Ministry building up community

The Gazette Opinion Staff
Published: June 18 2011 | 12:01 am - Updated: 2 April 2014 | 7:19 pm in
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By The Gazette Editorial Board

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Rebuilding of neighborhoods severely damaged by floods is an enormous, often overwhelming task. It’s not for everyone, or every organization. Local governments struggle with it, too.

This challenge seems to suit Matthew 25 Ministry Hub. The non-profit with roots in the United Methodist Church has taken on rebuilding areas of Cedar Rapids neighborhoods hit hardest by the 2008 flood. Results in just two years have been remarkable.

So we are confident that the ministry’s latest project has a good, if not excellent, chance of being successful.

The Ellis Urban Village, as proposed, aims at transforming a rundown six-square-block area just east of Ellis Boulevard NW into a package of rehabbed flood homes, new affordable houses for working families, old warehouses converted into apartments and commercial and office space, and an urban farm.

Yes, a farm — 2 acres devoted to small plots and greenhouses where volunteer residents will raise crops in exchange for free or low-priced vegetables and fruit — modeling a concept used in some large urban areas elsewhere in the country.

Matthew 25, led by brothers Clint Twedt-Ball and Courtney Ball, both ordained ministers, has drawn more than $7 million in private and local, state and federal grants and many in-kind donations for its projects. It’s been praised by former Gov. Chet Culver, and endorsed by many local public and private officials and non-profit foundations.

Five years ago, Matthew 25 was a small, little-known ministry. But after the 2008 flood, its basic mission of outreach and neighborhood building took off. A $1 million gift from John Smith, chair of CRST trucking firm, and his wife, Dyan, seeded Block by Block, the ministry’s best-known project and a partnership with Four Oaks’ Affordable Housing Network and the Methodist Church. To date, Block by Block has helped rehabilitate or is rehabilitating more than 300 flood-damaged homes on 24 blocks.

John Smith says he’s been impressed with Block by Block’s achievements and stewardship. “It was a really big gamble; we didn’t know how far the money would go.” But working as a “go-between,” the organization pulled in many volunteers and other support that has helped filled gaps for flood victims and stretched funding.

Matthew 25 has several other programs in place: Cultivate Hope, which involves gardening and installing planters; a tool lending library; and Groundswell, which provides space for youth and family activities.

Yes, there have been a few hitches. But this grass roots group’s work is getting attention and inquiries from other disaster-struck communities. They want to tap into the ministry’s success.

They have good reason.

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