Behind the Mask: Christina Lemma
Offering A Safe Haven for Single Men & Veterans in Southern New Jersey During COVID-19
Behind every facemask, there is a story. We are proud to introduce Christina Lemma. Christina is the Program Director for two of Volunteers of America Delaware Valley’s (VOADV) Camden-based emergency and transitional housing programs: Aletha R. Wright “Vision of Hope” Center, a 69-bed low barrier, emergency housing program for single men experiencing homelessness and Home for the Brave, a 30-bed transitional housing program for single male veterans, funded through the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.
As Program Director, Christina manages all staff and day-to-day operations at both the Aletha R. Wright “Vision of Hope” Center and Home for the Brave, while securing new funding and partnership opportunities. Together, she and her staff work hard to provide shelter, safety, and a wide range of essential support services, including assessment, service planning, and case management, for clients in both transitional housing programs.
“I try to be as involved with the clients as possible, helping out as much as I can,” says Christina. “From taking time each day to assess clients’ needs to working the front desk when we are short-handed – I always want to be aware of the difficulties our clients are facing and how I can best help them. I will always make time to speak with clients, and schedule regular case management conferences with our case managers to establish that vital connection and ensure their needs are always met.”
Christina began working for VOADV in 2013, shortly after completing her bachelor’s degree in psychology. She applied for a position in homeless services at Aletha R. Wright “Vision of Hope” Center, serving as a case manager there for over a year before assuming an administrative role and then promoted to Program Director in 2016.
“I always knew I wanted to help people,” Christina explains. “Originally, I planned on staying at the Aletha Wright Center only for a short time. But I soon fell in love with the program – I learned more about the organization, started working alongside coworkers I truly admired, and began to witness clients turn their lives around as a result of our combined commitment and efforts. I knew right away that I had found the perfect fit.”
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March, Christina and her staff have faced a number of unprecedented challenges regarding the physical safety and mental well-being of their clients. Due to the tireless work of Christina and her team, approximately 100 individuals experiencing homelessness continue to safely shelter at the Aletha R. Wright “Vision of Hope” Center and Home for the Brave – receiving the professional guidance, expert care, and personalized services needed to navigate these trying times, while continuing to develop the supports needed for long-term stability.
“It is stressful at times, but also incredibly rewarding,” adds Christina. “You have individuals confined to a space, with the additional stress of the COVID-19 virus – there is fear of the unknown there, something we can all relate to. However, I honestly cannot imagine working anywhere else through this – guiding our clients through their journey, as they first enter our shelters with nothing, then reach milestone after milestone, and finally leading fulfilling, independent lives. We are a team, able to accomplish great things together.”
Christina credits her dedicated, hardworking team and the generosity of community donors for their continued efforts to support and safeguard clients during these uncertain times.
“My staff has been simply amazing, I am so proud,” Christina says. “Since day one of the pandemic, our entire team has been calm, committed, and understanding, while following all CDC guidelines – providing personal protective equipment for each other, sanitizing the facility multiple times each day, and even independently raising money to provide prepackaged food and drinks, toiletries, cleaning supplies, and other vital resources for our clients. Even our loyal donor base has supported us in ways we could never imagine – putting the needs of others before their own fears and donating supplies each week. COVID-19 is never going to stop us.”
To read more about our employees’ efforts to assist struggling families and individuals on the frontlines of COVID-19, visit: www.voadv.org/behindthemask. Learn more about our emergency housing programs, including Aletha R. Wright “Vision of Hope” Center and Home for the Brave, at: https://www.voadv.org/emergency-housing.