Bridget Shaheen Prepares for Life After Lazarus House
As she nears retirement in June, Executive Director Bridget Shaheen does not look back on her 36 years at Lazarus House Ministries Inc. in Lawrence in terms of accomplishments. Instead, the 72-year-old remains firmly focused on advocating for the nonprofit organization’s mission of assisting people who are struggling with poverty while also restoring their dignity and self-respect.
“If you want to see true courage,” says Shaheen, citing one of the many lessons she has learned over the years, “bring a box of food to a family that doesn’t have any and watch as the children — in America — jump up and down. Then a mother comes out and says to you, ‘Can I share this with the people upstairs? They’re poor, too.’ And you begin to understand how blessed you are to be in a position to help them.”
Shaheen has dedicated half her life to expanding services at Lazarus House while battling the cycle of poverty in the Merrimack Valley. When the organization opened as a five-bed emergency shelter at 48 Holly St. in 1983, Shaheen — a Lawrence native who now resides in Seabrook, N.H. — was its first volunteer. She was appointed executive director 10 years later.
Lazarus House now operates out of seven buildings in Lawrence, including its shelter, which has expanded to 41 beds and six cribs. The Good Shepherd Soup Kitchen feeds about 250 people daily, and St. Martha’s Food Pantry serves about 850 families every week.
Additional services include transitional housing for individuals, families and single, at-risk and homeless women; a culinary arts program that has led to full-time employment for more than 100 adults; and three thrift stores that allow people the dignity of purchasing their own clothing, furniture and household goods.
In 2012, Shaheen spearheaded a capital campaign that raised more than $5 million. Her personal impact on guests in need of emotional and spiritual support has resulted in more than a dozen awards recognizing her humanitarianism, as well as an honorary doctorate of humane letters from St. Anselm College and an honorary doctorate of humanities from Merrimack College, her alma mater.
“The reality is that thousands of people are Lazarus House, and because of that, lives change,” Shaheen says. “People just have to pin it on a face, and right now it’s me.”
That will change with her retirement, which Shaheen says she has been contemplating for a few years in order to spend more time with family. She and her husband of 48 years, Paul, have three children and five grandchildren under 12.
“I’m sure God has a better plan than having me here at this point in my life,” she says. “But I’m grateful that Jesus allowed me to be a small part of this community of people who have no other agenda except to be part of goodness.”
Following in Shaheen’s footsteps will be a tall order, acknowledges Lazarus House Ministries Board of Directors President Doug Cook, and the search process is ongoing. Cook praised Shaheen’s exemplary leadership and commitment to ensuring a smooth transition once a successor is named.
“Bridget is a very special person who cares deeply and compassionately about Lazarus House’s guests, makes everybody feel special, and is humble to a fault,” he says. “We’ll never find another Bridget, but knowing that will allow her successor to take advantage of their own special gifts. We’re confident and excited about what the future has in store for Lazarus House Ministries.”
A celebratory Mass and reception honoring Shaheen will take place on Thursday, June 13, at Merrimack College in North Andover. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for information about tickets, sponsorships, the tribute book or volunteering.