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ECHO Looking to Grow

Springfield charity breaks ground on expansion.

Blue skies overhead portended a favorable future, as Springfield non-profit ECHO broke ground for what President Tony Pomilla called "a building which will serve us for the next 20 years."

Local politicians, members of the board, and some of the over 400 volunteers of ECHO gathered for the ceremony, to kick off the $800,000 expansion to the facility's current location on Old Keene Mill Road.

"Weren't we blessed with a beautiful day?" asked Pat Gauthier, executive director of Ecumenical Community Helping Others (ECHO), as she prepared to turn a mound of dirt at a groundbreaking ceremony for the non-profit's upcoming expansion project on Sunday, March 13.

"We hope to be able to better care for the people we now serve, to better preserve their privacy and care for their dignity," said Gauthier.

Out of its 3,750-square-foot building located west of Garfield Elementary, ECHO offers a variety of services to residents of Burke and Springfield, providing food, clothing or financial assistance to families in need, as well as housing a food pantry, housewares and baby equipment. The organization accepts donations from the community on a regular basis, and whatever can't be given away is sold, at yard sales or on the Internet, to raise funds that make ECHO go. The organization is supported by 24 faith congregations in Burke and Springfield, who supply funding and members for the board.

"ECHO would not exist if it weren't for the people of faith who spend hours and hours of time," said Rev. Beth Braxton of Burke Presbyterian Church. "In all things, we agree about loving our brothers and sisters, and taking care of the ones in need."

AFTER NEARLY 20 years in existence, ECHO has become painfully aware of its space shortcomings in the tiny brick building. In July 2001, the first meeting of the Building Expansion Committee took place, with the goal of branching out from their current location to expand their services and give them more room to breathe.

"None of us knew anything about tackling a project of this magnitude," said Pomilla.

To date, more than $600,000 has been raised toward the cost of expansion, and construction will begin in April, with a six-month timeline. ECHO volunteers have helped to raise $57,000 in donations, and the Virginia General Assembly is set to award the organization a $25,000 grant.

"They aren't just asking for money, they've gone out and raised it on their own. That made it a no-brainer to get it through," said Del. Dave Albo (R-42), who called ECHO the "face of compassion" in Springfield.

The expansion will result in an additional 4,000 square feet of space, providing more room for family counseling, warehousing, and storage, and a greater display of clothing and household items for its clients. The construction will affect ECHO's services for the short-term ā€” it stopped accepting community donations of clothing on March 1, and won't be open for its night hours for three months.

Also speaking at Sunday's groundbreaking were Rabbi Bruce Aft of Congregation Adat Reyim in Springfield, along with Fairfax County Supervisors Dana Kauffman (D-Lee) and Sharon Bulova (D-Braddock).

"This isn't just a building, this is a group of people wanting to make a difference in the lives of others," said Kauffman, who district includes ECHO. "Thank you for making a difference in all our lives."