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Mark Reetz and Homes by Fleetwood turn theory into practice.

Too many times we look back at the classes we took in high school or college and wonder what the point was. That science fair project on the evaporation rates of different liquids? Not a concern in your daily life. That essay on symbolism in Moby Dick? No one has ever asked about that at a dinner party. That semester you spent learning to square dance in PE? You’ve never needed to remember that.

But Mark Reetz of Homes by Fleetwood took his schooling to heart in more ways than one. And the Animal Rescue League of Iowa can’t thank him enough.

Lesson 1: Take good notes

About eight years ago, Reetz went back to school to get his master’s degree in business.

“I’d owned my own business for quite a while, but I felt the business degree would help me be a better owner and businessman.”

The 84 weeks of night classes at William Penn University, completed while he was still running his business, culminated in a community-oriented thesis project. “The assignment was to come up with a business plan for a company or project that benefited the community,” Reetz explains. “It had to include a marketing plan, a business plan, a whole fictional presentation for faculty members that demonstrated what we’d learned about running a business.”

Lesson 2: Study hard

Reetz had always admired the Animal Rescue League (ARL) and the work the ARL does, so he chose to create a project that honored the group. “Since I already owned a home construction business and I knew how that worked, I thought, ‘Why not combine the two?’”

So he designed a project that used the proceeds from the construction and sale of a home to benefit the ARL. “I did a lot of research into the process, the timing, how it could all work and did this presentation for faculty as if I were really trying to sell the idea. And for the next seven years or so, I kept thinking, ‘Why not do it for real?’”

Lesson 3: Apply your research

Having studied the marketing implications and practical considerations of doing a charitable project of this scope, Reetz knew a lot of elements had to come together in the right way for the effort to be successful.

“The timing had to be right because if you try to promote a home in a brand-new development, it’s a lot harder. It needed to be in a good development, but on one of the last lots so the neighborhood was more established and familiar. And it needed to be done outside of the peak construction months so subs and suppliers had the ability to support it without taking away from their other projects. But it needed to be completed before winter because cold-weather delays can add several thousand dollars to the cost of construction.”

Also, Reetz had to work closely with the ARL to determine the best way to set up the donation.

According to Stephanie Filer, Manager of Special Gifts and Partnerships for ARL, “There are two typical types of partnerships we do. One is where the ARL is simply the beneficiary of a donation or proceeds from an event. The other is where we partner with the donor to promote and participate in the fund-raising event.”

Both parties determined that the simple beneficiary relationship was the most appropriate for the project. “We’ve helped with some of the promotional items, and we’ll participate in any activities he wants to do at closing. But Mark’s the expert, so we’ve left the construction and sales processes to him,” Filer says.

The home, which should be move-in ready by the first part of January, is in the Sterling Trace at Easter Lake development and is one of Homes by Fleetwood’s most popular floor plans. The 3-bedroom, 1,500-square-foot ranch sold just days before Christmas.

“It’s subject to sale,” Reetz says. “But we have an accepted offer. It’s a great home—gas fireplace, hardwood floors in the living spaces, carpeted bedrooms, full basement stubbed for a full bath.”

Filer says, “One of the reasons this project was an easy decision for us was the long-term relationship we’ve had with Mark. He’s been a donor for years and participates in nearly every fund-raising event we hold. We knew he wasn’t doing this to promote himself; it was because he cared about what we do at the ARL.”

Reetz says this project has been a long time coming. “Other than my church, the ARL is the organization closest to my heart,” he says. “I’ve been a regular donor and supporter for a long time, but the sun, moon, and stars didn’t align to do this project until just this year.”

Reetz believes when you’re blessed, you should be blessing others. “You know, I’ve been taught that to whom much is given, much is required. After putting together that plan for my thesis project, I knew I wanted to do it for real,” he says.

You learn a lot of theories throughout your years in school—theories about life, economics, and history. But they say you haven’t really learned something until you can teach it to others.

Mark Reetz may have learned how to put a business and marketing plan into practice as a result of his master’s coursework, but he’s teaching others about giving at the same time. That’s a valuable lesson.

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For the third year, Greenland Homes of Clive has given back to the community in a big way in a manner it knows best. The company has built a new home each of the three years and donated all the proceeds to the Children’s Cancer Connection. Families are then selected to receive the homes.

The company’s latest donation to the charity whose mission “serves all families affected by childhood cancer who are living, treated, or diagnosed in the state of Iowa, regardless of the treatment outcome” was $70,000. Over the three years, the builder has contributed a total of $195,000. This past year’s home was built in Bondurant, and a family now lives in it.

“It all began as we were looking for a charity to support, and we felt that it had to be a local one, serving central Iowa. It just felt right to do that,” says Corey Kautz of Greenland Homes. “When we interviewed a family living with childhood cancer, we knew we found the right spot.”

The proceeds for the donation come from donated supplies, Coldwell Banker Realtor Tammy Heckart’s commission, contractors’ labor, and the builder’s profit.

Personal perspective

Kautz says it helps that Heckart had some personal experience with the organization, which had helped her family. “My nephew Dillon at age 4 had cancer, and we saw how much support meant to the family,” she explains. “Besides Dillon’s medical support, his brother Dustin went to siblings’ camp at Camp Heart Connection, the only weeklong summer camp for children with cancer in Iowa, which was most helpful, too. The whole family drew so much help from the organization that it has been important to give back.”

Dillon, now grown and healthy, has been a camp counselor, his way of giving back to the organization that helped his family.

“Last year our donation paid for the entire camp program for the summer and sponsored a few special events,” Heckart says. “I have been to dinner at the camp, and it’s so rewarding, knowing that we could help.”

Children’s Cancer Connection began in 1988. It serves children and families affected by childhood cancer by offering hospital-based programs, support services, camps, and recreation opportunities. The focus is on the entire family for the entire journey.

Support for families

The nonprofit organization offers support groups for parents, siblings, teens, and young adults; oncology and sibling summer camps; survivorship service; scholarships; and various resource and educational materials, according to Emily Fish, the director of donor relations.

She says, “Tammy Heckart and Corey Kautz with Greenland Homes have helped to move Children’s Cancer Connection in a truly new direction. Their continued support of our organization has made an impact on all four of our cornerstone programs. Greenland Homes’ contractors and vendors have made a vital contribution toward making Children’s Cancer Connection the organization that provides children and families with programs, education, recreation, and support on the journey through childhood cancer. We are truly honored to have Tammy, Corey, the Greenland Homes staff, and all the contractors as part of our family. They have made a difference in the lives of our children and families.”

“We have gotten lots of letters from kids who have experienced the camp program and have loved it” Kautz says. “Hearing from them is the real icing on the cake. That’s what makes this all worthwhile.”

Will they do it again? “Each year, our superintendent, Steve Gruver, calls a meeting to discuss the next year’s plans. Originally we were only going to do this for one year. We have now done it for three. We’ll make the decision for next year in the spring.”

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For the second year, Habitat for Humanity presented its Key Awards in September. The honors are a tribute to the group’s partners in building homes, community, and hope, according to Lance Henning, executive director.

“People who received the awards are ‘bridge builders’ who make a difference,” Henning says. “They somehow have made an impact and have made a difference in housing in the Des Moines area.”

Sometimes, he notes, it’s because of their philanthropy to support Habitat’s programs. Other times it’s their vision or their physical support of local efforts. The awards honor businesses and individuals whose contributions have made a significant impact in serving low-income families and work toward eliminating poverty housing in the community.

“For example,” Henning says, “Tom Urban understands the issues and the overview in the urban core. That is invaluable in our work. And Tanner Kinzler of Kinzler Construction Services in Ames thinks through the practical applications. He helps train our volunteers in how to insulate homes and provides materials to help.”

Henning, who has led local Habitat efforts for 10½ years, says that in 1986, when the program began in Des Moines, the group built only one or two homes each year. That number now is up to 30 homes each year. “This year alone we had 12,000 volunteers. Many, of course, come from corporate groups and churches. Most don’t have specific building training, but they are willing to learn.”

Winners for 2014:

  • The Principal Financial Group, Key Corporation Award, for its house and Rock the Block sponsorships, volunteerism by employees, and financial commitment to investing in the Des Moines community
  • Stan and Dotty Thurston, Key Individual Award, for their contributions to ReStore through the It Starts at Home capital campaign and for their continued support of decent and affordable housing in Greater Des Moines as well as in El Salvador
  • Tanner Kinzler, Key Community Award, for his contributions of time, talent, materials, and financial support
  • Mary Louise Neugent, Key Community Award, for her volunteerism in Des Moines and El Salvador, cochairing the 2013 Women Build program, her support of the It Starts at Home capital campaign, and her services as a Habitat board member
  • Tom Urban, Key Community Award, for his work in Des Moines neighborhoods and for bringing awareness to the need for change and growth in the city’s low-income neighborhoods

Tanner Kinzler

Tanner Kinzler, CEO of Kinzler Construction Services, has been volunteering for Habitat for a decade or more. “We have donated capital, materials, discounted materials and services, and staff time to consult on energy design. Recently I had the opportunity to participate in the CEO Build and Work on building a home. It was an incredible experience, and it inspired me to get our staff all out to volunteer on a build-together program very soon. I personally plan to seek out additional ways that I can further the mission of Habitat in the future. I have seen how tangible and sustainable the work they do really is,” he says.

“Habitat’s mission to put God’s love into action to bring people together to build homes, communities, and hope fulfills a very real need around the world and right here with our friends and neighbors in Des Moines. The results of the collective efforts of all the staff, volunteers, directors, donors, partner families, and community are tangible, transformative, and sustainable.”

Kinzler says the partner families that buy Habitat homes are well prepared to own them and invest in them. “These families stay in the houses, take care of them, and make positive contributions to their neighborhoods and the community. The sweat equity and loan payments from the partner families combined with the contributions of the community close the loop to sustain the mission for future partner families.”

Last year’s recipients in the building industry included Sumner Worth of Gilcrest/Jewett and builder Ron Grubb of Jerry’s Homes.

Habitat Restore

The local Habitat for Humanity organization also is partially funded by the local Habitat ReStore, which sells new and gently used building materials such as used doors, windows, carpet, cabinetry, fixtures, and lighting. It is located at 2200 E. Euclid Avenue on the northwest corner of E. Euclid and I-235. Materials are donated by manufacturers, contractors, retailers, and homeowners. Store hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Habitat also offers a tool lending library to the public.

Henning says that besides building new homes, volunteers also do repairs, add weatherization materials, and add handicap-accessible details to homes that are already owner-occupied.

Habitat for Humanity was started in 1976 by Millard and Linda Fuller. It grew out of a program at Koinonia Farm near Americus, Georgia. The program gained much visibility when former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, began participating in it. To date, some 800,000 homes have been built or repaired and upgraded by Habitat volunteers. Some four million-plus people have been served by the program around the world.

For more information, check out Greater Des Moines Habitat at

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They only went to the party for the cocktails and the free concert. But when they left, they had a new project on their hands, one unlike anything they’d done before. Things might have turned out differently if Bill Knapp III and Jon Sieck weren’t country music fans. But, as Hal Ketchum once sang, “good country music will never steer you wrong.”

While attending the 2013 International Builders Show in Las Vegas, the Ironwood Homes team received an invitation to attend a cocktail party hosted by LP Building Products, which included a performance by Kix Brooks of country music’s Brooks & Dunn fame.

“We like country music, and LP has been a good partner, so we decided to go,” says Sieck. “We didn’t realize it was also an informational meeting about a charity Kix Brooks represents.”

The nonprofit, Operation Finally Home, which provides mortgage-free homes for wounded veterans, was benefiting from any funds raised at the party and concert, so Brooks gave a brief explanation of the organization’s history and goals.

The Texas-based nonprofit founded in 2005 seeks to honor the veterans and widows who, as its website says, “have sacrificed so much to defend our freedoms and our way of life.” Finally Home brings together sponsors, builders, contributors, and volunteers to make sure vets and their families can come back to a home of their own when they return from service. The organization has built over 100 homes already and plans to complete at least six more in 2014.

“We were impressed with what they were doing,” Sieck says. “There are similar programs out there, but none of them focus specifically on the housing needs of the vets. That was something we could relate to, 
of course, so we planned to donate before we left 
that night.”

Due to some technical difficulties, Sieck and Knapp had to wait a while to make their donation. But it was time well spent.

“We talked about what Finally Home was doing and what it would take to sponsor a project like that,” Sieck explains. “And we decided we wanted to build a house, not just donate money.”

So Ironwood Homes signed on to build the first Operation Finally Home project in Iowa.

“We worked with the Finally Home team to adapt a single-floor home plan to the organization’s criteria,” says Sieck. “They want all their homes to be handicap accessible, even though not all the recipients need that, and there were some other revisions we needed to make for accessibility purposes. Once the plan was finalized, we began seeking out donations and partners to join the project.”

Through designated funds, Finally Home typically covers any gap in costs not met through donations of materials and labor. On the Iowa project, that gap was estimated at $60,000 to $70,000.

“Our goal from the beginning, though, was to not use any of those funds,” Sieck says. “We plan to cover 100 percent of the costs so the national organization doesn’t have to cover anything.”

So far, Ironwood is about 35 percent toward that financial goal. But Knapp and Sieck have been overwhelmed with the willingness of vendors and subcontractors who participated on the home.

“There are no words to express the gratitude we feel to everyone who helped,” Sieck says. “It was a huge effort, and everyone was as proud to be a part of it as we were.”

Operation Finally Home reviewed applications from veterans in Iowa and selected U.S. Army Specialist Nathan Mason to be the recipient of the Ironwood home. Mason, who received a Purple Heart for his service in Afghanistan, was wounded in 2007. He and his wife, Cassie, have two children.

Ironwood broke ground on the home in Polk City the day before Thanksgiving last year and held the ribbon-cutting in mid-July. The 1,700-square-foot Craftsman home, valued at over $300,000, was built on a lot donated by Knapp Properties and, over the past eight months, included donations of materials and time from suppliers and subcontractors every step of the way.

“It took longer than usual to finish this home because everything was donated and had to be scheduled around other projects,” Sieck explains. “But Nathan and Cassie were great to work with and were thrilled to move in and get busy watering their own sod and putting their things in place when we finished in July.”

Knapp and Sieck may not have gone into that concert expecting to take on a long-term project like nothing they’d done before. But, as a good country song will tell you, the road less traveled ain’t for the faint of heart. And your buddies will be there to back you up.

To learn more about other Operation Finally Home projects or to donate to its ongoing work, check out To donate to this project, visit

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In its recent history, the building at 1821 Grand Avenue in West Des Moines has offered the public a quiet, yet strong presence as an art gallery and then as a hospice center that provided end-of-life care.

Now its mission continues in a vibrant and strong vein as Amanda’s House, Center for Grief and Loss. The purpose isn’t new, but the location is. “We were in an office complex, and people could never find us,” says Charlene “Charlie” Kiesling, immediate past executive director and now a volunteer seeing the renovation of the building and its new memorial garden through its completion. “Yes, this is a transformation of a building but also of our organization.”

The grief center, offering ongoing services for children, teens, adults, and families struggling with the death of a loved one, is an outgrowth of the heartfelt passion of JoAnn Zimmerman. She started Amanda the Panda in 1979 with no financial backing. She wanted to serve children who were hurting from grief.

Developed camps

Early on, she focused on children with cancer. Wearing a panda costume, she visited children in their homes, hospitals, and schools in the metro area and around the state. She started a residential summer camp for kids with cancer, Camp-A-Panda. In 1988 the Heart Connection took over the highly successful camp.

Then Zimmerman evolved into serving grieving children and began Camp Amanda in 1982. It is the longest-running camp in the country for grieving children and teens. There’s also an adult camp.

Not only does the organization give to children and families, Kiesling says, but it also has prompted others, such as many local businesses, to give back to the organization to further its mission of providing hope and healing.

“In renovating our new building and creating a peaceful memorial garden, so many have donated time, materials, and services,” she says. She cites Iowa Outdoor Products of Urbandale, which has given $10,000 of in-kind materials and services for the garden. She also recognized RDG Planning and Design of Des Moines and one of its landscape architects, Jessica Fernandez, who designed the site plan as part of a class project in the Greater Des Moines Leadership Class. Other funds came from New York Life Foundation and from a Prairie Meadows Legacy Grant.

Collaborative project

“The design details came from a meeting in which joint ideas came together,” Fernandez explains. “We went back to the center with images and ideas, from whimsical to serious. We, of course, wanted the garden to be healing and restorative. But keeping in mind that lots of children would be coming here, too, it has to be fun.” For example, it has a play space and a stage, which can be flexible for various events.

“The whole program touched our hearts at RGD,” the designer says. “We love to help where there’s a need in the community.”

Shane Miller, owner of Iowa Outdoor Products, says, “What the center provides for support to families who are grieving is amazing. People might not always think they need support, but so often they really do. This whole project was just so important to us.” It’s not the first time Miller’s company has given back to memorial projects. Others include the Charles Gabus Memorial Tree Park and Garden in Walker Johnston Park in Urbandale, as well as the 9/11 memorial near an Urbandale fire station.

“Memorial gardens are so meaningful to so many people,” Miller says.
A group from the Woodworkers Association is building a pergola for the garden, and an Eagle Scout, Bradley Day, has designed the front memorial courtyard for the project.

“We were not surprised when people wanted to give back to this project,” Kiesling says. “For us, it has been so humbling to see how generous people have been. There is so much amazing talent in Des Moines.”