Highmark Health grant helps transform Erie’s historic Little Italy

Bhutanese refugees Anil and Dirpa Pradhan lived in a refugee camp in Nepal for 27 years before resettling in Erie in 2016. Anil’s first job in Erie was at Bello’s Market in Millcreek Township. For a few months, he walked three miles – each way – to work every day.

But that long walk toward the American Dream paid off. In 2020, the Pradhans bought their home in the heart of Erie’s historic Little Italy neighborhood with the help of the Sisters of St. Joseph Neighborhood Network’s Genesis Program. For two years, Anil and his wife Dirpa saved money and lived in a small apartment in the neighborhood while their future home was renovated.

Bhutanese refugees Anil Pradhan, 34, at left, and his wife Dirpa Pradhan, 34, at right, stand outside of their 353 W. 17th St. home on May 24, 2023, during a Highmark Health press conference unveiling the commitment to a six-year investment of $900,000 to the Sisters of St. Joseph Neighborhood Network. The Pradhan’s were Genesis Home Ownership Program recipients through the SSJNN. MONICA Z. GUSTIN/CITY OF ERIE

Their new home, a 104-year-old house at 352 W. 17th St., had been abandoned for several years, and needed $120,000 in repairs before it was livable.

Built in 1918, the house required an overhaul of its plumbing, heating, and electrical systems. The kitchen and bathroom were replaced. Thankfully, the original woodwork and wood floors were still in good enough condition to be repaired and refinished. New paint and appliances completed the interior work.

Outside, the roof needed repair, and the chimney was rebuilt. Students from Erie High School’s building trades program, along with their instructors, provided initial interior demo work and replaced all new windows. The new siding and front porch repair finished the exterior work. The renovations took two years to complete.

On Tuesday, May 24, 2023, on the front porch of the blue house with white trim, the Pradhans celebrated the completion of the process, thanks, in part, to a contribution that Highmark Health made to the SSJNN’s Genesis program.

Anil and Dirpa Pradhan, recipients of the Sisters of St. Joseph Neighborhood Network’s Genesis Home Ownership Program, celebrated the closing on their home at 353 W. 17th St. in the heart of Erie’s historic Little Italy on May 23, 2023. MONICA Z. GUSTIN/CITY OF ERIE

“My advice for the refugee people coming to the United States is you will have a bright future,” said Anil Pradhan, 34.

Anil Pradhan’s journey to a bright future was not always easy. After relocating to Erie, it took him seven months to find a job. But his desire to provide for his family and give his children, Azmi, 9, and Aaron, 6, a good education motivated him to keep going. Finally, he landed a job at Plastek, where he has been working for seven years.

The Genesis Housing and Home Ownership Program helps families become homeowners by providing:

  • Quality, affordable housing
  • Financial assistance
  • Mentoring

The program covers a range of topics, including:

  • Financial literacy
  • Budgeting
  • Credit-building
  • Basic home maintenance and repair

The Pradhans’ story is a testament to the power of hard work and determination. Their success is a sign of good things to come for Little Italy, and the $900,000 commitment from Highmark Inc. subsidiary United Concordia Dental will help to ensure that the transformation of the neighborhood continues.

Anil Pradhan, 34, thanks a crowd of people on the front porch of his 353 W. 17th St. home on May 23, 2023. Pradhan and his wife, Dirpa Pradhan, 34, were recipients of the Sisters of Saint Joseph Neighborhood Network’s Genesis Home Ownership Program in 2020. The SSJNN announced a six-year, $900,000 grant from Highmark Health to further the program and transform Erie’s Historic Little Italy.

“The new funding will go to many different projects,” said Heather May Caspar, Executive Director of the SSJNN. “It helps to fund not just housing programs, but also food security programs and (community) gardens.” SSJNN officials are grateful for the support from Highmark Inc. subsidiary United Concordia Dental.

Sister Phyllis Hilbert, Neighborhood and Family advocate at SSJNN, worked closely with the Pradhan family. “It has been my privilege to minister them,” said Hilbert. “Our New Americans have the vision to imagine and foresee a better future, have the courage to leave the familiar to brave the new, and have the persistence to make the necessary changes to succeed.”

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