By Stan Friedman
SANTA ROSA, CA (May 29, 2014) — Last year, the local Red Cross honored Covenanter Matthew Nalywaiko as a “real hero.” A local hospital administrator told more than 400 people at an awards dinner that “Stories like Matthew’s renew my hope in the human race.”
Last month, People magazine highlighted him in its “Heroes Among Us” feature. On Monday, NBC national news broadcast a two-and-a-half minute segment on the nonprofit Nalywaiko started and leads.
That’s a lot of publicity and high praise for someone who doesn’t expect much out of the volunteers at his nonprofit, which is called Serve A Little.
“I believe everybody can do something, if even just a little bit, to help others,” says Nalywaiko.
But volunteers have done a lot through the ministry he started in 2009 to match people’s skills with the many needs of the community, especially those of women who are single mothers or whose husbands serve abroad. So far, Serve A Little has helped more than 300 people.
The website today lets visitors know that 35 single mothers need help with auto repair, which is one of the biggest needs the nonprofit tries to meet. Nalywaiko says there generally have been enough volunteers to help the people requesting help.
No one—not even Nalywaiko—is paid, even though he often puts in 30 or more hours a week. He helps fund the ministry from his nearly full-time job as a videographer.
When he talks about Serve A Little, he speaks with a contagious enthusiasm. It is a passion for service that “comes naturally” to him because it was nurtured by his parents, the people at Redwood Covenant Church, where he grew up and now attends, and Covenant Bible College in Canada.
His parents, Victor and Katherine, often involved their children in ministry opportunities that included handing out clothes and sandwiches at a homeless shelter.
Their own home often was a flurry of activity. “My parents had a very strict open door policy,” he says. “They had two refrigerators and two microwaves because they knew kids were going to come over after school.”
He adds, “Dad doesn’t know a stranger. It’s a cliché but it’s true.”
He received encouragement from some of the men at Redwood. “When I was growing up in the Covenant church, there were several older guys who saw the passion and heart I had, and they encouraged me to keep doing it,” Nalywaiko says.
That encouragement continued at CBC in Canada, the former discipleship school operated by the Covenant, during his time there between high school and college.
“I started a journey of considering more deeply how I might give back to others,” the 32-year-old says.
The answer didn’t come easily to Nalywaiko, who struggled with ADD and dyslexia. “I didn’t know what I had to offer.”
Then five years ago he was sound asleep when he woke up suddenly at 4 a.m. on a September morning in 2009 with the idea. “It’s turned into way more than I ever expected it to,” he says.
Although Nalywaiko is spurred by his faith, the ministry is not overtly religious.
“If people ask us why we’re doing this, we’ll tell them why,” he says. He emphasizes, “When Jesus came into the city, he first took care of the people’s needs.”
Nalywaiko also has been working hard to enable people in Haiti to help themselves and their country by teaching and paying laborers to build schools.
“(Retired Covenant missionaries) David and Wendy Mark told me the most powerful thing you can do for a country is to educate them,” Nalywaiko says.
He helped launch 80 For Haiti to raise $80,000 to construct schools in remote villages. Each school would educate 400 children. Students also are provided a free lunch.
Rather than sending large mission teams to build the schools, 80 For Haiti sends only a small group of experts to train Haitians how to do the construction work. They are paid as well.
“It’s painstaking to teach how and why. It takes a lot of time, but you’re teaching them to pour concrete and install rebar and other skills,” he says.
At least once it also was harrowing. In 2010, Nalywaiko and a mission team made it safely out of the country with only minutes to spare when rioting erupted, and rioters stormed the airport just after the team had boarded their plane.