Missy Keenan, Special to the Register | Published 12/6/20
Two years ago after leaving a difficult relationship, Tonya Adams wanted to buy a home for herself and her seven kids. She wasn’t able to qualify for a mortgage, so she decided to take an unusual step — paying $7,000 cash for a dilapidated house in Cedar Rapids with holes in both the foundation and the roof.
When Adams bought the 1912 home, she had little money in the bank and no remodeling experience.
“Back then I could barely swing a hammer,” she says. “But purchasing this home was the most realistic option I had to provide for my babies. It was all I could afford.”
After consulting with experts and watching a lot of remodeling videos on YouTube, Adams removed water-damaged lath and plaster, gutting the house to the studs. Since then Adams and her friends, family members and community volunteers have put thousands of hours of labor into the home she has lovingly dubbed “The Light House.”
She has also solicited donations, applied for grants, and poured every spare dollar into the project. Last year she applied for and received $500 from the Embrace Iowa fund for plumbing supplies, bringing the family one step closer to moving out of her mom’s 600-square-foot home where they’ve been staying and into their own place.
The Des Moines Register’s annual Embrace Iowa campaign helps Iowans with grants of up to $500 to pay for things like car repairs, beds, working appliances, warm winter boots, medical expenses and even rent or utilities if the family has gotten behind.
Embrace Iowa applicants apply through 17 Community Action Agencies across the state. First-time applicants are given priority in the review process, and all applications must be for households at or below 200 percent of federal poverty guidelines.
This fall Adams spent evenings and weekends installing new windows to ready the house for insulation and drywall, final steps to making The Light House move-in ready.
When she wasn’t working on the house or caring for her kids, Adams studied for her real estate license. She earned the license a couple months ago and recently made her first sale.
“I want to thank Embrace Iowa and the people who donated to the fund for helping my family create a safe, stable home to live in,” Adams says. “Once we get this house finished, I know I’ll be able to give back to the community just like help has been given to us.
“By the grace of God, we hope to move into our house in the spring. Even though we can’t live in the house yet, we’re going to put our Christmas tree up there this year. I’m extremely grateful, and I see better things coming for my family this year.”