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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

ReNew Revitalizes Cedar Rapids

Grinnell students interested in spending their fall breaks helping others were able to do so through ReNew, a student-led organization that reaches out to communities devastated by natural disasters. This break, Minna Montgomery ’16, Taylor Watts ’16, Christian Noyce ’15 and Adrian Rodriguez ’15 led a group of six Grinnell students to Cedar Rapids to serve a community that had been affected by a severe flood in 2008.

Although it has been five years since the disaster, the aftermath still lingers. According to Montgomery, there are still several miles of a neighborhood that lack the support needed for reconstruction. The housing market crash did nothing to help the situation, as hedge funds bought many of the houses, which are currently neglected and abandoned.

“Communities just started to disappear with some of the houses, you couldn’t rebuild anything there. And even if they could rebuild, they didn’t have the money,” Watts said.

While corporate buildings have received funding for rebuilding, residential neighborhoods have lacked financial support. Hence, ReNew decided to serve an underfunded neighborhood where its homeowners lacked the means of funding reconstruction.

Participants in ReNew worked with a non-profit organization called Matthew 25, which collaborates with GreenIowa AmeriCorps to focus on environmentally friendly and sustainable systems. Watts explained that in the areas where reconstruction was unfeasible, Matthew 25 has worked to develop urban farms.

“It’s a huge benefit for the families living there. They also put some urban farms in elementary schools and they provide a portion of the fresh produce to the school,” she said.

ReNew not only focuses on disaster relief, but they also uniquely try to return to the same communities.

“We are place-based, so we try to go back to the same places to continue to help and see the results over the years,” Watts said.

Interaction and impact are essential characteristics of ReNew’s service trips.

“Everyone has some sort of connection to the flood. And that’s kind of the ongoing theme anywhere you go. Whenever you talk to someone, you can feel the impact that you’re making on the community,” Montgomery said.

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