flood waters breached the 500-year floodplain in Cedar Rapids, nearly half of the water-damaged homes are yet to be renovated or demolished. A deficit in funds to complete the work means the need for volunteers is still great.  

Building on St. Ambrose University’s rich tradition of social justice and Catholic Social Teaching, members of the student group Ambrosians for Peace and Justice responded to this need Oct. 16-17 during fall break.

A group of four students and their advisor, Campus Minister Stella O’Rourke, and Iowa Campus Compact AmeriCorps*VISTA volunteer Jennifer Tuite spent two days in Cedar Rapids demolishing two garages. Collectively, the group worked just over 65 hours.

Working through the Cedar Rapids-based Community Recovery Center, the group learned of the extensive damage to the city and the ongoing recovery efforts at an initial orientation. Assisting the group was one of the many AmeriCorps*VISTA volunteers working with the Community Recovery Center on flood recovery work.


Volunteering is essential to ensuring the redevelopment of Cedar Rapids. Local and state funds have been depleted in trying to assist communities with flood recovery work. 

To receive funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the city of Cedar Rapids must agree to match 10 percent of the federal funds.  However, volunteer hours can be substituted for this matching funding. By inviting and housing volunteers from across the state and country, Cedar Rapids is able to save money it would otherwise have to provide for matching funds and use it for other needs instead.

Marie Adams, one of the St. Ambrose volunteers, commented: “Volunteering is essential if we ever want to see Cedar Rapids survive and move past natural disaster.”  

Bernadette Muloski, another St. Ambrose volunteer, commented on the emotions that struck the group during the recovery work: “Tearing down those garages was both exhilarating and heartbreaking. We were accomplishing so much, but those homes had once meant something to their owners, and we had to dispose of everything.”

The volunteers were housed in the Cedar Hills Community Church, which more than one year ago hosted thousands of volunteers who came in the wake of the flood, feeding them and providing a place to sleep. Although there are fewer volunteers now, the congregation’s members made a huge effort to make sure the St. Ambrose group was comfortable.

This is the second year of flood recovery work in Cedar Rapids for O’Rourke and three of the students. Breanna Neubauer, a sophomore who participated in both years of flood recovery work, said, “Last year the work we did consisted mainly of tearing down drywall, insulation and kitchen tiles as well as pulling out nails in wooden boards, the object being that the particular house we were working on could be redone and refurbished. 

“Coming back this year, I could definitely see that more houses and more businesses had been repaired and were now up and running,” she said. But, “On one street, it looked as if we had stepped into completely different neighborhoods. One portion of the street was thriving as if no flood had ever happened; the other side was silent, populated by skeletons of homes and overrun with vegetation. Cedar Rapids has made leaps and bounds in terms of its flood recovery, but it still has huge strides to take before the entire city can move on from rebuilding and go back to just living.”

In its flood report published this summer, the Cedar Rapids City Council stated that 81,000 tons of debris had been removed, and that 793 of the 1,700 damaged homes were being repaired, thanks in no small part to the nearly 200,000 volunteer hours that had been logged.  However, much remains to be done.  

St. Ambrose University is committed to bringing future groups of Ambrosians to Cedar Rapids to continue the necessary work. Every little bit counts, and the ladies on this trip showed their Ambrosian spirit by gutting and demolishing two garages.

For more information on flood recovery work in Cedar Rapids, visit

(Marie Adams, Mary Harmon, Bernadette Muloski and Breanna Neubauer contributed to this article.)

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