Show Up, Make a Difference
Steve Biernacki ‘builds’ foundations at home and in the community
By Angela E. Thomas Photography by Katie Childs
Steve Biernacki seldom meets a stranger. Born and reared in Phoenix, he jokingly introduces himself as the product of “a 5-foot-3-inch Mexican woman and a 6-foot-5-inch Polish man,” and you’re instantly at ease.
Biernacki was enjoying a “semi-ish retirement,” playing golf and tending bar at Murry’s Dinner Playhouse, when he volunteered to help translate documents for a family at Habitat for Humanity.
“That was my first experience with Habitat,” Biernacki said, “then I drove the truck, making pickups from donor’s homes. Later, I became an assistant manager for a store, then a procurement manager. I served as a development director, and now I’m the Restore director.”
The “heart” work is second only to Biernacki’s family. He’s the proud father of four: daughter, Spenser, 23, who will begin PhD studies this fall at Louisiana State University; Brenna, 16, a computer geek, who at age 14 built her first computer; and 13-year-old boys Alexander and Maximillian, “awesome identical twins,” who are into bikes and video games.
“My kids are gregarious, wonderful children. They’re respectful kids who are responsible, and I believe our involvement in church is a big part of that. They’ve been involved in programs like Awana and Upward Sports, great programs that teach values and responsibility,” he said.
Biernacki stresses that wife Rebekah is the other reason he’s fortunate.
“She’s way cooler and smarter than I,” he said, smiling. “And she makes more money, which allows me to do what I do. Working at Habitat for Humanity isn’t a job or just a career. It’s a mission.”
For a time, Biernacki thought he’d play professional baseball and later be involved in ministry or perhaps in mission work. “And I get to do that every day here. We help folks better their lives and save money. We’re doing good work for the environment, recycling and keeping things from landfills. We’re helping people increase their property value. I’m blessed to have the opportunity to do this work, and it’s all because of Rebekah and her support. She’s my rock.”
Biernacki became a father at 19 and admits he wasn’t as much of a hands-on dad then as he is now.
“I was trying to find myself, my voice, my mission, you know, my purpose. I was like the person in the “Footprints in the Sand” poem. The Lord carried me for a long time. I was lost, trying to find my own way.”
He moved to Texas and eventually began to work and travel with the PGA Tour, which afforded him the opportunity to spend more time with Spenser.
“I was the send-money-when-you-get-paid kinda dad. I didn’t know any better. Her mother raised a great kid—she’s going to be a doctor one day,” Biernacki said.
However, there came a time when he “did a lot of soul searching. I remember kneeling next to my bed and confessing to God that I wasn’t doing such a good job and that I needed to get out of my own way.”
“When I think back, I realize that my dad worked a lot, but he was at every baseball game … any time I was doing something he was there. He understood the value of being present and now so do I. That’s what parenting is: showing up. It’s 90 percent being around, helping with homework, being at games. You have to be there, available.”
Time management is sometimes a struggle for Biernacki, he admits.
“‘Workaholic Steve’ shows up every so often, and I have to take a moment and get balanced. Life is a pendulum, but if you can keep it in bounds, you’ll hopefully end up in the middle.”
Biernacki said hearing himself say something his father would say is a pleasant surprise. “And hearing my kids say something they’ve heard me say—that’s the best. It makes me think, “Ok, there’s some method to the madness.”
He works daily to make a difference in the lives of his family as well as the community.
“There’s this story of a father and son walking on the beach, and there are tens of thousands of starfish on the beach. As they’re walking along, the son is throwing as many starfish back into the water as he can. The father chides his son saying, ‘There are thousands of starfish. You cannot get all of them back in the water. We’ve gotta get home.’ The son continues. He looks at his father and says, ‘I made a difference to this one.’
“You know, we get jaded as we get older,” Biernacki said. “But each day I ask ‘What difference can I make today?’ If I can help just one person, I’ve made a difference.”