HOLMBERG: Can the Richmond Outreach Center soldier on without its leader?

Posted at 12:07 AM, May 24, 2013
and last updated 2013-06-06 11:13:30-04

RICHMOND, Va (WTVR)- The Richmond Outreach Center has an amazing rags to riches story. But what will happen to it now that its charismatic founder is facing child sex charges and has stepped down until they’re resolved?

According to its non-profit, tax-exempt income report, the Richmond Outreach Center is a $17 million dollar independent church organization that brings in some $3 million a year.

But it started here on a wing and prayer 12 years ago when Pastor Geronimo Aguilar, his wife Samantha and a core group of fellow believers in inner city ministry came from California and opened up an outreach center a Midlothian Turnpike warehouse across the street from a strip club.

The energetic Pastor G, then 31, quickly built up a following based on a rock-and-roll, rough-and-ready, reach-the-unreachable ministry very similar to that of his LA based father, Phil, a former Hells Angels and drug dealer whose style has stirred up controversy.

The effectiveness, the tangible power of Pastor G’s ministry led to explosive growth, first to as vast site on Warwick Road – now the ROC’s youth ministry headquarters and site of its Spanish-speaking church body – then to it’s current multimillion dollar facility on Midlothian Turnpike, a rehabbed former flea market.

Pastor G’s family moved from a small frame house to a middle class split level in Henrico to a mini mansion off Riverside Drive.

Bobby Thomas said Pastor G saved his life soon after Aguilar in Richmond. “I was addicted to heroin, crack cocaine.” He said he believes he would be dead if Aguilar hadn’t reached him with his I’ve-been-there ministry.

He, like many, is concerned the ROC could fall without it’s normal foundation of Pastor G’s weightlifter’s shoulders.

“He’s the heart and soul of the church,” Thomas said.

I’ve been to the ROC numerous times. Some friends of mine have been key parts of the ROC’s many ministries. Some have left, citing a don’t-ask-questions, military-like leadership style. A whispering campaign about Aguilar’s alleged appetites reached escape velocity with open allegations on the Facebook site Richmond Outreach Center Recovery Group.

The outreach center has been praised by governors McDonnell, Kaine, and Warner, as well as city council, for reducing crime and violence around some of the city’s toughest high schools and successfully turning around addicts and parolees while reducing the city’s dropout and truancy rates. The ROCs many buses roll into the city’s housing projects every week to bring children into the fold.

The state and city have donated thousands to the ROC - donations some are questioning.

But there is virtually no oversight for churches and outreach centers like the ROC because of their tax exempt status.

Donations have rolled in because of the ROC’s effectiveness, and the strength of Pastor G’s personality.

This is a crucial moment for this vast church body, and the ROC’s board of directors recognize that, pledging careful oversight while announcing a search for an outside, interim leader.

That person will be critical to the future of this rags-to-riches ministry.

That’s my take, please leave yours here on

Statement from the Board of Directors of the Richmond Outreach Center

May 23, 2013

Dear ROC Family and Friends,

It is with heavy hearts that we inform you that Pastor Geronimo has decided to temporarily step down as President of the Board and as Pastor of the Richmond Outreach Center to devote his time and energy to certain legal matters in Texas.  While we believe the accusations against him to be completely untrue and unfounded, we have accepted his request for a temporary leave of absence.  Considering the severity of the charges, he feels and we sympathize that his family and these legal matters deserve his full attention.

We, the Board of Directors, have voted to make this a paid leave of absence, considering the incredible contributions that Pastor Geronimo has made to The ROC as a founding member.  Furthermore, we feel that it is not in the purview of the Board to act as either Judge or jury. 

During this time, we have appointed the Executive Team to make decisions concerning the day-to-day operations of the Richmond Outreach Center.  Also, we are actively pursuing an outside, interim pastor to serve on the Board of Directors, to assist with preaching duties, and to lend spiritual guidance.

We recognize that the hurting and impoverished in our region continue to need our help, and more than ever, we are dedicated to providing positive, out-of-school programming and mentoring for children and teens, substance abuse help for addicts, spiritual guidance, and emergency services for those going through a hard time.

The Board of Directors will meet weekly, as needed, to closely monitor The ROC’s operations, and an interim President has been appointed in absentia.  We look forward to Pastor Geronimo’s return, and we ask that you continue to keep him and his family in your prayers.