Despite a flood and a global pandemic, Tera Kucera held on to a dream come true on Thursday afternoon.
Kucera is executive director of Care Corps’ LifeHouse, which recently completed 10 two-bedroom units and five three-bedroom units designed to provide safe and affordable housing for very low-income families.
Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts, State Senator Lynne Walz, Dodge County Supervisor Doug Backens and Fremont Mayor Joey Spellerberg were among those present when the local nonprofit cut the ribbon in units a few blocks from Linden Elementary School.
During the event, Marty Krohn, Chairman of the Board of Directors of LifeHouse, also announced that the nonprofit organization is entering the public phase of a fundraising campaign to remodel its pantry and renovate and expand his 16-year-old homeless emergency shelter.
Information from Care Corps indicates that the new project is expected to cost $2.6 million. Krohn said the nonprofit has secured more than half of those funds, but is seeking help raising additional funds.
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The association now has a 60-bed emergency shelter, open 24/7. It has a homelessness prevention program, various housing programs, food pantry and clothing store.
In 2021 alone, he provided over 11,200 nights of stay at his shelter and distributed 357 tonnes of food through his pantry, reaching over 7,500 people.
On Thursday, about 30 people were in one of the new K Street housing units as state and city officials leased the nonprofit’s service to the community.
The governor praised the nonprofit organization for its service.
“Care Corps LifeHouse does a wonderful job in the community – whether it’s the food pantry, the emergency shelter and now these beautiful housing units, they really work to make sure they take care of the people here in Fremont,” Ricketts told the Tribune. “It’s a big mission and I’m very happy to be here to see all of their great work.”
Care Corps applied for a grant from the National Housing Trust Fund in 2018.
In February 2019, the Nebraska Department of Economic Development awarded over $3 million in NHTF funds to provide housing.
The terms of the grant stipulated that Care Corps had two years to complete its project.
But the following month, Fremont was hit by historic flooding.
“It really changed our outlook,” Kucera said.
Originally, the grant funds were to be used to rehabilitate approximately 15 units. But those properties are no longer eligible for the grant because many have become part of the floodplain, she said.
Then the Fremont Presbyterian Church approached Care Corps, offering nearby land, which the nonprofit was able to purchase.
But he encountered more obstacles.
“What should have been a two-year project became a 3.5-year project because after the flood we had the pandemic,” Kucera said.
The COVID-19 pandemic slowed production, which also affected Care Corp’s construction plans.
“It took a long time for our contractor to get electrical panels and other construction items,” Kucera said.
Still, the units were built.
Twelve units – consisting of two triplexes on K Street and two on L Street – were built. One of the units on K Street is 100% Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant. A duplex and a three-bedroom house were built on Somers Avenue.
The units will serve households at or below 30% of the region’s median income, which Kucera estimated for a family of three would be an annual income of $23,300 or someone earning just over $11 from time.
Kucera said the first tenant moved into a unit in the spring.
“What excites me the most is that this accommodation offers comprehensive case management services,” said Kucera.
In addition to serving as a landlord, he also provides case management, which includes classes on budgeting, parenting and life skills and links to mental health and other resources to help tenants overcome obstacles. .
Kucera calls it a holistic approach to getting families back on their feet and sustainably, increasing their incomes, and eventually becoming homeowners.
She is also excited about the K and L Street locations, as they are close to Linden Elementary School.
One of the barriers families face is transportation. Now they can accompany children to school, attend parent-teacher conferences and become more involved in their children’s education, Kucera said.
Ahead of the inauguration, Kucera expressed his gratitude to those who supported the construction effort, referencing the saying “It takes a village…”, which means it takes a community to help a child.
“We are so lucky to have this incredible village that has come together to help us complete this project and to help us with all the work that we do,” Kucera said.
Spellerberg praised LifeHouse of Care Corps for the work it does every day to help people in need of food, clothing and shelter.
“This is a very historic day in my mind for the city of Fremont,” Spellerberg said. “As mayor, it makes me really proud to see what is being accomplished by our great nonprofits.”
Ricketts, who was able to see various facilities, said it was clear that Care Corps’ LifeHouse is highly respected in the community. He talked about partnering with nonprofits and different local and state businesses and the difference he sees Care Corps’ LifeHouse is making.
He shared the story of a man who had just been released from prison when the flood hit and his most prized possession – his car – was destroyed.
“But that didn’t stop him,” Ricketts said. “He got involved in the emergency shelter here, took classes, Narcotics Anonymous, worked with a case manager here and is currently at home.”
Ricketts spoke of the more than 124,000 meals and more than 11,000 nights of Care Corps LifeHouse emergency accommodation provided during the pandemic.
He said it was organizations like Care Corps’ LifeHouse that were one of the reasons Politico magazine ranked Nebraska as having the best pandemic response in the state. In April, the magazine ranked states on a combination of health, economic, social and educational factors, with Nebraska having the best average.
The dignitaries held the red ribbon as Kucera cut it.
Krohn also spoke about Care Corps’ LifeHouse fundraising campaign, saying that for more than 25 years she has analyzed the causes of hunger, homelessness and near homelessness. He developed programs to help alleviate suffering, improved ways to prevent homelessness and encouraged self-sufficiency.
He attributed the success to the excellent staff and board of directors.
Krohn also spoke about the importance of facilities, including the shelter, a kitchen to provide meals, a thrift store and a pantry.
He said a project is underway to remodel the pantry to make it more of a grocery store, where customers can shop. LifeHouse data from Care Corps also indicates that the project will include a teaching kitchen with six stations where families can learn how to use foods offered in the pantry, such as how to prepare a whole chicken.
Krohn said with increasing client numbers, more staff and case managers are needed.
At this point, Care Corps has 20 employees operating out of a shelter originally designed for eight staff members.
“We have people working in an apartment on site that we can’t use as an apartment at the moment,” he said.
Care Corps’ LifeHouse is looking to remodel and expand the shelter, which has housed about 18,000 people.
“It’s starting to show a bit of wear,” Krohn said, citing the need for paint, new flooring and cabinetry. “The building has been well used.”
He encouraged participants to spread the word about the campaign.
“Although we managed to secure more than half of the funds we need to make the improvements, we still have a long way to go,” Krohn said. “We need your help to raise additional funds for our fundraising campaign.”