The Lamb Center officially opens

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Bible verses and good wishes are hidden behind the walls of the new Lamb Center in Fairfax.

In February, about 100 supporters of the drop-in shelter gathered in 10-degree weather for a beam signing party. They walked through the unfinished shelter in winter coats, grabbed Sharpies and wrote on the bare beams.

"Bless all the workers who built this building. Their hands are your hands," read one.

"God bless The Lamb Center and the city of Fairfax," read another.

Many of the messages were bible verses.

"The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want, Ps 23:1," and "Whoever welcomes the children in my name, welcomes me and the one who sent me, Mk 9:34."

The messages are hidden now by drywall, but their spirit continues to guide the staff and volunteers of The Lamb Center.

Hundreds of supporters and guests came to the facility June 26 for the ribbon-cutting ceremony that officially opened the shelter.

The Lamb Center has been helping the homeless, called guests, in Fairfax County and city since 1992. Last month, they moved from their rented space on Old Lee Highway to a new home on Campbell Drive in Fairfax City. They have been operating for about a month in their new space, but it was time to celebrate a grand opening.

The two-story facility has a warming kitchen, health-care space, showers, laundry, office space, conference rooms, counseling areas and cafeteria-style dining area. There's also a place for guests to get haircuts and a chapel for prayer.

The center is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Thirty-five faith groups including six Catholic parishes - Blessed Sacrament Church in Alexandria, Church of the Nativity in Burke, St. Leo the Great Church in Fairfax, St. Mary of Sorrows Church in Fairfax, St. John Neumann Church in Reston and St. Mark Church in Vienna - support the center by donating money, food and volunteers.

At the ribbon cutting, Executive Director John MacPherson introduced local officials including Rep. Gerry Connolly and Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Sharon Bulova.

After the speeches and before the ribbon cutting, the attendees held hands in a circle around the parking lot and prayed. Prayer is a big part of The Lamb Center. Informal Bible-study classes are held twice a day.

MacPherson said that the shelter serves about 115 people a day, mostly men, but women and children do drop in. They feed and clothe people, and counsel them if needed.

"Their physical needs are (met) first," said MacPherson, "then on to their other issues."

Carol Dieterle is on the center's board of directors and a volunteer. The St. Mark Church parishioner retired from the federal government in 2012, which gave her time to serve the shelter and the guests who depend on it.

"(This is a place) where people come who have nothing," she said.

Dieterle said that after her time at the center she leaves happy.

"It feeds me to come here," she said. "It feeds my soul."

Dieterle remembers several years ago when she and her family were eating dinner at a restaurant near the old Lamb Center at Fairfax Circle. She could see the guests outside the shelter. Her son asked for money to give to them.

After that experience, she realized what she wanted to do after she retired.

Another diocesan volunteer, Theresa Danner, is a parishioner of Church of the Nativity in Burke. She is the mother of four, including a 16-year-old daughter, Maria, with Down syndrome.

Danner went to Haiti with Father Richard B. Martin, former pastor of Nativity, several years ago to help in the Caribbean country. When she returned, she found it difficult to adjust to life in her "first-world" house.

"I wanted to serve the poorest of the poor in my community," she said.

Danner volunteers in the center's kitchen and the clothing section.

"Pope Francis said pray for the hungry, then feed them, that's how it works," she said.

The Lamb Center treats the guests with respect, she added.

Gene, 75, is one of the guests. He was a carpenter for many years, but lost his job. He said it's difficult if you're old and unemployed. It's even more difficult if you are homeless. "I wasn't prepared (for unemployment"), he said, adding that people looked down at him.

Gene slept in the back of his van for about four or five years. Then he found The Lamb Center.

"Dave (Larrabee, director of operations) gave me dignity," Gene said. "They all make you feel welcome."

Occasionally Gene finds carpentry work, but his government assistance helps him pay for a small apartment. He still stops by during the day when he can.

It's difficult to be alone and isolated, he said.

"It's like a community here."

To donate

Go to The Lamb Center needs clothing, styrofoam plates, toothbrushes, razors, toilet paper, detergent, bleach and trash bags. They can be dropped off at 3160 Campbell Dr., Fairfax.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016