Frat house to Barnabas House: Not as scary as it sounds

Zach Pace, RA of Barnabas House

“Hey Zach,” I said as I passed Barnabas House yesterday evening on my way to Martha House.  “I need to come over in the morning and get a picture of you and your guys.  I want to do a profile on you for the blog.”

“Cool,” he said.

We set a time for the pic and a time for the talk, and I presented myself promptly at 9:00 this morning for our little talk after the guys had departed for work. 

We started with the basics–born in New Branfels, moved to Houston at age six, where he attended grade and high schools, graduating in 2004 from Langham Creek High in Cypress. 

Zach started university in San Marcos that fall and his mom and dad relocated to Lake Travis, although both are still working, his dad in restaurant food service and his mom as project leader at Quintel, and as a hospice nurse on weekends.

Jerry and I met Zach about a year ago when he was working as a waiter at the Macaroni Grill in the Arboretum.  Kelly was with us, and Zach had our table.  As usual, Zach scrawled his name on the butcher paper on the table and as usual, Jerry started quizzing him about his life.

“Where did you go to school?  What do you want to do with your life?  What's the best job you ever had?”  (Waitstaff beware!  If we enter your domain this is what you'll get!)

Zach allowed as how working in a summer camp for kids with disabilities had been his favorite gig.  In lightning time, out came the business card and the spiel that goes with it.  After all, camp was coming on, and you can never have too many good male prospects for counselors.

“So,” said Zach, “I took the card and stuck it in my pocket and thought, nah…I didn't want to work at another camp.  I'd done two years at Elks Camp in Gonzalez and I got so attached to the kids, and then I had to say goodbye…and I was kind of in a low spot anyway, so I just tossed the card somewhere in my messy room and forgot about it.

“Funny thing is, that card followed me all over the house and I regularly found it about once a week for five weeks.  Finally I figured I'd better go on the web site, and I did and saw you all's video and I said ‘what the heck' and e-mailed Jerry.  He shot back an answer right away and within a few weeks I was shadowing to become a Weekend Resident Assistant.”

Zach quickly became a part of the whirlwind of activity at Down Home Ranch.  He served as WRA on the weekends, volunteered with camp during the week, worked in the kitchen, and he and his dad handled barbecue for 150 the day of the Texas Chainsaw Manicure in October.

“I like to immerse myself in what I do,” he said.

Zach was promoted to Resident Assistant of Barnabas House after being with the Ranch about five months.

Andrew, Zach, Clyde, Sterling, Alan and Michael
The Men of Barnabas House

Something that I can't imagine I never knew about Zach until today is that he is a member of Pi Kappa Phi, the fraternity that, as PUSH America, has sent large crews for a week of service during spring break to the Ranch for the past several years.

Zach worked one summer on the PUSH America bike ride, where members ride coast to coast earning money for organizations serving people with disabilities, and dispersing grants along the way. 

“There was a terrific guy named Chris Gastroline who was a rider.  I was support and didn't ride.  Chris was so inspiring–man, that guy could ride all day and not break a sweat.  And he was just an amazing person, so creative, and so many ideas.  And he was the most upbeat guy I knew.  He was a real mentor to me.  But then he committed suicide, and nobody saw that coming, but he did.  Anyway, I decided to take what I learned from him and try to sort of keep his life going that way, you know.  That's what I decided to do.”

I asked Zach what adjustments he'd had to make in working at Barnabas House.

“Oh man, don't try to do your laundry on someone else's laundry day,” he laughed.  “That's not going to turn out well!”

We noticed right away that Zach is one of those prized employees who regularly goes above and beyond assigned duties.  He takes the couples–who seldom get to go on actual dates–out to dinner and movies on his own time.  He volunteers enthusiastically for special events like the Manicure.  He and colleague Tom (RA of Isaiah House) are cooking up a trip to take a few Ranchers camping in a state park after a trial run at the Ranch's primitive campground, although he adds, “I'm a little worried about those wild hogs down there, you know.”

Zach's sense of fun is such that I tease him about having been a court jester in a previous life.  But the truth is, he takes his work very seriously, describing how he manages interactions with his guys on an adult to adult level, how he's worked to get them into work teams of three to keep the house clean, and how he discovered Mr. Clean Febreze does an awesome job.

“I love the challenge,” he says.  “I love learning something new every day.  I love working with the other staff people.  There's no way to teach what we need to know from a book.  It's hands-on, and it's real.  Barry's a great resource and I can call him any time night or day if I need to.”

At the end of our conversation he added, “You know what?  That night in Macaroni Grill when you guys came in I wasn't even supposed to have your table.  I was working my second shift of the day and I was tired and grumpy.  But then I saw Kelly and perked up, and Jerry started talking to me.

“And I really figure–you know, there was a purpose in how all that happened.”