Ron Buchinski will step down as executive director of Bellingham’s Lighthouse Mission at the end of June after nearly a dozen years leading the privately funded shelter and social service ministry.
He and his wife plan to move to Nebraska to be close to their three grown children and their six grandchildren, four of whom were born after their grandparents moved to Bellingham.
“We want to be part of their lives,” Buchinski said.
During Buchinski’s tenure, Lighthouse Mission added nearly 100 shelter beds and an array of services, opened a drop-in center for homeless people, started a foundation to support the mission financially, and fostered strong business and community support for the mission.
“Ron was the man of the hour when he came,” said Gary Haveman, board president of Lighthouse Mission Ministries. “He came here at the right time, and he did great things.”
Hans Erchinger-Davis, a Bellingham native, former videographer and 10-year Lighthouse employee, will replace Buchinski as executive director.
A public reception for Buchinski and his wife, Pat, is planned, with details to be announced.
Buchinski, 63, wasn’t raised in a church family during his youth in upstate New York, but he began reading the Bible on muggy, sleepless nights while serving in Guam with the U.S. Army.
After the Army, he attended Appalachian Bible College, worked as a church youth pastor, then began working at missions, first in Utica, N.Y., and then in Lincoln, Neb., where he started programs, built buildings, bought land, and honed his managerial skills. He put those lessons to use when he and his wife came to Bellingham in 2004.
They chose Bellingham, in part, because they could both work at Lighthouse. They had worked together in Utica, but the mission in Lincoln had a policy against spouses working together, Buchinski said.
“We missed being able to share the ministry together,” he said.
Pat Buchinski worked at Lighthouse for eight years. With degrees in social work and drug counseling, she developed programs for single homeless women and oversaw the relocation of the small Agape Home on Yew Street Road to the new, larger Agape Home for Women and Children adjacent to the mission, with space for single women and for women with children. A child-care center to serve Agape mothers opened in 2015.
She also founded and directed the mission’s volunteer program, through which hundreds of local residents contribute monthly.
Ron Buchinski said that when he came to Bellingham, the mission was mainly an emergency shelter, with few programs to address homeless people’s underlying issues, such as addiction and mental health problems.
Today, programs at the main mission at 910 W. Holly St.; at the New Life Center, across the street; at Agape Home; and at the mission’s drop-in center, nearby at 1013 W. Holly, provide services and access to help for homeless people with a variety of backgrounds and needs.
The New Life Center, which was finished during Buchinski’s term, houses mission offices, long-term faith-based programs for men and women, and a transitional shelter for men and women who are working or attending college.
The drop-in center provides space where needy people can visit, learn about help from a variety of agencies, receive medical care at a Sea Mar Community Health Center clinic, and schedule eye exams and fittings for eyeglasses at the Bellingham Central Lions Club’s Frank Haskell Lions Eye Clinic.
In addition, the mission serves about 100,000 free hot meals a year, including Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s the only “soup kitchen” in the county that provides three meals a day.
New director knows Bellingham
Hans Erchinger-Davis, 38, grew up in Bellingham, graduated from Western Washington University, and completed seminary studies at Regent College in Vancouver, B.C. He has worked at the mission as men’s manager, director of programs and associate executive director, with the idea he could eventually replace Buchinski.
“He’s going to do an awesome job,” Buchinski said. “Hans really knows the community.”
Looking ahead, the mission hopes to expand its program for residents with mental health problems, especially women, and explore the possibility of developing another mission shelter elsewhere in Bellingham, Haveman said.
Erchinger-Davis supports the idea of increasing the number of homeless people who can be provided shelter and other services to improve their lives.
“I’m seeing people’s lives transformed,” he said. “That’s the kind of thing that gets me excited.”
Dean Kahn: 360-715-2291
Lighthouse Mission services, 2015
Meals served: 99,981
Nights of lodging at mission: 37,284
Nights of lodging at Agape Home for Women and Children: 16,465
Drop-In Center attendance: 27,294
Haskell Eye Clinic services: 445
Sea-Mar Medical Clinic services: 438