Mom inspires Zenk to leave Corporate America for care-giving

| August 13, 2015 | 0 Comments

Jim Zenk left the world of corporate engineering to start Synergy HomeCare shortly after his mother, Mary, died. She had Alzheimer’s disease.

During her illness, Zenk saw the need for compassionate, high-quality in-home care, said his wife and nominator, Heather.

She noted, “He decided to dedicate his life to bringing other families the kind of help he and his family struggled to find. The guiding force behind what makes him capable of leading a uniquely compassionate caregiving agency is his Catholic faith.”

Zenk, who is active as a volunteer at both the parish and the school at Nativity of Our Lord in St. Paul, treats the caregivers in his employ with the same compassion they give to clients, recognizing how difficult and thankless their work can be.

“He simply lives the Gospel message,” Heather said, “and leads by example. In doing so, his Catholic faith quietly informs all aspects of his work and has allowed him to create a culture of honesty, compassion, humility and mercy.”

ZenkJim Zenk, 54

Company SYNERGY HomeCare
Title Owner
Parish Nativity of Our Lord, St. Paul
Spouse Heather
Children Mackenzie, Shane
Volunteer activities: Lector and eucharistic minister, committee chair for Nativity County Fair, swim team coach, Scouting den leader, board of directors for the St. Paul Senior Workers Association, United Way member and campaign coordinator, president of Madeline Island Association, NE Minneapolis Club, middle school math tutor
Education BSME, Iowa State; MSME University of Minnesota


How do you apply your faith and Catholic values at work?

Synergy HomeCare helps people live as independently as possible in their own homes with assistance from non-medical caregivers. Most of our clients are elderly, some are dealing with chronic medical or post-surgical conditions, and many have forms of dementia.

Starting a small business has not been an easy undertaking, and running a business that is directly influenced by the vagaries of human nature can have its challenges. It has, however, also allowed me to create my own culture: honesty, compassion, humility and humor.

We attempt to gather our office staff each morning for a 10 minute huddle. The meeting, which is about discussing the issues of the day, concludes with the Lord’s Prayer, including a prayer for our clients, employees, and their families.

One of the tenants of Catholic social teaching is the Life and Dignity of the Human Person. To that end, I try to get to know each of our clients — to meet with them in their homes and hear about their lives — who they were and who they still are. It is often fascinating to learn about what they’ve done, where they traveled and to see the photos of their children and grandchildren (and great-grandchildren).

Please tell a story about a time when applying your faith at work really made a difference.

I particularly like this story as it involves both humor and humility:

When we have a new client, I try to walk through their house to look for potential safety issues and suggest ideas. In one case, the client’s toilet seat was broken; he had a new one but could not install it. I grabbed a few tools and went about installing the new seat. Later, when my wife asked me why I didn’t turn that over to someone else, I laughed and said, “It keeps my engineering skills sharp.” It also made quite an impression on this elderly client who stood by, leaning on his walker and watching me work, then picked up the phone to call his daughter and announced, “I love this agency! I’ve got the president out here fixing my john!”

Who or what has been most inspirational to you in bringing your faith to the marketplace?

Without a doubt, that person is my mother Mary. A Registered Nurse by degree, she was an early hospice volunteer and regularly visited with the elderly in their homes to bring Communion and a listening ear. Mary lived her faith and taught her children to do the same.

She contracted Alzheimer’s disease about 15 years ago and passed away in 2008. Interestingly, it was soon after she died that my career started moving rapidly in the direction of leaving Corporate America and starting Synergy HomeCare. I have no doubt that she is influencing me still!

What achievement at work are you most proud of?

What I am most proud of is not a specific item, but overall when we know that a family that we are caring for has benefited. Caregiving is personal; it is more than housekeeping, meals and meds . . . it is a connection with another person.

In this business, we see many clients pass on. Those are difficult times for the family, of course. But they can also be hard on our caregivers.

We attend many funerals; when a family member takes the time to come up to us and thank us for our care, it is a moment of bittersweet joy — to know that we had indeed made that connection — and were in some way helpful to that person in the latter part of their journey here on earth.

In what specific ways have you experienced God’s presence in your workplace?

Our office team has built good camaraderie; this has taken time and effort. All days are not good ones, and not all the problems are small — but the group perseveres. We help each other and we continue doing the things that need to be done — with God-given grace and lots of humor.

In short, we work at reveling in the joys and successes, working through the lows and enjoying each other along the way.

What advice do you have for others who want to lead with faith?

We are all faced with decisions in our lives — including our work life.  Many times those answers — morally and otherwise — are not black and white. My question would be: what is your decision-making process?

Applying a consistent, principled approach to the problem can make those decisions easier. To me, using my Catholic faith as that barometer and touchstone is the key.
Over time, this will reveal you as a principled and moral person. It won’t garner universal praise, but you will be earn the respect of others. And a better night’s sleep.

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Category: Leading With Faith