Grace Guestroom Ready for Family in Transition

St. Mark’s Grace Guestroom is ready for occupancy!                                        (Scroll down to see photos)

Gail Frare, Chair of the Transitional Housing Task Force, offered this summary of how we got here.


In the Fall of 2022, Pastor Eric Utto-Galarneau called the chairperson of the Social Justice Team, Gail Frare, to inquire whether an exploratory committee could assess interest in turning the largest room in the Education building of St. Mark into a studio apartment for transitional housing. Gail and Pastor Eric agreed that the time was right. The High School Youth room was a perfect size, had a mini-kitchen already in the room, a wonderful architectural plan was completed AND the City of Lacey approved the plan and occupancy. Gail and Pastor Eric felt the Holy Spirit moving.

An email was sent to the Social Justice Team and others on 11/3/2022 asking for volunteers, which resulted in almost 20 interested people within a few days! Member Julie Thumser-Kerlee who facilitates groups for the State of Washington agreed to facilitate the meetings, and she not only kept us on track but she was very fun as well! She also insisted that every step of the way we keep the congregation fully informed of our progress, which we did!

The Grace Guestroom (GG) task force began meeting January 8th and by mid-March we had a proposal to Church Council, with approval to launch a pledge drive, educate the congregation and hold a congregational vote. The pledge drive showed Church Council that the funds were there ($18,000 was raised in a few weeks!) if we chose to proceed. In April the GG team educated St. Mark members, and Church Council approved a congregational vote. On April 30th, there were literal tears of joy when the vote came back a unanimous YES!!!


John Martin, long-time St. Mark member and retired architect was charged with the remodel of the room. Darren Ahlf, General Contractor (and son of long-time members Ken and Marilyn Ahlf) was hired to construct the room. Darren had previously been hired for the St. Mark showers and bathroom remodel. Darren and John worked side by side over the summer on a significant upgrade in electrical, heating, flooring, and painting of the guestroom. A new exterior door and window allowed us to meet the city code. Gary Gutteridge, from Granite Gallery donated all the beautiful laminate for the floors. Mike Vorovec from Energy Star Systems & Stoves gave us a fantastic discount on a heating system (HVAC) for the room. Jim Copper, from Advantage Lock and Key provided all new locks and keying configuration for the entire building. Lowe’s donated all the lovely paint that has made the room so homey. Vicki Labensky (St Mark Office Administrator) graciously provided many frozen hot chocolates for Darren and John while they worked.


Marilyn Ahlf and Bethesda Eilers led the pledge drive and the call for furniture and kitchen items. Beautiful furniture started pouring in along with gently used and new kitchen items. Karen Grefe, Barb Schneider, Susie Hallen, and Marilyn Ahlf inventoried and chose what they wanted to be included in the room. Tyler Panco (grandson of Marilyn) donated his own bunk bed “because he wanted to”. Brent Chapman gave a dresser that he shared with his brother growing up. Darren Ahlf’s mother-in-law moved around this time, so an entire bedroom set, and a beautiful leather couch were donated. Gail’s good friend Betsy and her husband donated a brand-new TV, chairs and end tables. Pastor David Nelson donated some lovely artwork. Kristina Tamm-Finnerud donated a new microwave that is an air fryer and a convection oven all in one! We got three new vacuum cleaners! David Eilers and Hannah Moats will provide a computer for the family. There has been no end of generosity from the people of St. Mark – and people outside St. Mark, as well.


Darrin Labensky, Council Treasurer, set up and tracked Grace Guestroom financial accounts. He also developed a proposed operating budget for the first year. As of August 5th, we had taken in $25,545.00, and had expenses of $23,321.64 – so we are in the black. The North Thurston Education Foundation donated $8,800 for operating expenses for the first year, thanks to a presentation from church member Dorn Barr. They also advised saving our receipts and returning next year to see if they will repeat the funding.

Darrin Labensky also secured a very reasonable monthly increase in our current liability insurance policy. He also served as technical support for the Task Force (hybrid meetings, TV’s) and for the Grace Guestroom.


Our first transitional family for the Grace Guestroom was brave enough to come to the Dedication. They were the first ones to see the room along with their Case Manager. Three children and their mom were all smiles as they looked over the room – especially after seeing the bunk beds. The celebration was joyous and many stories were shared about how God had moved this congregation to depths of generosity we did not think possible.


St. Mark member Carol Porter has agreed to be our Grace Guestroom Liaison. She will be the point of contact for the family with regards to their physical environment. Any issues that arise outside of that, she will notify the Case Manager.

The congregation was asked to respect the family’s privacy as they settle into our Grace Guestroom. Church members will go through Carol, to keep from overwhelming the family with all our offers to help. Carol will share with the congregation any additional needs the family may have – and I have no doubt that we will rise to whatever occasion is necessary!

Task Force Members

Gail Frare, Chairperson; Julie Thumser-Kerlee, Facilitator; Hannah Moats and Bethesda, Ken and Linda Anderson, George and Nancy Grant, Darrin Labensky, Brent Chapman, Beth Bowden, Juliana Alspaugh, Margit Stakkestad, Marilyn Ahlf, Karen Grefe, Pastor Beth Utto-Galarneau