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HEART Building Futures is a public/private partnership. It is an authentic hands-on learning experience for high school students to achieve their goals of attaining a high school diploma, while transforming Dubuque’s most blighted neighborhood back into a livable, walkable community for working families. Students in HEART Building Futures spend part of their day in the classroom and part of their day on a home restoration site where they work with a 3 to 1 student/staff ratio, learn basics of construction, soft skills, critical thinking skills, and are connected to post high school education, training opportunities, or employment.


Meet Garret

When Garret came to HEART, he was failing school. In his own words, “I viewed life as pointless. I was working at a fast food restaurant and feeling bad about myself. I would sit up at night and think about it and think about it.” Garrett felt he had no choices, and no future.


The Housing Education and Rehabilitation Training (HEART) Program is a public/private partnership between Four Mounds, Dubuque Community Schools, the City of Dubuque, and Northeast Iowa Community College (NICC). For more than 20 years, HEART has successfully served hundreds of youth at risk of dropping out of high school. While in the program, students spend part of their day in the classroom and part of their day immersed in authentic restoration work in Dubuque’s urban core. They rehabilitate distressed properties, from the inside out, into single-family homes that are sold to first-time homebuyers. Students not only learn valuable, marketable skills associated with carpentry, but they also learn soft skills, including communication and collaboration, to become well-rounded, civically engaged citizens.


Through the program, students who were expected to drop out of school receive high school diplomas and articulated credit through NICC, as well as financial literacy and soft skills. They also receive a small stipend. Dupaco Community Credit Union partners with the program to provide a dollar-for-dollar match if participants use their stipends to advance their education or prepare for work after graduation. Students in HEART have rehabilitated over 40 homes in Dubuque's urban core.

HEART has been lauded for its successful program locally, state-wide, and nationally. These are a few of the ways in which our team and partners have been honored:

  • Audrey Nelson Community Development Achievement Award, National Community Development Association

  • Best Residential Development, 1000 Friends of Iowa

  • Program of the Year, Iowa County/City Management Association

  • Preservation at its Best, Iowa Historic Preservation Alliance

  • Enviro-stars, Dubuque Metropolitan Solid Waste Agency

  • Multiple Ken Kringle Preservation Awards, Dubuque Historical Society

  • Volunteerism Award, Dubuque Main Street

by the numbers


The graduation rate for students in HEART Building Futures is 91% as opposed to the national graduation rate for youth with disabilities, which hovers around 65% (McFarland et al., 2018).


HEART students have completed more than 50 community service projects–many for City parks or community nonprofits


HEART Building Futures students have completed over 40 home renovations in Dubuque’s vulnerable north-end neighborhoods


We are proud to have invested $2.5 million into Dubuque’s urban core.


The Four Mounds Foundation was formed in 1987, following Elizabeth Burden’s donation of the property to the city of Dubuque in 1982 for educational and recreational purposes. During that five year time period, many of the buildings on the site had fallen into disrepair. Plans were in place to raze the buildings, because of the nationwide economic recession and lack of funding to complete necessary repairs. Thus, the Four Mounds Foundation was formed to carry out Elizabeth Burden’s wishes. The founders of the foundation were creative, and addressed workforce development and resilience-building needs for individuals and the wider community through the challenging work of restoration. Beginning in 1995, the foundation served students at risk through the Youth Empowerment Services (YES) program. Students in the YES program worked with job coaches to restore 17 buildings on the property. The restoration took several years, and the buildings and grounds have now been restored to their original state. Today, the grounds serve as a city park, an inn and conference center, and a hub for vocational training programs for youth and adults, as well as a summer day camp for community youth, many of whom live in poverty.

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