Homewood Renaissance Association providing a home away from home

' ... This is our community we're helping to build up.'


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The Homewood Renaissance Association has taken its next big step since establishing a headquarters in what was to have been a Family Dollar on Franks-town Road in June.

A crew of more than 100 volunteers are working this week to complete the renovation of a three-story brick home on Idlewild Street and will dedicate its conversion into a family home for youth at noon Friday.

The house, at 7207 Idlewild, had been vacant since late last year, said a neighbor, Denise Foulks. It had been a rental and, before that, a day care center.

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The Rev. Eugene and Dina Blackwell, founders of the Homewood Renaissance Association through their church House of Manna, plan to recruit a student and his or her spouse from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary to live in it and act as a second set of parents for youth who need a safe, stable family experience, including dinner and conversation.

Rev. Blackwell said some children will be directed there but that others can drop in.

"When I was growing up, there was always a house besides your own you could go to," he said. "We want this to be a home away from home."

"It'll be a place where they can feel good about hanging out," said Ms. Blackwell, the association's executive director. "They can sit down to meals and have organic conversations about what's going on in their lives."

She said the householder "parents" should be people "interested in urban ministry so they can embrace the culture of the community."

The week-long renovation, by volunteers and staff from Hosanna Industries, the Fox Chapel Presbyterian Church and the renaissance association, has given young men construction experience through the association's building trades program All 4 Life. Those youth also are directed to training with Hosanna Industries on other building projects.

"We do a lot of repairs and rehabs for needy people," said Amanda Becker, a mission worker for Hosanna, which is overseeing the renovation. "We're training a lot of people who are new to the trades."

Ms. Foulkes, a neighbor since 1982, said she is excited to have this program as a neighbor.

"My grandson, who's 12, will be part of this, and I want to volunteer," she said to Rev. Blackwell. "Thank you so much for doing this."

The site was strategic, available and affordable at $22,000, although it was "in pretty bad shape," Rev. Blackwell said. "This has proximity to where we do our ministry and it's near our new building" two blocks away.

William Terrell, a Pittsburgh police officer and narcotics detective for 21 years, retired in 2004 and is the training coordinator for the association's All 4 Life program.

"I came back to what I was doing before I was a cop, construction," he said. "I'm teaching these guys." For some, he said, "there's no adult [male] figure in their lives. I tell them 'It's my way today. I need you to do this now.' I was where they were at one time.

"When I first got these guys, to put an arm around them, they'd be 'no way,'" he said, imitating a kid pulling away in embarrassment. "Now I can put my arm around them anytime."

Robert Hawkins, 24, is one of the young men whom Rev. Blackwell enticed to learn construction.

"We've been knowing him in the neighborhood," Mr. Hawkins said of Rev. Blackwell, whose ministry includes the street corner of Frankstown and Homewood avenues. "He said they were going to do a program and one day it just started. I was looking to learn a trade, something that would stay with me. I've learned a whole lot, and this is our community we're helping to build up."

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Diana Nelson Jones: djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626. First Published August 14, 2013 4:00 AM


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