TEAMWORK TRIUMPHS—Rev. Eugene “Freedom” Blackwell; his wife “Free,” center; volunteers; and well-wishers like Ed Gainey thank Rev. Donn Ed for leading the “Blitz Build.” (Photos by J.L. Martello)

With construction supervision from Hosanna Industries and the help of volunteers from as far away as Virginia, House Of Manna Church celebrated another step in its efforts to rebuild Homewood from within, by renovating a three-story home on Idlewild Street in less than a week.

“When I was a kid there was always that house you could go to, a place where we could get a meal, where someone would love us,” said House of Manna pastor Rev. Eugene “Freedom” Blackwell. “That’s what this is about.”

Reverend Blackwell said when they began the project Aug. 12, the house was missing windows, banisters and the walls had holes in them. Now, the home features ceiling fans, new wood flooring, carpeting, two kitchens, two-and-a-half baths, furnishings, appliances, office and educational/recreational space. There’s even a gym in the basement.

Jay Gilmer, coordinator for the city’s Pittsburgh Initiative to Reduce Crime, was among the volunteers who worked on the “blitz build” and said it was a rewarding experience.

“I was mostly just painting, and dragging over volunteers from my church and Boy Scout troop,” he said. “This is really great, and the city is very happy with this effort and would love to see more like it.”


According to Amanda Becker from Hosanna Industries, this five-day renovation included contributions from 300 volunteers, six churches—including Fox Chapel Presbyterian, Elfinwild Church in Glenshaw and Gainesville United Methodist in Virginia, Home Depot, The Heinz Endowments, ALLGREEN Inc. and the Homewood Renaissance Association.


NEW YOUTH CENTER (Photo by J.L. Martello)


During the dedication ceremony, Aug.16, Hosanna Industries founder Rev. Donn Ed thanked everyone who helped, and even called two who could not attend so the assembled crowd could shout their thanks too. He then presented Rev. Blackwell and his wife, Dina “Free” Blackwell, with a symbolic loaf of bread and a hand-painted portrait of Jesus, and the keys to the house.

“This is the 2,776th rehab we’ve done, and every time it’s about God’s love and a fantastic spirit of cooperation that surprises you,” said Ed. “But this week was such fun working with Freedom and Free, it was great. It just clicked. Thank you.”
Free, looking at all the young volunteers who helped out, said it was for them.

“These guys are my babies,” she said. “When I saw in their eyes that they wanted something better, I said I wouldn’t stop until these corners are cleaned of people with no hope.”

State Rep. Ed Gainey, D-East Liberty, praised all involved.

“Free and Freedom, they never quit.  They never gave up on Homewood,” he said. “There is something special in the cooperative power here. When you see all these volunteers of different races, economic backgrounds, this is youth development.”

Blackwell said the house will be operated by Homewood Renaissance, but the on-site management team has not yet been selected. He said it will officially open next month and will primarily serve youth not already enrolled in their after-school program.  The home will offer a calm, nurturing environment where young people can relax, do school work and find someone to talk with.

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