Decades-old church covered in blight cleared in Aliquippa

ALIQUIPPA, Pa. — Blight is defined as something that damages or spoils something.

“It was overgrown, it was poison ivy everywhere. People would chuck beer cans into it,” said Taylor Ball who lives in West Aliquippa.

Ball is talking about the structure right outside her window — a decades-old church now being dismantled, brick by brick.

“We got 800 in Aliquippa dilapidated properties. All of a sudden you walk and here’s a lot with grass starting to grow out of it,” Aliquippa Mayor Dwan Walker said.

It’s an opportunity to reclaim the community and the lives of those working in it.

“Did you ever think something like this was possible after going to jail?” Channel 11 asked.

“Not at all, not in a million years,” Lonnie Craft said.

Craft is one of the men behind the clearing of the church. He spent seven years behind bars struggling to get employment due to his criminal history.

This pilot program “Reclaim Project” is giving him the training and job opportunity to change his life.

“I’m hoping with the different certifications and training I get, I can own my own construction company,” Craft said.

He’s not alone. Every person working at these 12 job sites in Aliquippa, 12 in Beaver Falls and 12 in Midland has been incarcerated. While they rebuild their lives, they are building their communities up too.

“You got to fix where you lie your head at. Who better to do it but the people who ‘messed it up.’ Not only are you showing you are the city of second chances, but you are showing you are the city of second chances,” Walker said.

This project is a pilot to see how much it will cost to bring to other communities across the region.

While grant funding is a part of the project, salvaging what’s inside these homes and selling them helps provide funds and keeps all of the demolition elements out of the landfills.

The project wouldn’t be underway without the help of nonprofits Trail Ministry Inc, Construction Junction, Sustainable Mission Partners Inc and Uncommon Grounds. Businesses that are helping and donating to the project include Hill International, W.D. Wright Construction, Townsend Construction & Engineering, Certify-Ed, Urban Wood Economy, Creekside Springs and Hamilton Tools.

So far, the county has contributed $250,000 to the project in Midland, and state funding of $300,000 went toward the Aliquippa project.

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