Von Washington

Von Washington (Photo: Germaine Watkins)

Von Washington (Photo: Germaine Watkins)

Von Washington was born in Homewood, but moved with family to Atlanta when he was 11. It was quite a change of pace. “I didn’t know anybody. It was a big jump.” He graduated from high school in Cobb County, just northwest of Atlanta, took jobs detailing cars and, he admitted, found himself “getting into too much trouble.”

By age 26, he’d had enough. So Washington returned to Homewood two years ago. “My whole family’s here. It was a place to make a fresh start,” he said.

People in the neighborhood guided him to Rebuilding Together Pittsburgh, based on Susquehanna Street. Part of a national organization, it was started 25 years ago as an all-volunteer effort to provide low-income homeowners with critical home repairs and provide accessibility modifications to make it easier for older residents and those with physical limitations to continue to live in their houses. Rebuilding Together Pittsburgh still relies heavily on volunteers to complete more than 150 projects across Allegheny County each year. Since 2015, Washington has learned and is honing carpentry skills, as well as nearly every kind of work that goes into rehabbing a house. He builds wooden staircases; hangs, sands and paints drywall; weatherproofs basements and lays flooring. He also serves as a house captain, guiding groups of volunteers who take on a project for a day or a weekend. “I’ve matured a little bit, and straightened up a lot,” he said.

“Von has personally has helped to rehab dozens of homes for some of the most vulnerable people in Homewood,” said Demi Kolke. Now a senior planner for the City of Pittsburgh, she met Washington while working at Operation Better Block, which works to strengthen homeownership in the neighborhood. “His willingness to give back to the neighborhood is helping to make it a better place for those who live here and generations to come.”

Now 28, Washington describes himself as a bit boisterous, given to joking around with colleagues and volunteers. But he takes the work seriously.

“What we’re doing is great,” he said. “I never imagined staying in one job this long, but I like it. I liked it from the beginning.”

Eventually he hopes to strike out on his own as a carpenter or contractor, to better support his three children and nurture the next generation in his neighborhood. Homewood is a unique place, he said. While it may be poor in resources, it’s rich in human connectivity. “There are people here who want you to succeed.” As for thinking of himself as a hero, he shrugged off that notion.

“I don’t know about that,” he said. “But I think what I’m doing is really cool.”