Marzolf celebrated for 20-year Mexico mission

■ BY MICHAEL BARBER

By many standards, Piedmont Community Church member and volunteer Wayne Marzolf, 65, could be considered a renaissance man. His interests vary from general contracting to wine making. However, his greatest passion may be one that cannot be measured by ruler or pour; Wayne makes a difference in young lives.

It’s likely he relates to young people in a unique way due to his own faith journey as a teen. Having been raised in a split family with a Polish mother – who was a devout Catholic – and a father who favored the theology of the United Methodist Church, Wayne found himself conflicted.

“As I was being confirmed in the Catholic Church, the nuns suggested Catholics were better than everyone else because we could confess our sins,” Wayne said. “My dad was a good guy, so that didn’t sit well with me. I stopped going to church.”

In 1987, Wayne moved to Piedmont, California from western New York.

Though he can’t remember how he found his way to Piedmont Church, Wayne vividly recalls meeting with former youth leader Rob Jacobus years later in 1994.

“Rob asked me to assist in building the youth program,” Wayne said. “I was kinda shy back then, but agreed.

We played a lot of basketball and volleyball. I liked working with the kids. That was the draw.”

The following year, the youth group grew from a few to about a dozen. It was then that Wayne met a young man who would have a significant impact on his own life.

“He wore an Army coat that was pulled up around him,” Wayne said. “He was a big guy. He seemed dark and was only known as a ‘football player.’ I got to know him. We became pretty close. His dad was an alcoholic and had been kicked out of the house, so he had no male figure in his life.” After years of fostering a relationship with the high school student, which included traveling to Mexico for a new ministry that would eventually become known as the Mexico Mission Trip, the boy graduated and spoke a special service at the church.

“He talked about how much I meant to him, how important our relationship was,” Wayne said. “I sat in the back of the church with tears rolling down my face, crying. It hit me. I had no idea.”

Wayne keeps a photo of the young man, and other members of the group, stashed in a desk drawer. Personal notes cover the back of the image. One significant message stands out from the rest – ‘You’ve helped make me who I am.’

The student graduated Stanford and Columbia Universities and is currently and E.R. doctor in southern California.

From this experience, Wayne has helped grow the youth program at Piedmont Community Church, specifically the annual Mexico housebuilding mission. He will travel this April with Rev. Scott Kail, Pastor of Student Ministries, 255 youth and 65 adults to build 18 houses for poor people 15 miles east of Tijuana.

Although he’s known as ‘The Fixer,’ Wayne insists that the students not only build the homes themselves, but do so with respect for the people they serve.

“It’s all about the service they give,” Wayne said. “I sometimes hear them say, ‘It’s good enough.’ I tell them to do their best. They’re not going to say that just because they’re building a house for a poor person in Mexico. I want them to do the best they can do, not slap it together and call it good enough.”

Wayne estimates he has worked with nearly 5,000 students from Piedmont over the past 20 years. Piedmont Church represents the largest group of house builders for San Diego-based Amor Ministries. Amor chooses the build sites with the help of clergy and provides concrete mix, wood and shingles – paid for by the participants.

“When we arrive, we see a pile of building materials and an empty field,” Wayne said.

Where some may see a barren landscape, Wayne finds opportunity to teach and serve.

“There was a young Mexican man working with us, working on his house,” Wayne recalls. “He really wanted to get work as a contractor. He welded a steel pipe to a hammer head and pounded nails like crazy. We gifted him one of everything we had including a saw, level, chalk line and hammer.”

The young man, eager to return the favor, invited Wayne into his home for lunch. But, when Wayne arrived to sample some homemade chicken mole, the young man presented Wayne with a plate of sauce only.

“He came out with a sheepish look on his face and said, ‘no pollo’, Wayne said. “They had run out of chicken.”

The following year, Wayne saw the young man again. He had built an addition to the house, added wiring, sheet rock and installed a kitchen with cabinets. He had also secured work in construction.

“I like to think I helped him,” Wayne said.

For his work in Mexico, and for hosting an annual golf tournament that raised more than $50,000 this year for the Alameda Boys and Girls Club, Wayne was presented the Jefferson Award by CBS Television affiliate KPIX. The award recognizes outstanding community service on both a local and national level.

“I do this because I love it, Wayne said. “I don’t do it for recognition. I’m a worker bee.”

As he approaches his 20-year anniversary with the Mexico mission, Wayne is hopeful the experience provides a lasting impact on the high school students.

“This trip makes the kids think beyond Piedmont,” he said. “We take the kids out of their comfort area. No phones, no iPads. They interact, work hard and live together.”

“Maybe that little girl they play with grows up and goes to school, goes to college,” he said. “All because they helped give her a safe and dry place to live. Maybe they’ve made a difference in someone’s life.”