“You must help the weak,” said the Apostle Paul as he bid farewell to his beloved Ephesians, “and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'"
I didn’t see that Jesus quote plastered on the posters that advertised the fund-raisers for Annette Kutyna and the McCarthy brothers, James and Peter. But the impetus behind the words was at work amongst those who participated in the events, even if some of them may not have connected their generosity with the commands of the Lord.
Kodiak has been labeled as a caring community and a place of faith. To have both those qualities named in the same observation is not a coincidence. Being faithful and caring go hand in hand.
Sergeant Eric Olsen of the Alaska State Troopers sees how God worked through caring people in making it possible for him to recapture a job that he loved.
While working as an Alaska State Trooper off-island, Olsen was in several situations that put undue strain on his back. After dealing with various painful set-backs, Olsen was rear-ended in 2005 by a fast-driving motorist on Mill Bay Road in Kodiak.
He was bedridden for a long time. Two back surgeries had failed and Olsen was facing a third revision of the lower back which was a very sensitive, potentially dangerous and expensive operation to be performed by a highly skilled doctor in Santa Monica, California.
Since he had lost his job with the Troopers, Olsen didn’t have insurance at the time.
His family and others in the community organized a spaghetti dinner fund-raiser to help with expenses for the operation.
The fund-raiser, which took place at the Elks, was well attended by many Kodiak residents and fellow State Troopers from around the state.
Regretfully, Olsen and his wife, Tonya, had to leave Kodiak before the fund-raiser.
The Olsens arrived in Santa Monica the day before the surgery. At the patient registration station they were told that Eric needed to pay $30,000 upfront for the operation.
“We had spent most of our savings on other surgeries. By the grace of God,” said Olsen, the fund-raiser had generated the exact amount of money that was required of them.
“My mom was able to wire down the money” in time, Olsen said.
Following a painful, lengthy recovery, Olsen was able to get active again. He eventually went back to work for the Troopers.
“If it wasn’t for everybody who gave to me, I wouldn’t be working today as a trooper and I wouldn’t be walking,” said Olsen.
“I will never forget the generosity of those who gave,” Olsen said. “I will never be able to repay them.”
Remembering what people did for him inspires Olsen to give back to others, he said.
“This was one of most miraculous things I experienced in my life. God is in control and He knows all the trials and tribulations in our life.”
The people of Kodiak rallied to help the Dresdow family when Matushka Veronica (Chris) Dresdow, wife Holy Resurrection Orthodox Cathedral priest, Fr. Innocent (Daniel) Dresdow, was diagnosed with Lyme Disease several years ago. Holy Resurrection parishioners and other friends organized Kodiak Cares, which raised money to help the Dresdows with medical expenses. The organization sponsored dinners and other fund-raisers, giving many in the community an opportunity to contribute to the cause.
“It is very humbling to be on the receiving end of so much love and support,” said Fr. Innocent
“Many in this community and beyond have contributed their time, talents and financial gifts to help us.
“This outpouring of love has made it possible for my wife's medical treatment to continue without our family going into unimaginable debt. Removing the stress of financial worries has made my wife's ongoing treatment more effective. She says it has relieved her of the sense of guilt that comes from causing her family to suffer for her sake. Philanthropy is an investment that this community has made on our behalf, one that literally is ‘life-giving’ for my wife.”
Gaby Alvarez can’t thank the community enough for coming to her aide when her son, Aaron Silver, was diagnosed with cancer, which eventually took his life.
“The people on Kodiak Island were here for us,” said Alvarez. “They were holding me”
That host of caring people included Aaron’s teacher, Kim Dorner, at North Star; Doug Payelle and Jim Pickett, volunteer firemen at Bayside, who got Aaron interested in fire trucks; care giver, Kathy Nussbaum, who helped the family access hospice care which was not available in Kodiak at the time.
“A lot of people helped us –stores, businesses, everybody in Kodiak,” said a grateful Alvarez. People from various churches stopped by to pray for the family. “It was a blessing.”
Their many friends organized a gala birthday party for Aaron when he turned 15. Held at St. Mary’s gym, it was filled with the things that Aaron loved – fire trucks, horses, happy people having a good time.
Through losing Aaron and bearing with him in his illness for many years, Alvarez learned that one must always have faith in God. “Never give up. God is always there for you and He is always listening. He sends you gifts (through people.) I never questioned Him through all of this. God has His plan.”
When their mobile home was heavily damaged by fire in 2007, Tonya and Emil Sugak knew that they were surrounded by friends that really cared.
Neighbors took care of their cat and dog and Sandra Unruh of the Church of the Nazarene invited the family to stay with her while they looked for a permanent home.
The community responded "immediately and overwhelmingly," Tonya said.
The Red Cross, businesses, various organizations, the Church of the Nazarene and other churches, Native corporations, service clubs and other entities made donations one way or another. Many individuals from Kodiak and the surrounding villages also helped. Even a lower 48 visitor, whom the Sugaks had never met before, wanted to assist.
That goes to show that the spirit of Kodiak giving is contagious!
1. ERIC OLSEN WITH FATHER, THORVALD OLSEN
2. VERONICA (CHRIS) DRESDOW GREETS LOLA HARVEY AT THE ELDER HOUSE, RUSSIAN CHRISTMAS
3. FR. INNOCENT DRESDOW – WITH ROSABEL BALDWIN AT THE TABLE (She can be cropped out,)
4. FR. INNOCENT WITH AIDEN MCCORMICK
5. GABY ALVAREZ AND SON, AARON SILVA, AT AARON’S 15TH BIRTHDAY PARTY
6. TONYA AND EMIL SUGAK
7. TONYA, ECHO AND EMIL SUGAK