Presbyterian couple finds value, meaning in charity work with Catholic organization
Editor’s note: This story was contributed by members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Juneau.
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Juneau will lose two volunteer members upon the retirement of John and Melanie “Mel” Zahasky.
“It has been an honor and privilege, we love you all,” said John and Mel Zahasky as they reminisced memories of helping friends and sharing with fellow Vincentians.
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is active in many Alaska communities. In Juneau, a conference was initiated in 1984. Traditionally, the main activity of a Society’s conference is to provide aid to the poor, and this is most often done through a local parish. In Juneau, two parishes do what they can to address the community’s needs.
John and Mel Zahasky are a Presbyterian couple living in Juneau. The couple served the Juneau conference’s home visit team for more than three years, but they will soon move to the Lower 48 upon their retirement.
Before joining the Society, the Zahaskys were regular customers at the St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store in Juneau. When the store moved locations, they offered to help, and during that process, they learned that St. Vincent is so much more than a thrift store.
For years, they were unaware of the thrift store’s work with a transitional shelter, nor the many low-income housing options they offer the homeless.
“We are very thankful for what we have,” the Zahaskys said. “It has opened our eyes to what other people have to deal with and to be proactive in knowing what resources are available.”
After learning more, they were intrigued by the non-profit’s person-to-person aid program, which had just been created. They signed up for the first home visit team training sessions in 2018.
The Zahaskys are active members of their denomination, where John Zahasky also serves as a deacon. They previously served others with Family Promise of Juneau, a non-profit that helps families out of homelessness, and by cooking at the Glory Hall, an emergency shelter that offers meals in Juneau.
Although John and Mel Zahasky signed up as a couple, they teamed up with other home visit team members for other visits as well. Initially, knowing that St. Vincent is not associated with their denomination, they were uncertain about how it would go, but shared that “this whole experience has been more of a blessing.”
“We are all called, and we are all in this together to serve others,” the couple said about the Society. “We never felt like outsiders; we are all welcome.”
One particularly touching example of the inter-faith experience was when the Society helped a recently widowed, disabled elderly woman clean out her storage unit. On her limited income, this was an expense she could trim, but she needed help. Six Vincentians helped for a few hours that day. One was Deacon Mike Monagle, who is St. Vincent’s spiritual advisor, as well as Deacon John and a nurse were part of the effort.
At one point, as the group finished hauling boxes to her apartment, the dump, and the thrift store, the elderly widow was overwhelmed with gratitude.
“I thought God had forgotten about me and here he sent two deacons and a nurse,” she said.
John and Mel Zahasky continued to support and befriend the elderly woman as she made a few more major life transitions.
The fundamental principles of the Society are spirituality, friendship, and service. Vincentians often go out in pairs to visit Juneau neighbors in need; and during those visits, the Society learns how it can help and offer to pray for those they serve — if they are receptive. The Society also offers up a prayer before and after each visit, to seek guidance from Christ.
The home visit team also meets twice every month to pray for one another and to discuss their respective visits in hopes of helpful finding solutions for their clients.
“Even though you are not on every visit, you feel part of the ministry and ache for these people and their stories,” John and Mel Zahasky said.
They also expressed how incredible it was to have resources and an organized approach to the Society when serving the poor.
“Anyone can do it, and I wish more people participated and knew about it,” the Zahaskys said. “The organization is organized, provides training, and has funds and resources.”
If interested in joining the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s home visit team, contact Maureen Hall at firstname.lastname@example.org.