A Knock at my Door

knock_doorAs told by Steve Zabilski, St. Vincent de Paul Executive Director

I was asked during a meeting recently if I would tell a story about one of my experiences from the past 13 years as the executive director for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Phoenix. “One you’ve never told before,” my guest asked. “Don’t hold back with any concern of appearing too proud. You certainly have a gem you’ve never shared.”

I do in fact have one.

My story takes place here in the office I’m typing this post from – just about 13 years ago when I was first getting employed by SVdP. The feeling I experienced while first sharing this story after so long is why I think it’s also good to share it with more of you now.

I was working late nights during my first six months as executive director. It was my first time preparing the budget for our board of directors, and I felt additional time was required to learn the ropes and get it just right.

On one these nights, around 9:00 p.m., came a knock on my office door. It came from outside, as my office has a fire exit.

Everything was closed up, and everyone but me had gone home. (Believe me, plenty of our staff members put in long hours, for which I’m grateful. On this particular night I had the “late shift,” so to speak.)

So… I knew the person at the door had to be someone who needed assistance.

I really didn’t want to answer that door – as bad as this may sound at first. Not because I didn’t care, but because I felt helpless.

What could I do at such a late hour for whoever was out there?

No employees or volunteers were around to help me get it right, and the resources we would normally have available during the day were closed down for the evening.

I ignored the knock a couple times, rationalizing in my mind that I wasn’t being a bad guy. There just wasn’t any real help I could offer at this hour. I needed to concentrate on that budget proposal.

After I heard the knock a third time, I went to the door and was about to say “come back tomorrow,” without opening it.

But I did open the door, and believe me friends it changed my life from that night onward.

At my door stood a woman in distress. She told me she was living with her children in a U-haul truck that was past due to be returned.

I walked out to our parking lot, and sure enough, there were two very young children in the back of a truck. I didn’t know what to do, but to do nothing was now officially out of the question.

I took the family to a local motel and put the room on my credit card. I then went back and got some food from the SVdP kitchen and brought it over to them. I told the mother I would return in morning, and I did.

The next day, with SVdP up and running, our staff and volunteers were better able to help the woman and her children. They helped them find temporary, and then permanent housing. And over the years we’ve helped this family get their car fixed, with medical and dental checkups, and we have provided career counseling for the mother.

Here’s the best part.

I’m still close friends with this family 13 years later. Over the years we have kept in touch. They even asked me to be one the children’s confirmation sponsors. The kids also celebrate their birthdays here. I visited with them just last week, in fact.

I always come back in my mind to…what if I didn’t work late that night, and what if I didn’t answer the door. I’m no hero – I reserve that status for our many volunteers, donors and staff – but there would certainly be a void in my life if I didn’t know this family. I would be missing their friendship and many wonderful experiences watching them grow. They have brought a richness and perspective to my life that I wouldn’t have otherwise. (Thank you ;-)

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