Instead of holding a big holiday party this year, software company SER Solutions Inc. said it would donate $25,000 to the Good Shepherd Alliance to support its homeless shelters in Loudoun County, and the company challenged other local businesses to do the same.

"Despite a changing economy, SER has been fortunate to have done well this year due to the efforts of its employees," said Carl E. Mergele, the Sterling company's chief executive officer. "We felt that nothing would be more meaningful than to give back to our community."

SER officials toured the alliance's shelters recently.

"Unlike other charities, it's very clear how the [alliance] puts its donations to use," said Anna Van Lier, SER's public relations manager. "They don't just provide a bunch of handouts. They have strict requirements of its residents aimed at teaching them self-sufficiency."

Each person or family is permitted to live in the shelter only 89 days, must be working or actively seeking a job and must save 50 percent of their salary while abiding by all shelter rules, including a strict 10 p.m. curfew.

The alliance operates a men's shelter in Ashburn and three emergency shelters for families on property it leases from the county on The Woods Road in Leesburg. Leases for the family shelters expire Jan. 31, when Volunteers of America Chesapeake will take over.

The alliance plans to move to a building it is renovating on its property on Limestone School Road near Lucketts. Dogs now live there, making it unsuitable for children, so initially, only single women will move to the new shelter. The alliance hopes to renovate other buildings there to increase living space and provide a computer lab for residents.

Last year, SER held a large holiday party at the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center in the District, busing in employees from its other U.S. locations in Rochester Hills, Mich., and Norwalk, Conn. The company has 93 employees in Loudoun Tech Center and about 250 worldwide.

"This year, SER decided to forgo a formal holiday party in order to give a sizable contribution to a nonprofit group we feel is doing some very important work in Loudoun County," Mergele said. "We would like to challenge the local business community to join us in supporting this worthy cause."

Shelter director Charlotte Lewis accepted the check Friday along with 30 to 40 computers and professional clothes donated by employees.

"We are grateful to SER for recognizing the growing [numbers of homeless in Loudoun], and we appreciate their helping us support this needy segment of our community," Lewis said. "A donation of this size will certainly help us transition into our new buildings and help us maintain the high level of assistance we offer."

The alliance is a nonprofit organization that has provided walk-in emergency housing, food, clothing, transportation, children's programs and mental health counseling for the county's homeless since 1983. To contact the group or contribute, call 703-433-2631 or visit