This old house, at 624 Collins St., in East Liberty, vacant and decrepit for years, is new again.
The transformation is thanks to Eastminster Presbyterian Church, Hosanna Industries and a week of sweat equity, where 250 volunteers used hammers, saws and faith to turn the house into a home.
On Monday, 624 was a moldy, dusty mess. The paint was peeling, the ceilings were falling and it was full of four Dumpsters' worth of debris.
Yesterday, with fresh paint and newly planted black-eyed susans, the three-story house, built in 1858, sparkled. Youth and elders from Fox Chapel Presbyterian and the workers from Hosanna Industries, a Christian-based home rehab group, pushed almost non-stop to have the place ready for Estrella Brooks and her twin daughters, 14-year-old A'Isha and I'Asha Jackson.
The extreme makeover was the first blitz project -- part Christian outreach, part barn-raiser -- by Eastminster Presbyterian, the 150-year-old church that once was home to some of Pittsburgh's wealthiest families. In recent years, it has slowly been changing its focus to cross-cultural ministry to fit with the changes in the community.
Parts of East Liberty remain severely neglected. A few blocks away from the church, families struggle with poverty and crime.
"There are lots of folks in need of affordable housing," said Ted Melnyck, youth minister at Eastminster and a project director. He believes it is the church's mission to get involved with the community and the congregation and figure out how to help.
The Blitz Build uses skilled and non-skilled volunteers to redo a home, taking what is normally a 10-week process and doing it in a week.
Hosanna Industries, named for the cry that greeted Jesus when he entered Jerusalem, has improved homes for people in poverty since 1990.
Its effort is methodical and efficient.
At 9:45 yesterday morning, the group prayed and thanked God for the "gift of service."
At 10, Hosanna leaders had formed their teams and sent them out with the admonishment "you work your heart out and when you're done, there's no work left."
Earlier in the week, the workers had done such a good job that a few volunteers like Stacy Banderinko, 18, of Fox Chapel, were sent down the street to clean a house for another Blitz project before helping to put the final touches on 624.
She's not afraid of dust. Ms. Banderinko spent her spring vacation cleaning up in New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina.
"I do this because I love helping other people who have hard times," she said.
By 5 p.m. yesterday, Ms. Brooks was moving into 624, rescued, she believes, from a housing development where she feared that the drug trade was rampant and that her outspokenness often drew threats against her life.
"This journey has been phenomenal," she said, standing outside in a Steelers' T-shirt. "When I saw this place Monday, there's no way in the world I would have believed this would be done. This is God's home."
Ms. Brooks, a Head Start teacher, is active in the church's summer program and Women's Association. Her involvement, plus the fact that many people knew of her desire to own a home, lead to her chance to purchase 624, which has a mortgage of roughly $50,000.
"This is not going to save East Liberty," said Mr. Melnyck, a student at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, but "it's like giving birth to a baby, it's a little piece of hope."V.W.H. Campbell, Post-Gazette
Volunteers carry furnishings into a refurbished house on Collins Street in East Liberty yesterday as part of a Blitz Build conducted by Eastminster Presbyterian Church and Hosanna Industries.
Click photo for larger image.
Ervin Dyer can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1410.