Amanda Becker, a volunteer construction worker and staff member at Hosanna Industries, shows a classroom at the Trade Skill Learning Center, where students learn home building and remodeling skills.
Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part story about Hosanna Industries. The second part will appear in Sunday’s edition of the Cranberry Eagle. NEW SEWICKLEY TWP, Beaver Co. — What started out as an idea in a small, makeshift workshop 25 years ago has grown into a charitable construction non-profit that has resulted in functioning, stable homes for more than 2,500 area households. While the organization has grown by leaps and bounds over more than two decades, its mission to renovate, add onto and build houses for poverty-stricken households here and in disaster areas has remained the same. Hosanna Industries 15 years ago moved from its original home on the grounds of Bakerstown United Presbyterian Church in Richland Township, to an eight-acre, 11-building campus just a few miles west of Cranberry Township. Today, through the hard work of volunteers committed to the cause and the generosity of hundreds of donors, the Hosanna Industries campus boasts a large, functional campus. Directly behind Hosanna’s administration building is a two-story volunteer dormitory that can sleep 57 workers. Amanda Becker, a volunteer construction worker and staff member at Hosanna Industries, said groups of volunteers come to the campus to spend a few days or a week serving on the construction crews that improve the homes of the needy. The volunteers sleep in spartan rooms and eat communally in the dormitories’ dining rooms. She said each volunteer group brings its own cook, which often provides a venue for a volunteer without construction skills. Dormitory residents sign a T-shirt containing their church or group’s logo, and colorful, autographed T-shirts now line the dormmitory hallways. A wooden slat engraved with each volunteer group’s city and the mileage they racked up during their visit is nailed onto a tall tree in the front of the property. The large Trade Skill Learning Center contains a frame of a room, where students learn wallboard and door hanging, electrical, plumbing, flooring, and other construction skills. Volunteers, staff and church mission groups planning to perform construction in disaster areas are trained at the center. Becker said a volunteer group from a church in Cranberry learned how to install a ceramic-tile floor there before heading off on a trip west to help rebuild homes demolished in a tornado. A full wood shop in the Trade Skill Learning Center is fully stocked with hand and power tools, all of which have been donated. Cabinets and trim are made there for homes Hosanna crews are working on, and a recent class saw home-schooled 8- to 12-year-olds make a garden tray. The wood shop ceiling was milled from a tree on the property by a man who owns a portable sawmill. “We have a lot of generous people who support us and believe in the work that we do,” Becker said. Surveyor’s Point is a small building that was formerly a lawn shed. It contains a 6-foot plumb bob plastered with the drawings from homes worked on by Hosanna volunteers. A life-size Jesus on the cross and benches for quiet reflection are nearby. The campus’ Community Center is a former gym, where volunteers each Christmas package up gifts and frozen meat to fill the freezers of families in need. Thanksgiving dinners for the needy are also held there, Becker said. The chapel on the campus sports a bell tower that contains the old work boots of volunteers. About 115 pairs of boots hang on the bricks inside the working bell tower. “When your work boots wear out, you’re supposed to hang them in there,” Becker said. The chapel’s interior, which has been remodeled twice in 15 years, boasts about a dozen stained glass windows and a rustic sanctuary. Gracing the altar is a seven-foot concrete cross inlaid with stained glass. A library in the basement helps ministers who attend the many preaching clinics held in the building. “We also gather volunteers here before we go to a job site,” Becker said. The Hosanna campus’ best evidence of the hard work performed by the volunteer construction crews is the warehouse. The 6,000 square-foot building sits in stark contrast to the tiny workshop and storehouse used at Bakerstown when Hosanna first started up. Tools and supplies donated and purchased in bulk as closeout or discontinued items await their charitable fate on huge shelving units, and a huge framing table holds the sawdust from the 20-person teams who build walls to take to job sites. Becker said the pre-made walls are taken to the site of a new-home build and placed on the foundation on a Monday, and 300 volunteers work all week to complete the modest home for its grateful new owners. “By Friday noon, we have a house that is built and ready to move into,” Becker said. She said Hosanna Industries volunteers have built 150 homes in 15 years through the generosity of donors and the energy of volunteers. “It takes a lot of planning, a lot of details, and a lot of prayer,” said Becker, who is one of about a dozen women construction volunteers at Hosanna. The warehouse also contains supplies that Hosanna volunteers take to the sites of a disaster. Teams in March 2012 traveled to Joplin, Mo., to work at five job sites where tornadoes decimated the landscape. Becker said Hosanna workers led teams that built two houses and completed 15 projects in five days in Joplin. Outside the warehouse are two bee houses and a small garden that is worked in the summer. Becker said donors at the end of summer bring fruits and vegetables to the campus, which are canned by volunteers. The canned produce is given to donors for Christmas as an expression of gratitude. “It’s a very inexpensive, but delicious way to say thanks,” Becker said. Recently, Becker said Hosanna crews were performing construction work in Pittsburgh’s Hill District and in nearby Rochester, Beaver County. She said she never tires of swinging a hammer or running a power saw to help society’s most impoverished. “Pretty much every day, it’s a different job.”