For a while Wednesday, Time Check was hopping.
U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan was there with an entourage.
They walked through the neighborhood, spreading news about $517 million in federal recovery dollars headed for Iowa.
A big chunk is expected to land in Cedar Rapids for buyouts and other needs.
The few residents who were around got lots of undivided attention.
Hang in there, they were told. Help is on the way.
But soon, leaders climbed into vehicles for the next photo op, leaving behind the largely empty neighborhood that folks like Ronnee O’Brien have come to know.
I last talked to Ronnee before Christmas, which her family celebrated in a FEMA home. Despite illness and unemployment, and thanks to the help of friends and family and volunteers, she’s back in her home. She’s “ecstatic” to return. “It was a long road,” Ronnee said. “The generosity of people has been overwhelming.”
But neighbors are scarce along the 1300 block of Fifth Street NW. And Ronnee knows as well as anyone that there are two Time Checks now. The future neighborhood depicted in big plans and colored maps and the place she lives.
“It’s lonely. We have one neighbor,” Ronnee said. “At night, It’s scary and dark.”
Ronnee really would like a streetlight on her block. Between scavengers’ regular visits to nearby damaged homes and an ex-husband who has a habit of breaking no-contact orders, Ronnee really would like to see who is out there. The city hasn’t given her an answer.
Ronnee and her 9-yearold son miss the Time Check Recreation Center, Ellis Park swimming pool and A&W Restaurant.
They miss those familiar, inexpensive spots that were once just a short bike ride away, now that money is tight.
And in a neighborhood that’s full of damaged homes and debris, it’s not safe to let a curious boy wander.
But there are reasons to be hopeful. The federal money announced this week could have a real impact. On Tuesday, Sen.Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said the city will get $1.6 million to help replace the Time Check rec center. The Ellis pool returns next year.
On Monday, the city will release action plans that were developed through its Neighborhood Planning Process, which included ideas from hundreds of local residents.
Ronnee and others will watch for promises to turn into progress. And those politicians who came Wednesday should also know that for the first time, Ronnee is registered to vote.
“This time, my vote is going to count,” she said.