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Southwest Iowa School District Builds Home For Family Who Lost Theirs To 2019 Flooding

Courtesy Mike Wells

Students from a southwest Iowa school district helped build a home this fall for a family who was displaced by last year’s Missouri River flooding.

When the swollen Missouri River and its tributaries spilled into Hamburg in March 2019, Hamburg Community School District served meals to people displaced. Students even did peoples’ laundry. But students wanted to do more, said Hamburg Superintendent Mike Wells. They raised about $50,000 to build a home, but came up short of the cost.

Then, a Christian nonprofit group from Illinois, One Family One Purpose, stepped in and gave them money and help with the labor.

Every student in the kindergarten through 8th grade school pitched in with the home in some way, from picking up trash on site to helping build a wall. They learned a thing or two about perseverance, Wells said.

“For a young student to build a wall, you got to stick to it,” Wells said. “If you did it wrong, you’ve got to tear it apart and do it right. And there was a lot of that in this project.”

The school district had families apply to live in the home and a group of students interviewed them. The home is free, but Wells said the family they chose will pay for gas and electricity.

Wells said he’d like for his school district to build one home each year. He’s looking forward to building the next one.

“I’m really proud of our kids and our community,” Wells said. “It’s an unbelievable accomplishment that kids could organize and get this done. This is truly one of the most inspirational things that’s happened in my career as an educator.”

“We’re in a rowboat that has a hole in it and we can’t buy a new boat. Every day we’re bailing water out of the rowboat. That’s how I feel.”
Hamburg Mayor Cathy Crain

Hamburg lost 73 homes in the March 2019 flooding that submerged two-thirds of the town of around 1,100 people after floodwaters breached a levee that protected the city. Hamburg Mayor Cathy Crain said the city is just in the first stages of recovery.

“We’re in a rowboat that has a hole in it and we can’t buy a new boat,” Crain said. Every day we’re bailing water out of the rowboat. That’s how I feel.”

Building back will take time, Crain said.

“So many of our people stayed,” Crain said, “and we still have people that are living with families waiting for new homes to be built or new apartments to be available.”

Between spring and fall next year, the city hopes to break ground on two new subdivisions with single family homes and apartments. Two factory-built homes were brought to town last year. The city’s economic development group is also building a home.

Katie Peikes was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio from 2018 to 2023. She joined IPR as its first-ever Western Iowa reporter, and then served as the agricultural reporter.