‘We Welcome Anybody – the Broken, the Wounded’ in Fairfax

The Lamb Center honors its guests, looks to the future.

Serving the poor and homeless, The Lamb Center in Fairfax is a daytime, drop-

Some of The Lamb Center’s staff and volunteers are (from left) Evan Reyle, Candice Stancil, Deb Haynes, the Rev. Patti Brown, Max McLean as the lamb, Anna Howell, Angela Castaneda and Gloria Kasey. 

 

in shelter offering hot meals, showers, laundry services, clothing, haircuts, dental services, Bible studies, job and housing searches, plus recovery and employment counseling. And while it had to alter its operations because of the pandemic, it never stopped doing whatever it could to help its guests.


Each year, The Lamb Center (TLC) celebrates its achievements, and this year’s recent banquet – attended by more than 265 friends and supporters – was no exception. With the theme, “Hope and a Future 2021,” it honored its guests’ achievements and looked forward to several new initiatives on the horizon. It was part in-person speeches and part video – and 100-percent warm and heartfelt.

“I felt hopeless and worthless,” said former guest Georgette. “But once I got connected with The Lamb Center, I had a lot of hope. I know I’m worthy, I’m somebody and I can do this, with the help of others.”

“Homelessness is not something that has an easy cure, because people are homeless for reasons beyond what they can fix and we can fix,” said TLC Board member Linn Williams. “But they’re not beyond what God can fix; our role is putting all that together.”

Former guest Donald called TLC “a place for us to get peace of mind. You come here, get a prayer, a bite to eat and move forward every day.”

Guest Peter said his biggest challenge was getting a job. “Being homeless, I had no resources or ways to look for training,” he said. Now part of City Jobs – the Lamb Center/Fairfax City program which pays TLC guests to work on Fairfax’s Parks and Recreation Department maintenance crews – Peter thanked TLC for giving him the opportunity to work.

“We welcome anybody who comes to the door – the broken, the wounded,” said TLC staff member, the Rev. Patti Brown. “And we all gather and support one another.” An example was former guest David, who told how TLC helped him and said he now has just one year left of nursing school.

TLC Interim Executive Director Tara Ruszkowski noted that, like every organization during the pandemic, TLC made difficult decisions to keep people safe. “We’ve had to make tough choices about when and to whom we should provide services,” she said. “This was painful; we missed our community. This fall, we’re excited to return to what I’ll call a new normal.”

Indeed, in mid-October, TLC began launching several, dedicated, support and interest groups that welcome guests and safely rebuild the community at the center and beyond. “We’re introducing Lamb Center Women’s Group, led by our own licensed, clinical social worker, Gloria Kasey,” said Ruszkowski. “This small group is dedicated to meeting the increased vulnerabilities and needs of homeless women.”

Case manager Candice Stancil will lead TLC’s Housing Support Group – because, explained Ruszkowski, “The solutions to ending homelessness go well beyond giving someone a place to live. In addition, our partners at the Christopher Atwood Foundation will kick off Trauma 101, a peer-to-peer group to help our guests recognize the signs and symptoms of trauma and hold a gentle space for discussion.”

And some of the guests’ favorite programs will return. They include AA meetings, Art Club and Arm & Arm – a peer-support group that empowers individuals returning home from traumatic experiences, such as incarceration, military service, homelessness and substance abuse. With these groups, said Ruszkowski, “Not only are we giving our guests the tools and skills to be successful, but a safe and loving community that supports their journey.”

TLC Board Chair Cathy Liverman discussed TLC’s vision for the future and highlighted some of the opportunities it’s exploring in housing, the jobs program and case management. “You’ve seen and heard about the importance of housing – it’s really the bedrock for transforming lives,” she said. “Once someone has a safe place to live, they can move on to think about other ways to stabilize and grow – whether through a job, a support group or whatever is next for them.” 

Liverman said TLC has an active, supportive, housing initiative. “We’re exploring a range of possible locations for building or renovating 50-80 studio apartments that would offer supportive housing – with case-management services,” she said. “We want to bring The Lamb Center’s culture and ethos – centered on Christ’s call to love our neighbors – to supportive housing.”

Currently, she said, TLC is actively looking at properties in Fairfax City and Fairfax County and welcomes any ideas or leads on an available location. It could be a hotel to refurbish, land on which to build, a church with a large amount of property or an office building to renovate. 

At the same time, TLC is building partnerships with housing-development organizations and talking with City and county officials about bringing this type of much-needed housing to the community. 

“We hope Fairfax can be a model for quality, supportive housing that’s an integral part of who we are in Fairfax,” said Liverman.

She said the focus of TLC’s work is case management – developing relationships with guests and helping them walk the next step of their journey. It can involve helping guests obtain an ID, deal with social-services paperwork and address housing, job and other issues. 

“During the pandemic, the case-management team has worked tirelessly,” said Liverman. “Thanks to their dedicated efforts, over 80 of our most vulnerable guests got into the county’s hotel-stay program, and over 40 guests obtained supportive housing. We’re now exploring how to continue to improve and strengthen our case-management services, possibly with more of a focus on mental-health services.”

Case manager Angela Castaneda introduced a video showing former guests in their new apartments. “I’m looking forward to relaxing and getting my mind together so I can really focus on life,” said Arrick. “And hopefully, I can get myself in a position to help somebody else. The Lamb Center gave me hope. I was in a dark time in my life, and it’s been a big light so I could see.”

“Having your own place, it’s just a joy,” said Donald. “This place means the world to me – I really want to be here.”

Eldrick loves cooking and baking in his own kitchen. “Company comes over and we play cards,” he said. “And friends come sit on my couch and watch a game on TV.”

“I’m able to come home, shut my door and open it when I want to,” said Georgette. “Having something of my own has changed me and my attitude toward life.”

Kate proudly showed off the basil and peppermint plants she’s growing on her patio and said, “I love it in the mornings when I can sit outside and read. It’s so peaceful, and it now feels like home. I have a cat and I can sing out loud. I’m feeling stronger and gaining more courage, every day. I’m just so excited to have a place to live.”

As the banquet ended, Board member Lori McLean said TLC’s mission is central to her beliefs as a Christian – “To live the Gospel, feed the hungry and treat every person as Christ, Himself. But all the things we do take money.” And since the event was also a TLC fundraiser, she encouraged the attendees to give generously.

The public may also lend a hand. Tax-deductible donations may be made at www.TheLambCenter.org/hopeandafuture or send checks payable to The Lamb Center, to: The Lamb Center, P.O. Box 1385, Fairfax, VA 22038.

--Anna Howell contributed to this story.

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