Volunteers clean Evanston autism organization's flooded building

Audrey Cheng/The Daily Northwestern

Volunteers dry materials to help Have Dreams recover after the building flooded in August.

Audrey Cheng, Reporter
September 24, 2012 •

Evanston residents teamed up last weekend to assist Have Dreams, a local organization supporting autistic children, in clearing up damages from a city pipe burst in July.

Volunteer Evanston, Evanston Township High School and Northwestern students collaborated to dry various course materials, inventory, and educational and vocational games Saturday and Sunday. The volunteers also cleaned and reorganized furniture at Have Dreams' 2020 Dempster St. location.

Volunteer Alicia Bowles said she did not realize the flood happened until she saw it in the paper recently.

“I was shocked because we drive past here a lot,” said Bowles, who got involved with Have Dreams through Kellogg School of Management's service organization Kellogg Cares. “The first thing I did was sign up to volunteer right away. I didn’t even think twice about it. It was scary and really sad because they do so much good in here.”

Kris Johnsen, executive director of Have Dreams, said the organization’s building was the hardest one hit by the pipe burst, which caused an estimated 100,000 square feet of damage and an outpouring of a million gallons of water within an hour and a half.

“It was overwhelming at first because we left the building with nothing,” Johnsen said. “We took the kids, but we had none of their visual supports. We did not have any of the materials that we made for them in the summer, so we were really scrambling.”

Have Dreams, the beneficiary of NU Dance Marathon in 2004, hosts various classes to aid autistic children. Although the organization continued its after-school programs in the wake of flooding, it has not been able to open its schools, originally slated to begin Aug. 22.

“The impact of not being able to open the schools as scheduled and cancelling the trainings was that not only were we not able to serve those people that we planned to, but it was going to be a big financial hit,” Johnsen said. “Thankfully, some donors stepped up to help us.”

Jarrett Goldman, a 15-year-old Have Dreams student, said although it was upsetting to see all the “hard work put into the handmade materials go away,” he was relieved to see Evanston residents volunteering to help.

“I think they’re getting a lot of donations, and they’re getting help from throughout the city and it’s very moving and nice to see all of that,” Goldman said.

Johnsen said the amount of cleaning and repairs after the flood was “insurmountable.”

“It's about $50,000 a month, and now it’s going to be probably five months before we’re fully up to speed,” Johnsen said. “We got about $180,000, which is really wonderful, but it still leaves a big hole. That’s why having volunteers come in, rather than staff, is really helpful.”

Johnsen said when the flood occurred, Have Dreams officials “couldn’t be happier that we’re in Evanston.”

“It’s just been amazing,” Johnsen said. “Now that Northwestern students are back in school, by next week, we’ll probably be in really great shape here.”

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