December 17, 2014: The Dreher Family: Keeping it Local
Habitat has made a committment to McKeesport to work with additional families in local neighborhoods in 2015 and 2016.
McKeesport may have been known as the “valley of fire” decades ago when the blast furnaces were at full power, but families like the Drehers are turning it into a valley of hope with Habitat’s support. Timothy and Shawnda Dreher are McKeesport folks. They’ve lived, worked, and raised their daughter there. It was, therefore, distressing to them when elements of crime slowly crept into their neighborhood. Crime got worse in recent years, and like so many Habitat families, the Drehers found themselves stuck in what some might call “a bad part of town,” renting from disreputable landlords. They became more distressed when it proved too difficult to get a loan to buy a house in a safer area of McKeesport.
One day at work, Tim saw a Habitat housing application and brought it home. “It was the start of the best thing that’s happened to us in a long time,” he said. Tim worked at Auberle Group Home in McKeesport, and he had seen first-hand how damaging it can be when families break apart. Shawnda and Tim worked on the application, all the while thinking that they wouldn’t qualify. But Family Services Coordinator Dan Webb at Habitat helped them and they finished it quickly. Even with the application in the works, the Drehers feared that some stroke of bad luck would prevent them from being approved. As they went through the early stages of approval, though, their confidence grew. Once Shawnda started working at the ReStore to earn her equity hours, the chance of getting a home started to seem real. Tim described it perfectly. Once they applied, “everything started blending in,” and not just about the house. Through Habitat they met lots of good people, including some teenagers who became friends of their daughter, Tamia.
The equity hours took a year to complete, while all the other stages of the application were being put together. Meanwhile, the search for the right house began. Habitat soon found it, not far from McKeesport High School on quiet Jefferson Street. The Drehers loved the house the minute they saw it. Tim’s work was a short walk away, as was Tamia’s school. It needed a lot of work, but the whole Habitat team tackled the job. Volunteers joined in, as they always do. Baseball superstar Andrew McCutchen of the Pittsburgh Pirates helped gut the existing kitchen and rebuild it. He also worked on turning the basement into a comfortable family room.
Late summer 2013 was frantically exciting for the family. August 30th was Tamia’s birthday. September 1st was Shawnda’s birthday. Their first granddaughter was born on September 10th. The next day was their wedding anniversary. And on Friday, September 13th, they had the ribbon cutting ceremony for their new home.
They moved in immediately and put the finishing touches on the house, making it their home. Tamia, an accomplished artist, loved doing the painting and detail work. Their first Thanksgiving was wonderful, thanks to a fully stocked kitchen and brand new appliances. The two gardens (vegetable in the back, flowers in the front) have been a joyful addition to their nice, tidy, and pleasant house. And Jefferson Street now has another well-kept home to match the others. Maybe the most striking and memorable thing about the Drehers’ story is that everything happened within a few square miles. The new house is nearby to their old friends in McKeesport. It’s across the street from Tamia’s school, and very close to Shawnda’s work. Despite the challenges with their previous McKeesport neighborhood, the Drehers stayed local. They and Habitat found the right house on the right street in the right town, and they were able to keep the family where they’ve always felt at home.
This is not lost on Tim, Shawnda, and Tamia. “The little things mattered the most,” Tim stresses. Habitat Pittsburgh understood how much the sense of place meant to the family, and they succeeded in finding that right place. Habitat stayed committed to the family after the ribboncutting. They were there when Tim suffered heart failure in early 2014. They continue to help the Drehers manage the mortgage and all the attending paperwork. And, most importantly, they have boosted the Drehers’ desire to give back to the community they’ve called home for so long. Tamia looks forwarded to volunteering for Habitat after high school. Tim spreads the word about Habitat program. And Shawnda makes sure the spirit keeps flowing in the house and neighborhood. They are long-time local people who are now stakeholders in a new, hopeful McKeesport.
By Joe Coohill / www.jcoohill.com