Homewood hammers

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .

Homewood hammers
Here's one thing I love about covering city neighborhoods: Being able to combine in the same sentence "Homewood" and "a shot in the arm" and not be talking about gun violence. Every neighborhood that has a bad rep and gets a bad rap is also a neighborhood that has great rap and great reps. So here goes:
Homewood just got a shot in the arm — a $2 million gift from Dollar Bank in the form of a vacant building, affirming the vision of Rev. Eugene and Dina Blackwell.
The Blackwells, having organized the House of Manna Faith Community three years ago, are a power couple whose street ministry inspired them to create what Rev. Blackwell called “a bridge to resources” for Homewood.
This morning, about 75 people gathered in a vacant building that was built for Family Dollar at 7258 Frankstown Ave. six years ago to celebrate its new purpose — home of  the Blackwells’ brainchild, the Homewood Renaissance Association.
When Family Dollar declined the community’s invitation to accept its retail trade, the developer, RSSI, declared bankruptcy. After several years of legal glop and gore, Dollar Bank’s foreclosure became something like manna from heaven for the neighborhood.
“Many hours of work and prayer brought us to where we are today,” said Rev. Blackwell, who is also a teaching elder of the Presbyterian CHurch USA and associate mnister at North Way Community Church. 
The Blackwells established HRA last year by drawing in every kind of person with every kind of strength from more than 30 congregations with which they were familiar, some of them affluent. They have gotten a $2 million building for free and $2 million in pro bono services, including professional expertise and labor, from partnering congregations and from people in Homewood.
Because part of their ministry is on the streets, they know a lot of young guys who hangi on the corner, “which is not what they want to do,” said Ms. Blackwell. She is HRA’s executive director.  The Blackwells have proved that the streets are not the popular option when there re other options. They have pulled more than a dozen young men into painting and construction apprenticeships and plan to keep pulling them in.
Dan Paul, a former Gulf Oil executive who became involved in HRA through Westminster Presbyterian Church in Upper St. Clair, has become an apostle of the association.
“I do a lot of talking about this to other churches,” he said. “I came here every Friday night for a year and a half for services [at House of Manna] and I can’t tell you why. But it was very powerful to me.  Homewood is a million miles from Upper St. Clair while being just 40 [real] miles away. I have had an affluent life and was used to places like the Duquesne Club. This is more enriching," he said at the building dedication. "It has changed my life.”
Read more about this endeavor in Homewood in tomorrow’s Post-Gazette.
Photo: from left to right, Marlon Martin (spokesman), Gregg Schwotzer (board president), Rebecca Yago of Dollar Bank and founders Dina and Rev. Eugene Blackwell, smash a back wall to celebrate the imminent renovation of the building that's the new center of the Homewood Renaissance Association.

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