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Today in the Mission Yearbook

Second Presbyterian Church in Roanoke, Virginia, hosts an emotional and ecumenical dedication service


Newly renovated Alexa House and an accompanying playground will serve families experiencing homelessness

July 25, 2024

An ecumenical dedication service held on Mother’s Day at Second Presbyterian Church in Roanoke, Virginia, celebrated the renovation of Alexa House. Here’s a shot of the interior. (Photo courtesy of Second Presbyterian Church)

Second Presbyterian Church in Roanoke, Virginia, recently hosted a moving and joyous ecumenical service, dedicating a newly renovated Alexa House for hosting families being served by Family Promise of Greater Roanoke. Watch the hourlong service here.

Much of the funding for the more than $700,000 renovation came in response to three tragedies, the first two with connections to the church:

  • Dan Yardley was killed in an automobile accident on Thanksgiving in 2017. An amazing father and husband who left behind three children, renovation to Alexa House was done in his memory.
  • Alexa Cannon, a student at Radford University, was killed in a violent attack on Jan. 24, 2019. To honor her spirit and heart for others, contributions by her family, friends and community were given, and the house renamed in her honor. The interior design of the house reflects her love of art and photography.
  • Rita Magnus was killed as a young girl during the Shoah, the mass murder of Jewish people under the German Nazi regime. Her two sisters, who survived the Holocaust, provided the major funding for constructing the Rita Magnus Memorial Playground behind Alexa House.

“The renovation of Alexa House is the result of the entire community responding to tragedies in a way that will help prevent tragedy in others’ lives,” said Second Presbyterian Church’s senior pastor, the Rev. Dr. George Anderson. “A tragedy can dominate one’s view of life if one were trapped into looking back. Today, we look forward, largely because family and friends of those who died are committed not to dwell in the past, but rather on a better future. This is a service that will witness to love and life and hope.”

In partnership with Family Promise of Greater Roanoke, Alexa House helps serve families experiencing homelessness. (Photo courtesy of Second Presbyterian Church)

Rabbi Dr. Kathy Cohen of Temple Emanuel Synagogue offered a prayer. “May the doors of Alexa House be wide enough to receive all who hunger for love, all who are lonely for friendship,” Cohen said. “May it provide families with a shelter from the harshness of experiencing homelessness and be a refuge to those in need. May the doors of this house be narrow enough to shut out pettiness and pride, envy and enmity. May its threshold be no stumbling block to young or strained feet. May the children who stay here feel God’s love and God’s goodness. May this house be for all who enter, the doorway to a richer and more meaningful life.”

Marie Muddiman Beebe, executive director of Family Promise of Greater Roanoke, said that between 2022 and 2023, the Roanoke Valley experienced a 200% increase in family homelessness.

“We are grateful to the many, many people who have helped to renovate Alexa House to be used for sheltering families experiencing homelessness,” she said. “The memories of Alexa Cannon, Dan Yardley and Rita Magnus will be kept alive through the families that receive a soft, warm place to lay their head, a nice hot meal to fill their stomachs, and a loving volunteer to give them hope.”

Helga Morrow, Rita Magnus’ sister, said Rita was the youngest of five children spirited away late one night in 1942 from their home in Holland when the family learned the Nazis were preparing to take the Jewish family to one of the death camps.

“That night, we all changed our names, and through the help of the Underground, dispersed to different families” throughout the country, Morrow recounted.

Rita, then 2, was taken to a small place “with a Catholic family who adored her,” but she contracted a terrible case of diphtheria. “Because she was a hidden child, she couldn’t get medical help,” Morrow said. “My mother traveled to where she was to be with her dying daughter.” When Rita saw her mother, she cried. “I don’t want this mommy,” she said. “I want my new mommy.” She died in that woman’s arms.

Many years later, “it came to me that with Alexa House in progress and the synagogue having a piece of land, wouldn’t it be wonderful if children had a place to play, a place children can be happy and share their good fortune with others,” Morrow said. “I see children from Alexa House and children from the synagogue playing together, being happy with that they have.”

Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service

Today’s Focus: Alexa House to host families experiencing homelessness

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Carol McGinn, Executive Business Administrator, Facilities, Board of Pensions  
Shani McIlwain, Communications Strategist, Communications Ministry, Presbyterian Church (USA)

Let us pray

Merciful God, thank you for loving us and calling each of us by name. Help us to see each person we encounter as your beloved creation. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.