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Brush with Kindness Program Assists Wellington Heights Homeowners

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa About a dozen volunteers spent their Saturday morning scraping paint off a southeast Cedar Rapids home.

A Brush with Kindness, a part of Habitat for Humanity, is a program that assists low-income families in repairing their homes, with projects like scraping off paint, landscaping and minor repairs. Rea Stull, the homeowner of the first Brush with Kindness project of 2013, stood outside 1620 Seventh Ave. SE in awe.

"I bought the house in 1988, it was my first house," Stull said with a smile. "I love it here, I'll die in this house."

Stull added he didn't realize how much was wrong with the house, and that you find things out as you go.

Ten of the 12 volunteers were part of a "colony," soon-to-be Kappa Sigma fraternity members at the University of Iowa that drove up Saturday morning to help repair Stull's home. Colony member and University of Iowa freshman Steve Moioffer, 18, isn't new to Habitat for Humanity, he said the last time he volunteered; he was using a sledgehammer to tear down walls. As the Community Service Chair, he said he's always looking for opportunities in the community, and rallied up the nine other students to participate. Originally from Grays Lake, Ill., he said it doesn't matter where someone is helping, but what he or she is doing.

Construction Manager Brandon Kriegel said 16 houses have been repaired in Wellington Heights since 2010.

"We hope to serve up to 20 families this year," Kriegel said.

He added the program received a $60,000 grant for the next two years to help with projects and staffing. Kriegel added homeowners have to apply to the Brush with Kindness program and are involved in the process in some way, shape or form.

"They can help soak paint brushes, make lunch, it varies," Kriegel said.

He said it takes between five to six volunteer days with 15 to 20 people to finish a project.

Habitat for Humanity Volunteer Coordinator Megan Banaszek said it's amazing what a difference a couple of hours can make to one house in a neighborhood.

"I grew up about two blocks from here," Banaszek said. "You don't realize what needs to be done even a couple of blocks away and what a couple of hours in a day can do is incredible."

She added one of her favorite parts about her job is getting to meet and work with homeowners. She believes Stull deserves this.

Banaszek has also done a lot of work with flood impacted houses in the area; she said she is amazed that five years later the city is still dealing with its aftermath.

"It's nice to do something with vacant houses too. Otherwise they could be torn down, or destroyed somehow," Banaszek said. "With 12 volunteers, three hours adds up."

Volunteers are not required to have construction-related experience, she said. After signing up online, volunteers show up to the event and a construction staff provides a brief lesson on the day's expectations and proper procedures. Staff members are available for supervision and additional help. She added volunteers at construction sites have to be at least 16-years-old, but there are other programs available for those as young as elementary-school aged.

Homeowner Rea Stull said he applied for the program around two years ago, and received a phone call last week. Stull said he almost forgot about the program because it had been so long.

"I was surprised, I didn't know what to say," Stull said. "Next thing I knew we were sitting [around] my dining room table talking, and now we're here."

Stull added that he didn't realize some many people would come out to help him. The volunteers will also be repairing parts of his porch, including the steps.

"I moved the mailbox down so the mail-woman wouldn't have to walk up the stairs," Stull said. "It was unsafe."

Stull grew up in Cedar Rapids, and his mother lives about five minutes away from his home. He is currently on disability because of multiple surgeries.

"Half of my right lung is removed. Being a welder for 35 years it caught up with me," he said.

The homeowner said his mother cut out a newspaper clipping and shared it with him several years ago; he said he couldn't have done it without her, as his eyes began to tear up.

"I would've probably let it go," Stull said about the condition of the house. "My mother is still looking out for me at 86-years-old."

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