• Casa Volunteer Opportunities

  • Wishlists for Kids Club and Mentoring

  • Casa’s Amazon Smile

  • Seeking 1-to-1 Mentors


who we are

In my short time interning at Casa Chirilagua, I have learned so much from the Culture of Honor that staff and program participants seek to carry out as we live life together in the neighborhood. This month, we continue learning and encouraging one another to live out what it means to be genuinely powerful. This month’s theme has particular meaning to me as I’ve learned from co-workers, and students, what it looks like to use our personal power to advocate for ourselves and others. 


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This past month, members of the Chirilagua community had an opportunity to practice trust-building with members of the Alexandria Police Department. To connect with and understand the needs of our community, Chief Brown and a handful of other officers asked to come to our community center and meet with members of our community. Their hope was to listen and understand, making themselves available to the community and hear from our neighbors what they wanted to see in the neighborhood.

In many immigrant communities, lack of documentation and language barriers often deter families from engaging with officers if there is not a need to. 


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During the 2019–2020 school year, a group of 7 parents formed the Parent Committee. Their mission: to create unity among the Casa families and the community. They represent all the parents that have their Kids or Teens enrolled in Casa’s Programs. Since they are our advisors and eyes within the community, this group is one of the pillars of Casa Chirilagua. They help us to detect community needs and develop creative ideas on how to respond.

 Each woman on this committee has unique characteristics and personalities, and even though all are Latinas, they come from different backgrounds and places. Some of them come from indigenous communities in Guatemala and others have lived in the US for a long time. These women have shown a lot of courage in speaking up and sharing their insights. While for some this was new or uncomfortable because they at times find themselves in more male-dominated spaces, they spoke their minds about ideas they had and vulnerably recognized areas of opportunity for improvement.

 Last week we celebrated the one-year commitment they made to serve their community. We wanted to specifically thank and encourage them since they have been busy all year organizing and participating in different activities such as the 2019 Christmas Celebration, a socially distant Graduation Party for our 5th Graders, and some fundraising activities. And although this school year was unusual and different from previous years, they are optimistic and willing to keep serving the community. Pray that these women continue to find boldness and courage as they lead their families and community in vulnerability and in strength!

  – Liz Wang, Family Programs Director

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Communications Director: Jennifer joined the staff team as a part-time role to capture stories of hope and help Casa Chirilagua reach more people. She has a Bachelor’s in Cinema & Photography from Ithaca College. Jennifer also brings over 10 years of experience in media & communications roles from her past in Christian summer camp ministries and church planting networks.

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Dear Casa Chirilagua Community,

The news of the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and now George Floyd have left me heartbroken at the realization that more Black lives – individuals made in the image of God – have had their lives taken away in such violent ways here in the United States.

To me this is not a political or movement issue, it is a human issue. As a Christian organization which believes those who follow Jesus are His hands and feet in bringing His kingdom of peace here on earth, we cannot stay silent and we must be moved to action. Through prayer, the leading of the Holy Spirit and our Culture of Honor, I desire for Casa Chirilagua to always be a place where we can:


  • –Be courageous and vulnerable enough to have challenging conversations that will make us feel uncomfortable – yet need to happen


  • –Be trusting enough with one another with our confessions of repentance and willingness to forgive


  • –Be powerful enough to use our words and thoughts to build one another up, advocating for one another and not tear one another down


  • –Work together to ensure that every single person, especially those who are living under oppression, must and should flourish because we serve an abundant God who has designed us in His image to bring about His kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven


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Dear Casa Community,


Sadly, many adults and parents have lost their jobs due to the impact COVID-19 has had on our society. The biggest concern several families have communicated is paying rent and bills on time. The majority of Casa families live on or below the poverty line. This situation has added stress and concern to many families.


Here’s how you can support Casa Chirilagua families:


DONATE financially to Casa Chirilagua families in need who have been affected by COVID-19. All of these funds will directly help pay for their rent and/or utilities. Use this link to give via PayPal.



DONATE items to Casa Chirilagua families from this list. Read this list for instructions on how to donate items. These items are specific to what the community has expressed need for, we cannot accept other items at this time. We accept items on Mondays 10am–1pm and Thursday 1–4pm only.



PRAY for health and peace in our community. Our community is very dense and there are now several reported positive cases of COVID-19 in Chirilagua.


SUPPORT Casa ChirilaguaYour support ensures we can continue providing vital emergency aid to Casa families and continue our online programs..


During this social distancing time, our mission remains the same: developing relationships with families to see the Chirilagua neighborhood transformed by Christ. Our strong and talented staff team have been finding creative ways to stay connected to families and one another during this time.


We will continually edit this page with updates. Subscribe to our eNewsletter to get regular updates.




UPDATE | May 11


Thanks to our partnership with Neighborhood Health, our parking lot has turned into a COVID-19 testing site. Sadly, our last numbers from them indicate that over 40% of tests have been coming back positive for the virus. With each positive case they are following up with patients to provide recommendations for next steps. It is very tough for those living in apartments and working essential jobs to isolate themselves, and the risk of losing their jobs is also a large concern.

We’ve distributed a total of $28,000 on behalf of Casa families to help pay for vital living expenses and every week we deliver 30 bags of groceries to families in need. We’ve also partnered with World Central Kitchen and they delivered 2,000 hot and delicious meals to our neighbors in the Chirilagua community.

We are floored by the generosity we have seen from you. It’s a beautiful thing to be a part of this community of individuals, church partners and fellow collaborators who are making it possible for us to love our neighbors during COVID-19.


Among them, we would like to thank the Del Ray Citizen’s Association for their gift of $2,500 which went directly to our fund supporting families who have been affected by COVID-19:


“We wanted to really do something major and significant to help with on COVID-19 relief for the charities in this area,” DRCA President Virginia Bush said at the meeting. “This is an unprecedented threat to our community, and I think it’s really important that we do everything we can to support the people who are losing their jobs, losing their businesses and losing their homes as much as we can.”


Casa Chirilagua has also been in the news on TV and online lately. Check out the stories below highlighting the work we’ve been doing:







UPDATE | April 13


We have now paid out close to $25,000 in rent and/or utilities on behalf of 31 families. We will continue to respond to new and existing needs as best as we can. In addition to financial support, we have begun providing material support and resources to members of the community who have tested positive for COVID-19. Beginning Wednesday, April 15th Neighborhood Health will begin providing testing for community members from the parking lot of Casa Chirilagua.

A week ago I drove through the neighborhood dropping off checks to make families’ rent payments. As I was sitting in my car finishing up a few details I saw one of our students, Jenny, walk by with her earbuds on. I’ve known Jenny since she was in 3rd grade and now she’s in 9th.

I rolled down my window and called her name. “Ms. Adriana!” she exclaimed. I shared how glad I am to see her even though we’re not able to hug, which is the usual way we greet each other. We started catching up, at a distance of course, and were reflecting on how everything has changed.

“It’s weird. There’s no more school. We’re mostly just home,” Jenny said. It was hard to offer words of encouragement because so much had changed for me, too. As we continued to catch up I made sure to say, “If you all need anything, please don’t hesitate to call me.”

We said our goodbyes and the next day her mother calls me. I asked her if Jenny mentioned to her how we saw one another, “Yes, it’s the first thing she said when she got home.” She began to share her concerns and needs. She went on to share that financially they’re not able to pay for one of their bills. I asked her to send me their bill and assured her that we would be able to cover this for them.

This family has been a part of Casa Chirilagua for over five years and because of this longevity, they’re able to call me without hesitation and share what their needs are. Thankfully we’re able to respond through the many donations you all have given Casa to meet these needs. Despite the difficult situation COVID-19 has put families in, God is able to point families to hope and support through Casa Chirilagua.



UPDATE | April 4


We continue to see God’s faithfulness to Casa families through YOU. We are still receiving much-needed donations from many of you to help pay for rent and utilities for families affected by COVID-19. To date we’ve raised almost $32,000. Praise be to God!

Our staff has been collecting stories of gratitude from families who have received much needed financial support. Read the letter below from a mother expressing her gratitude to so many of you:


I want to thank first and foremost God for putting angels in my path. Thanks to these angels, today I am able to stay calm amidst a lot of worry, since I am without work due to COVID-19. I want to thank every person from the bottom of my heart for helping me in this most difficult time of my life. Thanks to you, I am more at peace today because you helped me pay for my rent this month. With all my heart, thank you and may God bless you always. Thank you.


Together, we are loving our neighbors during COVID-19. We intend to keep loving our neighbors and walk alongside them through the end of this crisis – whenever that will be.



UPDATE | March 27


Watch the video update below, and read this week’s eNewsletter for updates and photos.




UPDATE | March 20


To date, Casa Chirilagua has responded in the following ways:


CONNECTING WITH FAMILIES Staff are regularly calling each Casa family to check in with them. We are asking what their needs are, connecting them to resources and praying with them.


STUDENT SUPPORT The Youth Programs Team is currently putting together learning packets as well as a virtual learning center for our Kids Club and Teens Club students. Our Yo Hablo Ingles adult ELL classes have also moved online.


FOOD Our church partner Grace Community Church connected us with two Chick-Fil-A owners who have been donating hundreds of sandwiches to our community. See our Facebook and Instagram posts.


CLOSURES For everyone’s safety, our community center will remain closed and our programs will remain virtual until further notice.



I pray you and your loved ones are staying safe and healthy as we all work through this together. At Casa, we believe the Lord has given us a spirit of Love and Power — not of fear. We will continue preparing and putting a prevention plan in place, however we are choosing to cling to God’s peace and saying NO to fear. We pray the Lord will pour His peace and love over each and every one of you during this time.


In hope,
Adriana Gómez Schellhaas
Executive Director

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Growing up in the tight knit community of Chirilagua, fifth graders Amelia and Gisselle have become inseparable friends. Their close bond formed over the past years, bringing their families together in the process. They spend time in the same elementary school, hang out together during Kids Club and sometimes spend time at each other’s homes. Amelia and Giselle would agree that they are each other’s best friends.

Their organic relationship began from a group of close first grade friends and has flourished ever since then. As Amelia puts it, “We had our own little group between close friends, then some of those friends eventually moved away.” Now Amelia and Giselle remain as the last standing of the once formed group.


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Ms. Marissa Salgado, Youth Programs Director
At Kids Club, our desire is to lay the foundation for the emergence of Local Leaders. Over the last 12 years, we have been able to walk with students like Angy and Jason as they grew up from Kids Club students into Local Leaders themselves. With our entire Local Leader team being comprised of former Kids Club students, there are opportunities for each one to share their own memories of being in the program with today’s students.

A few weeks ago I was reading with Eduardo, a third grader in Kids Club for whom reading can be a struggle. As we picked out a story from his bag and opened up the cover of the book, I took notice of a name that was written on it: Angy Alvarado, 11/02/09.
I looked at Eduardo with a shocked smile and asked him, “Do you recognize that name?”
“It’s Ms. Angy!!” he replied excitedly.
He grabbed the book and ran over to show her! He wanted her to know that he was reading one of the very same stories she had read when she was his age.


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Development Director: Lisa joined the not-for-profit sector after leaving a corporate finance career and became a Certified Advocate so that she could support survivors of sexual violence. In 2019 Lisa joined our staff part time to direct the organization’s fundraising activities and development plans. Lisa holds a B.S. in Foreign Service from Georgetown University and an MBA from the George Washington University.

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Volunteer Coordinator: A Virginia native who ended up in Alexandria for an internship in the summer of 2013. He started volunteering with Casa Chirilagua in 2014, joining staff in 2019. He describes himself as a neighbor, friend, missionary, practitioner, ordained minister, social activist, community organizer, and hopeful social entrepreneur. He lives with his wife Abby in the Lynnhaven Neighborhood of Alexandria.

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Business Manager: Lauren lived in New Orleans, LA for 20 years before relocating back to Arlington, VA with her husband and family. She joined our staff part time in May 2019 bringing years of experience as a controller for several small family owned companies. She holds a Masters degree in Business Administration and a Bachelors degree in Accounting.

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Board member since 2019

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Board member since 2019

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We are watching local leaders grow right before our eyes! This past summer, Angy and Jason both joined the Kids Club Local Leader team. What makes us especially excited to have them is that they are both former Kids Club students. We began our relationships together while they were in elementary school, and it’s been incredible to watch them grow into Local Leaders.

We have also been encouraged as we hear them talk about parts of the program that they remember from their youth – and how it impacted them.

Angy remembers how much she learned in family room. She is excited to be a part of teaching our kids about God’s love for them, just like her former Kids Club leaders taught her.


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As I finish my final month at Casa Chirilagua, it is my honor and pleasure to announce that the Casa Chirilagua board of directors has named Mrs. Adriana Gomez Schellhaas as our new Executive Director. Adriana has served with Casa Chirilagua since 2012, starting as Teens Club director helping build and grow Casa to what it has become today. Her commitment to excellence, knowledge of the organization, and her love of the community made her the clear choice to lead Casa Chirilagua into the future.


It has been such an honor and privilege to serve alongside each of you over the past decade. I am blessed and humbled by all that I have learned along the way. Let us continue “learning together to love our neighbors as ourselves.”


With incredible gratitude,

Dawnielle Miller

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Thank you all for helping us grow deeper and stronger relationships in 2018! Please view your impact in our annual report below.


2018 Annual Report cover

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Dear Casa Chirilagua Family,


“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”  Ephesians 3:20-21


I and the other co-founders of Casa Chirilagua read this passage over and over from our apartment in Chirilagua in 2007. Then we watched God do much more than we could have ever imagined…


Since then, we’ve witnessed the building of new relationships, the development of new programs, the establishment of partnerships and the opening of a community center in the heart of the Chirilagua neighborhood. Thanks to your help, Casa is a thriving and fully sustainable non profit organization.


From Casa’s inception, one of our long-term goals was to build something that would last, to not only function without its founders but flourish beyond their departure. We believe we have arrived at the completion of this goal. As such, through much prayer and reflection, I have discerned it is my time to pass the baton to the next executive director of Casa Chirilagua and will be stepping down from my position on June 28.



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As Kids Club volunteer Ms. Nancy sat down to talk with Eddy, his head was turned away and his arms were crossed. Eddy hadn’t been listening when Kids Club was doing the daily honor code review and each time Ms. Nancy had asked him to focus, he would ignore her and continue to talk with his friends. As other students began homework time, Ms. Nancy began to talk with Eddy about his choices – but he struggled to engage and said he just didn’t care.


Ms. Marissa and Eddy went out to the hallway. Kneeling down to be on his eye level, Ms. Marissa asked, “Hey Eddy, what’s the expectation we have of every body during honor code time?”


“Well, that everyone is quiet and listening,” he replied.


“Were you following that expectation?” she asked.


“No…I wasn’t focused,” Eddy said.


“When Ms. Nancy talked to you about what happened, why did tell her you didn’t care?” Marissa asked.


Eddy looked at her silently and shrugged. Seeing a teaching moment, Marissa reviewed with Eddy the 3 parts of being vulnerable they’d been talking about at Kids Club: owning mistakes and taking responsibilities for actions, being honest about how we feel, and communicating directly and with kindness.


“Eddy, is there a way that practicing vulnerability feels hard right now?” Marissa asked. He nodded in response, “If I admit my mistakes, I get a punishment. I don’t know how people are going to react.”


Marissa said to Eddy, “Yes, when we admit our mistakes we do have to take responsibility for our actions – there may be a consequence that isn’t fun. But at Kids Club we don’t want to punish you – we want to help you learn and grow. We want you to trust that you are loved and accepted no matter what.”


As she looked at Eddy, she began to see a softening in his heart and that he was truly hearing what was being spoken. She looked at him and asked, “Eddy, you know Ms. Nancy well. If you admit your mistake and apologize to her, do you think she’ll reject you and hold a grudge or is she someone who will forgive and welcome you back in?”


Immediately he responded, “She will forgive… she’s kind.”


Taking a deep breath, he walked into the classroom and practiced vulnerability and courage by admitting his mistake, having a hard conversation, and seeking to reconnect with a volunteer he really cares about. He and Ms. Nancy shared a hug as she reminded him, “Eddy, I care about you because I see how much potential you have. I just want you to be the best you can be.” Eddy smiled and nodded his head, and went to begin his work.


This month, Eddy was courageous and practiced vulnerability even when it was hard. It was a big victory for him and it helped build the culture of vulnerability we are seeking at Kids Club. At Kids Club, students, staff and volunteers are learning together that with the foundation of a good relationship, a culture of honor is possible.


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At times building new relationships can take a lot of courage. Especially when a leader chooses to be vulnerable and share personal stories with middle school students who have had a rough day. This has been the case for Mr. Kalin, who has been in this scenario each week since coming on staff in September. He is an assistant Teens Club director in Casa’s Local Leaders program.


For months, he found it challenging to reach a room of middle school teens who were still warming up to him as a new person. He knew the challenges of middle school and identified with how the students may be feeling, “Being in middle school was pretty much the worst thing I have had to go through so far! I know what they are going through. I don’t like the unfortunate reality that when I ask them how their day is, they say, ‘Bad. It was bad.’”



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Looking ahead with bright eyes and a smile, first grade student Ricardo patiently sat at the kitchen table waiting for his newest friend to come through the front door. This was no ordinary friend – this was Robert, Ricardo’s new mentor. As his new mentor entered, Ricardo’s smile froze in place as he stared at Robert in awe.


Only weeks before, Ricardo eagerly asked Casa’s mentoring director, Mr. Jose, several questions about this exciting new mentor he’d soon meet:


“Mr. Jose, what’s his name? What does he look like? Is he tall or short? Does he like to play? What does he like to do?” asked Ricardo, barely scratching the surface of the relationship that would ensue.


However, on Match Day, Ricardo was overcome with shyness which hindered him from flooding Robert with questions. Match Day is a special day when long-awaiting students finally meet their mentor. Although every mentorship develops uniquely, one thing remains the same: everyone is excited for Match Day.


Ricardo is one of four students matched during National Mentoring Month this past January. Four new relationships are being built among mentors, their mentees and their family members!


As one matched student stated, “It’s important for me that my mentor gets to know my family.”


Clearly, there is an emphasis on connection from all sides in the mentorship. This grows naturally through time together each week.


For Ricardo and Robert, and all our new matches, this is the beginning of a wonderful friendship. Match Day sparks the connection bringing different worlds together. Bridges are built and strengthened as relationships grow – hopefully for many years to come.



Collage of new mentor/mentee matches with their families



Learn more about mentoring with Casa Chirilagua here.

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Casa News