Zack Darrah and Mary McGarvin pose for a photo in front of a painting of the founder of the Poverello House, Mary’s husband Michael “Papa Mike” McGarvin. Photo by Donald A. Promnitz
Written by Donald A. Promnitz
It’s been two years since Michael “Papa Mike” McGarvin passed away, but his shadow hangs heavy on the biggest part of his legacy — the Poverello House.
In the last year alone, “the Pov” has served 490,247 meals to the homeless in the Fresno area, along with 37,089 nights of shelter and 21,512 showers. It’s a long way from McGarvin’s first efforts in the 1970s, when he was giving out peanut butter sandwiches from his car. Managing the logistics, however, takes not only a good shepherding of people, but also finances. And that’s where Zachary Darrah comes in.
Darrah began serving as CEO for the Poverello house earlier this month, but his interest in nonprofits dates back to when he was studying business at Fresno Pacific University. With a desire to help others, it was suggested that he pursue nonprofit work. He got involved with AmeriCorps, then Care Fresno — an organization dedicated to outreach for at-risk youth and families. Darrah would work at Care Fresno for two years, but continues to devote time to them as a pastor for their summer camp.
According to Darrah, it was during his time at Care Fresno that he found a way to combine his passions — by working in the business side of the things he cared about.
“Because there is a business side also to doing great work with folks,” he said. “You’ve got to find resources to do that great work and I thought, ‘Boy, maybe this would be a great blend for my life.’”
Darrah went on to work for Encourage Tomorrow and then the Conservation Corps with the Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission, where he helped with the provision of work opportunities for young people with criminal backgrounds. After two years at the Fresno EOC, Darrah took up his first executive position, with Fresno Interdenominational Refugee Ministries (FIRM).
During the five years he served at FIRM, it was Darrah’s job to ensure that refugees from Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Eastern Europe and elsewhere were connected to the services they’d need in America — whether it was housing, health care, social services or food.
The work put things into perspective for Darrah. Having grown up in a stable home with his needs met, he found himself working for those who’d lost everything through such circumstances as famine, war and genocide. It made him reflect on all the things in life he may have taken for granted. It also made him reflect on the lessons of his youth.
“And I think in growing up — the influence of my dad, especially — and my family… is, ‘privilege is not for you; it’s to be used for others,” Darrah said.
While Darrah considers his time at FIRM to be some of the most meaningful work in his life, he felt the time was right to move on. Following the departure of his predecessor, Cruz Avila, he applied to become the new CEO for the Poverello House. In getting the job, he made a point of researching McGarvin’s life and work, reading his book and looking at the numerous photo’s he’d taken of Fresno’s homeless. Darrah said that what stood out to him about McGarvin was what he called a “pastoral heart.” That is, he had the strong desire to shepherd others.
“That naturally flows into the way we encounter people,” Darrah said. “We’re here to love and serve, to be a source of hope and care and friendliness.”
However, he’s not alone in his pastoral work. Among the many volunteers and employees at the Pov who believe he’s up to the challenge is Papa Mike’s window, “Mama Mary” McGarvin. They’ve only had a short time together so far, but the Poverello House’s co-founder says she has a good feeling about Darrah and believes he’s up to the task of overseeing the legacy she built with her husband of nearly 47 years.
“I have found him to be very warm and open and accepting to our process and what we do here in helping people, and wanting to find out about everything that goes on and kind of put his little spin on it,” McGarvin said. “Then help us do what we do.”