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who we are

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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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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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 to College students recently met with high skilled laborers from a variety of fields including an airplane mechanic, tunneling operator, a City of Alexandria EMT/firefighter, as well as a manager and director from the Alexandria Seaport Foundation. While they learned about various career paths from these workers, students also had the opportunity to learn about relational bridge building in the workplace.

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Ms. Marissa, Youth Programs Director

 

As Eliana walked towards the pantry sink at Kids Club, I greeted her and asked, “Hey, how was your day today?” “It was ok,” she responded, “school is confusing.” I asked her to tell me more. She shared that paying attention is challenging because she’s sleepy; she’s sleepy because her little sister often wakes up scared in the middle of the night and climbs into Eliana’s bed, keeping her awake.

 

“It sounds like you need help figuring out how to love your sister while still getting the rest you need to do well in school. Have you talked to your dad?” I asked. “No,” she said, “I don’t know what to say… that just feels really hard.” We spent the next few minutes practicing ways she could communicate her needs to her dad. Before she ran off to play I asked, “Do you think you can be courageous and have this conversation with him tonight, even though you don’t know how he will respond?” She took a deep breath and said, “I think I can.”

 

After some days passed I followed up with Eliana regarding her conversation with her father. She paused, then replied, “I haven’t asked him yet.” I was a bit dismayed, but I continued to encourage her, reminding her that courage helps us confront our fears.

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Daniel faced the overwhelming task of choosing a career after high school graduation. He was one of many students in the United States representing the first in their family to graduate high school. While working a job and passing his tests, this decision stayed prominently on his mind. However, he was not alone in this process.

 

At his side have been his supportive family and his two Casa mentors Sarah and Emmanuel. Arriving to this point was one of many milestones in their journey together.

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On a cold, grey December afternoon, Katherine stood bundled-up and waiting at the bus stop for her remaining Kid’s Club friends to arrive. Puzzled, she turned to Mr. Jose – Casa Chirilagua’s mentoring director – and she asked, “So, the event on Saturday is going to be only for us mentees, right?”

 

Mr. Jose looked at her and said, “Yes that’s right, and actually our mentors will be there too. Are you excited?”

 

Katherine’s face lit up and stammered, “Yeah! Can my mom and little brother come?”

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“Come, volunteer, we treat you like family!” –Gloria, Kids Club Student

As a volunteer, you will build meaningful relationships and impact the community. Opportunities range from year-long to one-time commitments ranging through various levels of experience.

Below you can find information about the volunteer needs for each of our programs. The programs are divided by the age group or demographics of the target participants. 

To apply to be a volunteer, please fill out the volunteer application:

Apply to be a volunteer

See all Volunteer Opportunities

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“Ms. Marissa, are we going to keep together during the race?” asked Andrea, a Teens Club student, as the two lined up. “Yes! We’re going to start and finish together,” Ms. Marissa replied.

 

As the announcer proclaimed, “Go!” Andrea and Marissa took off with the other runners in the annual Casa Chirilagua 5k. Andrea started out running so confidently that Marissa ran with her. As runners of all paces spread out along the course, Andrea and Marissa ran together at a steady clip. Then after a few more minutes of running, Andrea looked at Marissa and asked, “Can we maybe walk for a bit?” Marissa replied, “I’m willing to go whatever pace you want to go – we’ll finish when we finish.” As they began to walk and talk, they enjoyed the time together. They caught up on life, made jokes, and soaked in the colorful fall leaves along the course.

 

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On a chilly night students and volunteers gathered together in the warmth of laughter, great food and the sharing of each other’s cultures. In what’s become an annual celebration at Casa Chirilagua, adult students from our Yo Hablo Ingles (YHI) English language classes gather with their volunteer teachers to celebrate Thanksgiving together. They are served food from volunteers and church staff from Restoration City Church (RCC), as well as potluck items. The menu spans from traditional American Thanksgiving foods to a some central-American dishes. Everyone leaves with a smile and a full belly.

 

During the celebration students practiced their English by playing a game of Thanksgiving-themed Bingo. After filling their boards with items like cooked turkey, live turkey, an orange leaf, and a green leaf, three hands went up exclaiming, “Bingo!” The winners  took home the beautiful centerpieces created by a volunteer from RCC.

 

Gratitude was very evident in the room as students began to pass a microphone around to express their thoughts.

 

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It was the first day of Kids Club. Excitement was high as 42 young faces new and old arrived to begin the year. As they settled in amidst laugher and talking the doorbell rang. Who could it be? At the door was Irma, the mother of a 5th grader, with a special treat for everyone: her homemade arroz con leche (rice pudding). “I brought dessert on the first day of school because I wanted to help motivate the kids,” she remarked later. It was a sweet gesture showing her heart to positively affect the community.

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(Photo left to right: Ms. Maria, Mr. Kalin, Ms. Fran and Ms. Diana)

 

Ms. Fran has lived here in Chirilagua since she was 9 months old. Growing up she wanted to be part of Kids Club, but due to the size and popularity of the program was never able to gain her spot due to the long waitlist. Instead, she and her family developed ongoing relationships with their neighbors who had been volunteering with Casa since its early days. It was these connections that later led her back to Casa as a Kids Club Assistant with the Local Leader program.

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Halle sat and watched this video published by UNESCO for International Literacy Day stating that there are still 750 million people around the globe who cannot read or write, two-thirds of them being women. Afterwards she responded, “We have to take action and change the world. I want to raise awareness about literacy beginning with neighbors right here in our community.”

 

Her hope is that no one will be left behind. “There are many people who want to learn English, but this can be very difficult if they do not know how to read and write in their primary language. I think we can begin bringing change by teaching others in our community how to read and write in Spanish,” she says.

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