Spotlight Iowa City: At your service


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Margaret Matthes wanted one thing: a clean yard.

She had been thinking about it all day, since she woke up the morning of April 10. She hoped it wouldn’t rain.

As an 82-year-old widow, Matthes said there is no way she could rake the piles of leaves that were on her lawn and clogging the gutters of the white-sided East Side home she has owned for 48 years.

Her husband used to do most of the yard work.

“My husband’s been gone five years,” Matthes said. “I haven’t been able to do the yard work myself.”

But thanks to a local initiative and some helpful University of Iowa students, her home is now free of those troublesome leaves.

On April 10, Habitat for Humanity kicked off a new program called “A Brush With Kindness,” an initiative to help low-income elderly and disabled residents keep up the exterior of their homes.

Iowa Valley Habitat partnered with the UI’s Saturdays in Service to start up the program. Roughly 30 students split into four groups to visit a dozen homes to help paint, clean windows, and rake.

Matthes said she was very appreciative of the work the students were doing.

“It is very expensive to hire someone to clean and, frankly, I just can’t afford it,” she said as she attempted to restrain her eager dog, Joy, which wanted to play with the volunteers. “… This means a lot to me.”

Matthes looked on from her porch as five students cleaned her yard, talking and joking with one another in the sunlight, and occasionally stopping to play with the dog or have sword fights with rakes.

One of those students and volunteers was UI freshman Jared Ruhrup, who said it was a good way to spend a Saturday afternoon, especially with temperatures stretching into the 70s.

“It’s a really nice day to spend outside,” he said as he looked up at the cloudless sky. “It’s better to be doing something for a good cause than to spend all day in my dorm.”

Ruhrup and four other students were one of the two volunteer groups that worked on the afternoon of April 10. His group of students was all ROTC members; they had decided to volunteer together.

Tia Tyler, a representative from Americorps VISTA, a partnering organization in the event, said the city’s Elder Services division recommends the community members in need of a little help.

“These people are over 60 years old and or disabled,” Tyler said, as she placed an armful of leaves into a large paper bag. “They really can’t do it themselves and can’t afford to hire someone, so that’s where we come in.”

Tyler said the kickoff event was bigger than any future events, which will likely consist of one Iowa City house per day and will take place as needed. The group won’t partner with the UI for future events, but students will be able to volunteer. Tyler said homeowners age 60 and up who earn less than 80 percent of the area median income — $48,650 for a couple, $42,250 for a single household — are encouraged to apply.

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