Community comes to aid of DeKalb Area Women’s Center reeling from flooded building

On Aug. 24, 2022 a fan works to dry a vacated room in the DeKalb Area Women's Center after a flood inundated the center's basement with seven inches of water at the beginning of the month.

DeKALB – The DeKalb Area Women’s Center is dealing with thousands of dollars in expenses after excess stormwater seeped into the basement of its building during a rainstorm this month.

Anna Marie Coveny, a leader at the women’s center, said the rain came down so hard in such a short period of time that it overwhelmed the storm sewers, even with two rain gardens out front.

“But the groundwater, the ground was saturated, the groundwater needed someplace to go and it seeped up through the cracks in the cement floor in our basement,” Coveny said.

Coveny said a Zumba instructor was the first to discover, what at the time, was 7 inches of water pooled in the basement. Once Coveny came with the help of plumbers and their water pumps, the water had already receded but the damage to the underbelly of the 105-year-old building, and many of the items stored there, had already been done.

At the time, everything was damp and Coveny said some things were actually sopping wet, so air movers and dehumidifiers were brought in to prevent mold from growing. Now Coveny worries the center is going to have a huge electric bill.

“We have no way of estimating what that is but running day and night 30 air movers and three dehumidifiers is going to be a whopper of an electric bill. So that’s part of what we need to do fundraising for,” Coveny said.

As far as expenses go, the DeKalb Area Women’s Center owes so far $4,050 to Service Master Commercial Cleaning Services but the buck doesn’t stop there.

“We really need to have a sump pump pit dug and a sump pump installed with an ejection system that will get the water out before it can spread over the floor again,” Coveny said. “I believe it will take months before that happens and again we have to figure where the money is coming from because I’m not willing to write a check that bounces.”

Coveny said the DeKalb Area Women’s Center expects to receive $1,250 in emergency grant funding from the DeKalb County Community Foundation. As of Aug. 24, the center also has been given two donations from organization members who each contributed $300.

Enter the volunteers

Over the past few weeks, Coveny reckons the center has been graced with volunteers more than two dozen times. The majority of the work done by those volunteers have so far involved bringing water-logged items out of the basement and into the sun to dry off. Everything from filing cabinets and ruined furniture to the building’s deed and old blueprints of the hall needed to be brought out and sorted.

“We can’t just throw out the damp papers,” Coveny said. “We need to look and see, do we have the deed to the building, do we have the the paperwork for the IRS nonprofit status, do we have the paperwork for the state of Illinois nonprofit status?”

On Aug. 24, 2022, Anna Marie Coveny looks at a blueprint recovered from the DeKalb Area Women's Center basement after it was flooded in early August.

The center asked for volunteers to help with the flood recovery from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Aug. 24 and Aug. 25 and then from 9 a.m. until noon Aug. 26 and Aug. 27.

Lisa Shelton, who works with Safe Passage in DeKalb, said she came out when she heard the center needed help. Shelton said a lot of people come out and help Safe Passage so she likes to match those efforts by going out and helping where she can as well.

Lisa Shelton sorts through a damp box in the basement of the DeKalb Area Women's Center on Aug. 24, 2022.

“I’m no stranger to flooding,” Shelton said. “I grew up in a house that flooded a couple of times so it’s nothing I haven’t seen before, but we definitely need as much help as we can get. That would be very helpful.”

Shelton said considering the building is more that a century old, and the women’s center has occupied it for almost three decades, there’s a lot of historical value in some of the stuff that was impacted by the flood.

“So the sooner we can get it out of the mustiness and dry some of it out, hopefully some of it can be saved and preserved,” said Shelton.

Ann Mueller, another volunteer, said she supports the center. Since she’s retired, she had time to help out when the call for volunteers went out to the community.

“It’s important to have a space like this, so I’m really appreciative of the work they do here,” Mueller said.

“That’s pretty upsetting, to have so much damage done and so much work that needs to be done to restore this wonderful historical building,” said Mueller. “I’m just happy to do the little bit that I can do.”

Michelle Perkins said she came out to volunteer because she thinks the DeKalb Area Women’s Center is a great organization with a great cause.

“For me, as a tree hugger, the hardest part was seeing all the garbage,” Perkins said, who’s volunteered twice since Aug. 24. “Seeing all the stuff that’s damaged and trying to be resourceful with how we can recycle, reuse and not just put things in landfills – so it’s always just, it’s just devastating.”

She heralded her fellow volunteers as they cleared the space.

“No. 1 the physical labor and what you have to expend to get this done, to clean up, is amazing, and that’s just the beginning. Just getting the damaged goods out, let alone putting it back together,” Perkins said.

Ann Mueller watches Michelle Perkins sort through a waterlogged box in the basement of the DeKalb Area Women's Center on Aug. 24, 2022.

Perkins, a lifetime DeKalb resident, said she’s always heard of the women’s center but didn’t have any involvement with the organization prior to her volunteer work last week. She said it feels good to be involved.

“Anytime you’re working with an organization like this its funding, donations, even skill, if someone can donate skill that’s always appreciated,” said Perkins. “Any type of disaster like this just cripples organizations, so be aware, be kind and give back.”

Moving past the flood

All flood issues considered, the DeKalb Area Women’s Center continues to host its weekly open house from 7 to 9 p.m. Fridays, Coveny said. Save a series of sign and collage making workshops, the regular programming during those Friday evening events have turned into a time for more work dealing with flood damage to be done.

Coveny said the areas where carpet used to adorn the floors of the center’s basement won’t be replaced because of the risk of another flood in the absence of a sump pump. But she hopes some of the original hardwood in the basement can be saved.

The center also gives away free winter clothes on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Despite the flood, that event is still expected to go off like normal in two and a half months.

“That’s kind of my goal, that we don’t have the musty odor anymore for the coat drive,” Coveny said. “And it is really a gratifying experience to do that,” said Coveny, who noted the clothes are given to anyone who shows up, no questions asked.

“I would like people to know that our mailbox is open for checks,” Coveny said.

She said anybody who’s interested in helping with the flood recovery can mail a check made out to DeKalb Area Women’s Center, to 1021 State St., DeKalb IL 60115.

“And the good thing that I have to say today, is that it wasn’t sewer backup, sewage backup it was not, and so it was storm sewer instead,” Coveny said.

Camden Lazenby

Camden Lazenby

Camden Lazenby covers DeKalb County news for the Daily Chronicle.