IF I HAD A HAMMER—Members of the Homewood Renaissance Association do their version of groundbreaking at their new community and program center on Frankstown Avenue. (Photo by Gail L. Manker.)
In 2008, work was completed on what was to be a new Family Dollar store on Frankstown Avenue in Homewood. But the company refused delivery of the structure, and it has remained vacant for five years.
Now, not without a touch of poetic irony, that white elephant might serve as a catalyst for rebuilding the community. During a June 18 press conference, the Homewood Renaissance Association announced that despite purchase offers, Dollar Bank has donated the $2 million structure to serve as a new community center and the anchor of a multi-initiative effort to rebuild North Homewood.
“The initiative unveiled today takes concrete steps to transform a vicious cycle of poverty into a circle of hope and reconciliation,” said House of Manna Faith Community pastor Rev. Eugene “Freedom” Blackwell, the HRA’s executive director. ”It is truly Homewood rebuilding itself. We are grateful to Dollar
Bank for their support in our community and to our many partners, who have united with us to bring this to life.”
The newly refurbished center is scheduled to open in early 2014.
In addition to Dollar Bank, the center and its programmatic work is being supported by the RK Mellon Foundation, the Buhl Foundation, the Heinz Endowments and several private and corporate funders.
“HRA has created a strong community revitalization model that is fueled by Homewood residents, yet includes organizations beyond Homewood to create exciting long-term change,” said Heinz Endowments President Robert Vagt. “This initiative will offer housing, employment, education and recreation. We are privileged to support a project that reflects the passion of the community, offering opportunity and building hope for the future.”
The building will serve as the home for House of Manna’s 300-seat sanctuary and will also contain office space, classrooms, a meeting space, a kitchen and four storefront spaces, three of which will be leased to retailers. The fourth will serve as a business development incubator, offering professional support services to entrepreneurs.
Beyond repurposing the 7258 Frankstown building, the association—itself a coalition of faith- and community-based agencies such as City Mission, Hosanna Industries, Inc., Rebuilding Together Pittsburgh and several churches—plans to expand its programming, and has purchased a nearby building on Idlewild Street in which to do so.
The home will be completely renovated by Hosanna Industries, employing youth from HRA’s All 4 Life building trades program. When completed in spring 2014, the home will offer an expanded version of its after-school Spirit of Truth program, which currently serves 4-8 grade students on Mondays through Thursdays during the school year, will include more students and will add a summer program.
“My first interest is compassion for the people of Homewood,” said Blackwell. “As people of faith, it’s our obligation to get the resources to bring life to the community. It’s a justice issue.”
The program integrates a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) curriculum with everyday activities like sports to provide context. As now, the program will be led by physician and retired military officer Dr. Denise Tyler.
The association is also in the process of acquiring a third building that will provide transitional housing and support services to the homeless through a partnership with City Mission. The services will include a clinic, mental health support, Samaritan care, anger and money management, life and communication skills and spiritual support.
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