PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - Old churches have been converted into all kinds of things in Pittsburgh -- a brewery, restaurant, apartments -- but this is one of the most unique.
After sitting vacant for ten years, St. Mary Magdalene in Homestead is now a challenge course called "Dragon's Den" with high ropes, low ropes and a zip line.
When the church was built in 1895, no one ever could have imagined what's inside now -- skateboarding on high ropes, balancing on moving poles and zip lining from the choir loft to the altar.
"In some parts, I was afraid, but the rest was really fun," said Alessandro Rimbaldi, a teenager.
And 12-year-old Marco Petrucci said, "The first time I did it I was scared, but I've been doing it for a while.
Fourteen-year-old Wendoll Slade added, "I love the zip line. That was really fun."
Dragon's Den is the vision of Giulia Lozza Petrucci. The Shadyside resident was visiting her family in Italy when her kids tried a challenge course like this one and loved it.
"That's when I started studying the benefits of challenge courses for self-development, like self confidence, self esteem, self control, team building, group bonding, trust and leadership."
So Petrucci and her husband created a non-profit, raised money, bought the church and, along with 80 volunteers, renovated it. There's both a high ropes course and a low ropes course for younger kids.
She also wants it to be a community center and safe place for local kids like 14-year-old Wendoll Slade to hang out. Wendoll is the first "knight" of the Dragon's Den and walks here almost every day.
"It's just a mental thing. It helps you clear your head," said Wendoll.
KDKA Kidsburgh reporter Kristine Sorensen tried it herself. She said from 17 feet high on the ropes course, "I've sat in a lot of churches and looked up, but from up here looking down, it sure looks a whole lot farther away than it does from down there." She adds that from up high, the architectural details are especially beautiful, and the sense of accomplishment grows.
"I wish you could see me smiling," Kristine said as she finished the zip line. "That's a blast."
The Dragon's Den is now open for online reservations here.
They're doing free demonstrations on Fridays at 3:30 p.m. until Oct. 9. To sign up for that, email Giulia Petrucci at: firstname.lastname@example.org
It costs $20 a person for the low course and $35 for the high ropes course and zip line.
You can get in free if you show you completed the Census and live in Homestead, West Homestead and Munhall before the census is due Sept. 30.
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