Fifth Ward Saints North program faces risk of relocation after Roosevelt shutdown

The social-emotional athletic development program for elementary school students launched last month; now, the only location it has known is going to close.


Nick Rohlman

Fifth Ward Saints founder Carlos Honore works with students and volunteer coaches during a wrestling practice at Theodore Roosevelt Education Center on Monday, December 10, 2018. Fifth Ward Saints provides social-services alongside a variety of athletic and activity based after school programs to at risk students.

Chris Borro, News Reporter

Members of Fifth Ward Saints North are considering finding a new location to call home after the Iowa City School District announced that the Roosevelt Education Center would close at the end of the academic year.

The program officially launched on Nov. 5, allowing fifth and sixth-grade at-risk students to receive social-services care while participating in football, basketball, wrestling, dancing, cheerleading, and both visual and performing arts.

Fifth Ward Saints is named after the Fifth Ward neighborhood in Houston, where founder and CEO Carlos Honore launched the initiative in 2009.

Honore described some of the students as having learning disabilities, schizophrenia, or behavioral disorders and said the care and instruction his organization provides will better prepare them for their future social and emotional development.

“It was just a football team when we started, and we were just giving the kids something positive to do after school,” Honore said. 

Jan Leff, the co-chair of the Fifth Ward Saints North board and a former School Board member, served as Honore’s tutor when he was a student at Iowa City West.

When he spoke to his alma mater’s 2017 graduating class, he announced the creation of Fifth Ward Saints North to service the Iowa City community.

“The community is behind us, 100 percent,” Honore said. “They believe in what we’re doing, and they see a need in a program like ours.”

For its pilot program, Fifth Ward Saints North accepted 10 students from each of five elementary schools deemed to be at-risk: Alexander, Kirkwood, Lucas, Twain, and Wood. The plan is to eventually raise that number to 40 kids per school.

The program has operated in Roosevelt since its inception. However, the school’s boiler has given out, and its water quality was recently deemed inadequate. 

RELATED: ICCSD closes doors to Roosevelt center 

Still, Fifth Ward Saints North volunteers did not expect the closing.

“We were surprised when we learned that we were going to have to move,” Leff said. “On the other hand, if you look around, Roosevelt is crumbling. It’s a difficult building … because most of the doors are locked. Nobody can go anywhere without a key fob that allows them entry.”

Honore and Leff said they have been searching for another building, perhaps a church or a different school, to host their program.

It could be more ideal, and I think the School District is willing to work with us,” Leff said. “They said they’d be able to find another place.”

Because Roosevelt is situated on a steep hill, Leff described the difficulty snowplows have reaching it as one reason it is such an expensive site to maintain. Coupled with the aging infrastructure, the future of Fifth Ward Saints North in its current location is uncertain.

Honore was adamant that the program will continue regardless of where it is located. He said a goal for the organization is to keep all the children involved under one roof so they can continue to grow and learn together as a team.

“We need to determine what priorities we’re not willing to lose … when we go to a different facility,” said Dawn Ealy, board chairperson for the organization. “It doesn’t mean that we have to [move]; it’s just going to be very hard to replicate what we have here.”