Lighting up new hopes

Lighthouse Community Center offers hope to “modern-day lepers” of Lynchburg

Every weekday at 10 a.m., people begin to trickle into the Lighthouse Community Center.

They’re looking for a hot meal, shelter and, above all, a little hope.

And that’s exactly what they find at Lynchburg’s 1310 Church St., where the Lighthouse has faithfully opened its doors to those in need for the past nine years.

Since its inception as a small Saturday support group, the faith-based nonprofit organization has grown into a humanitarian powerhouse, aiding thousands every month with services ranging from a daily buffet to free haircuts.

“I’m so honored to see that one little seed is just branching out into something bigger,” said Martha Brown, who co-founded the community center with colleague Finny Mathew in 2008.

“It’s beautiful.”

The story of the Lighthouse starts in 2005, when Buddy Burnette—a mutual friend of Brown and Mathew—told them it was God’s plan for the two to work together.

Both wrapped up in their own businesses, neither Brown nor Mathew wanted to meet, and avoided doing so for the next three years.

Burnette’s crusade to unite Brown and Mathew ended in January 2008, when the three of them met for lunch to discuss redeveloping Burnette’s property.

They agreed to meet again, but Burnette, 52 at the time, suffered a massive heart attack and died just four days after introducing Brown and Mathew to each other.

The two discovered through Burnette’s widow that he fervently prayed to God nightly, despairing over his failure to create a partnership between Brown and Mathew.

“We were speechless. How do you even respond to that?” Brown said.

“So we made a commitment to stay friends and honor that relationship for Buddy.”

Brown began attending Saturday night meetings that Mathew held with friends and family in an old house on Church Street.

The meetings began to garner the attention of Lynchburg’s less fortunate, who would often wander in and find themselves invited to join.

“All it took was one person to walk in,” Brown said.

“And then one person turned into two, two turned into three. The numbers grew exponentially.”

The stories shared during these events revealed what Brown calls “holes in the gospel”—needs in the community that simply weren’t being met.

They exposed the harsh realities of plights like extreme poverty, sex trafficking and addiction.

So the Lighthouse, armed at the time with nothing but a microwave, a kitchen sink and a table, set out to fill these gaps.

In 2009, they formed a children’s ministry, which has grown from 10 to
200 children.

A year later, Lighthouse opened its food bank, which has distributed over 27,000 pounds of food in the past eight months alone.

Lighthouse’s Acts of Random Kindness bicycle ministry opened in 2014, giving away refurbished bicycles for those without transportation.

In 2015, the soup kitchen opened, with food being donated by Choice Hibachi Grill and later Golden Corral.

According to Brown, the daily buffet has fed over 15, 000 individuals since January.

One of Lighthouse’s recent endeavors is the Light Change Tokens program, a collaboration between Church of the Good Shepherd, the Lighthouse and Warm Streets, a ministry to the homeless.

Based on a similar concept in Portland, Oregon, tokens worth $1 and $5 are handed out and can be used at 14 different business, including the White Hart, F&L Market and the Laundromat.

The businesses, in turn, redeem the tokens for actual cash—$1.20 for every dollar token.

Brown notes that tokens cannot buy tobacco, alcohol or lottery tickets.

As of 2017, the center has 14 different ministries focusing on different needs.

“We never even had a business plan,” Brown said.

“We just believed that there would be faithful servants willing to give their time and their talents to serve those most vulnerable.”

And there were.

The Lighthouse now has over 160 volunteers.

A third of them, Brown said, are people whose lives were turned around by the community center.

Before the Lighthouse, Collison Corner had been drinking for 25 years.

His addiction led to his expulsion from Liberty University, the destruction of his marriage and ultimately left him to survive on the streets.

Now, the 44-year-old programmer is solely responsible for establishing an online presence for the Lighthouse.

He is also the founder of New Leaf Employment, a ministry focused on finding employment for Lighthouse members—some of whom are sex offenders and felons.

Stories like Corner’s are not uncommon at the Lighthouse.

“Our walls weep with redemption and restoration in the lives of those who choose to come to the Lighthouse,” Brown said.

“They came here for a need and are now in a place where they are serving others.”

Currently, Brown and Mathew are working on establishing temporary housing for recently released inmates.

Brown also hopes to eventually create a shelter for registered sex offenders.

“They’re the modern-day lepers,” Brown said.

“There’s not a shelter in the state of Virginia that will take sex offenders in.”

Alternative southern rock band, Guys on a Bus, will be holding a fundraising concert for the Lighthouse Sept. 12 at 6 p.m. at Grace Baptist Church.

The cost of admission is a pound of pennies.

The Lighthouse is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Donations can be made on their website at

VENCE is a feature reporter.


  • Bill And Cathy Corner

    What a story of how God works through those who are devoted to go as Christ commanded us …To Love others as we would want for ourselves and then get busy and do it.
    We are so proud of Collison Who was so down and out, and yet from faithful ones at Liberty University like Earl and Carol Sargeant, God has shown many the power of committed Christians working together for the Lord can change lives. Thank You Collison for submitting yourself to this ministry!

  • I work with ex-offenders and felons helping them to find jobs everyday. Overwhelmingly, sex offenders are the the most difficult cases to work with. I applaud your efforts.

    There is a long list of employers who may hire felons here:

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