‘We’re Sort of God’s Emergency Room’ in Fairfax City

‘We’re Sort of God’s Emergency Room’ in Fairfax City

The Lamb Center: Providing hope and a future

Technical coordinators at The Lamb Center during the live, online event were (in back, from left) Doris Paul (staff), Karen Kershenstein (board), Carol Dieterle (board), John MacPherson (Executive Director), Shannon Allen (board) and Tara Ruszkowski (board); and (in front) Lisa Hess.

Technical coordinators at The Lamb Center during the live, online event were (in back, from left) Doris Paul (staff), Karen Kershenstein (board), Carol Dieterle (board), John MacPherson (Executive Director), Shannon Allen (board) and Tara Ruszkowski (board); and (in front) Lisa Hess. Photo Courtesy of Lisa Hess


Deacon Dave Larrabee


The Rev. Patti Brown

This year’s fundraiser for The Lamb Center (TLC) was called “Hope and a Future,” and it was aptly named because that’s exactly what this Fairfax City nonprofit provides for its guests. It’s a daytime, drop-in shelter offering the homeless meals, showers, clothing and laundry services.

But this faith-based ministry is so much more, because its Bible studies, jobs programs, case management and AA meetings also enable those it serves to see a path to a better future. And although the center’s Oct. 8 “banquet” was virtual, due to COVID-19, the stories of how it changed people’s lives were just as heartfelt.

“When things shut down, we knew we couldn’t do this remotely – we needed to be here, hands-on, providing for the folks we serve every day,” said TLC Executive Director John MacPherson. “The governor told everybody to stay home – but how do you do that when you don’t have a home?”

The center’s case managers – at their own, personal risk – then spoke with more than 120 people so they could write assessments on them and get them isolated into motel rooms. That way, explained MacPherson, “They could shelter safely and not have to worry about spreading the disease, which would go so quickly through the homeless community.”

And yet, he added, “We have more and more new people showing up, every day, who are newly homeless because of the pandemic. We’re sort of God’s emergency room. Our case managers listen to their stories and determine their greatest needs, and that’s when their transformation and hope begin. But this work isn’t possible without the community’s support, and we appreciate it.”

Operations Director Dave Larrabee said the center had to adapt quickly. “We shortened our hours and just had five guests coming in, every half hour, to shower, get their clothes washed, get food and case management, and get some of their medical needs taken care of,” he said.

“Initially, it really broke my heart,” continued Larrabee. “But we haven’t lost that sense of community. Now, we have outside Bible study under a canopy, with social distancing and wearing masks. We still provide Jesus here and offer that same love we offered before.”

Volunteer Tim O'Connor said, “We only have time for one Bible study now. Our intention is to bring Christ to the homeless, but they end up bringing Christ to us.”

“I’ve seen amazing things happen here,” added Volunteer Hala Shafik. “We make our guests feel known and valued, and then they want to do something better with their lives.”

SHARING HER STORY, Kathryn said, “I felt discouraged, defeated and had pushed my family and friends away. I’ve been homeless for over nine years, and I now have housing, thanks to The Lamb Center. It provided me with food, clothing and an environment of love. I was able to walk in and feel like I wasn’t being judged. They give kind words freely, and that was so healing. I really felt the love of God here.”

Marc previously lived in his truck, with no place to shower. He used to wash and shave in a grocery-store restroom before coming to TLC. “By the grace of God, I’m still here, and I have a smile on my face,” he said. “I want to get a job and give back to the community.”

Homeless for 17 years, Alondra slept on the streets prior to seeking out TLC. “When I moved into a motel, I finally felt human,” she said. “I cried, prayed and thanked God.”

“It’s amazing to every person who comes through the door how much the staff and volunteers love them and give them hope,” said volunteer Denise Herb. “And as long as we have donations, The Lamb Center can continue to do so.” To donate, go to https://www.thelambcenter.org/ways-to-give/give-online/ or send checks to: The Lamb Center, P.O. Box 1385, Fairfax, VA 22038.

When Prince was released from incarceration, he was instantly homeless. He got a job but lost it when the pandemic began. That’s when he discovered TLC. “They provided me with facemasks and food,” he said. “And now that they found me a place to live, it’s easier for me. I know God has a lot of plans for me, and I really want to get back on my feet.”

One way he’s doing it is by working in the City Jobs program, in which TLC and Fairfax City are partners, providing the homeless with paid jobs maintaining City parks and public spaces, and improving stormwater-drainage areas. Last year, 40 people participated, including Joseph, who hopes it’ll lead to a permanent job.

“I’m a three-time cancer survivor,” said Joseph. “That’s one of the reasons I was homeless, and I have no family. I just want a chance to live normally, and I thank God for the people I’ve met at The Lamb Center. They’ve given me the strength to keep moving on.”

Elizabeth, homeless for three years, also works in City Jobs. “I couldn’t pay my rent, got evicted and started living in my car,” she said. But TLC helped her, and she loves working outdoors. “Being out in nature changes my whole persona,” she said.

HOMELESS FOR 13 YEARS, Darrel wants to get a full-time job and an apartment. He said working in City Jobs “gives you a sense of self. And I feel good being part of that – I’m helping nature.”

“I love that we’re able to put our faith into action here,” said volunteer Christine Martinson. “We pray, but we’re also doing something tangible and making a difference in people’s lives.”

“The goal is that transformation in their lives and restoring them to the community,” added Deb Haynes, assistant director, case management. “We meet people where they are and build a relationship in which they can feel their own dignity and self-worth.”

Case Manager Angela Castaneda said many of them “lost jobs during the pandemic or had housing and couldn’t pay rent. So we’ve gotten some of them employment so they could pay their bills.” Furthermore, added Case Manager Gloria Kasey, TLC also tries to help them re-establish relationships with their families.

TLC Board Chairman Cathy Liverman called it “heartening” to see the guests’ appreciation of the center’s efforts during COVID. And she thanked the City, plus Fairfax County, for participating in the Jobs program.

“The pandemic sure has pointed out the inequities and imbalances in our area’s housing, and The Lamb Center hopes to work toward some permanent, supportive housing for our guests,” she said. “All funds donated go directly to our daily operations; the community’s support is vital.”

At the fundraiser’s end, TLC Assistant Director Patti Brown thanked God for the “volunteers and donors who keep this place running. We pray You open up the floodgates and let the support and love continue to flow here, for the years to come.”