Sheila Zarba-Campbell Reflects on the Reward & Recovery Found in her Work

In a special guest blog post, our Campaign Director Sheila Zarba-Campbell writes about her experience losing her husband in the terrorist attack of 9/11 and how she is able to find comfort through her work at St. Francis House.

One of the ironies of life is that our greatest happiness may come from loving and caring for other people.  In other words, generosity can be selfish.

I’ve made a study of happiness ever since my first husband, Christopher R. Zarba, Jr., was killed in the terrorist attack of 9/11/01 as a passenger on American Airlines Flight 11. I was suddenly widowed at age 35, parenting a three year-old son by myself.  I could never have predicted how deeply painful and debilitating it would be to lose my husband, especially under such shocking and violent circumstances.  But I was fortunate to have the support of a close and loving family and many friends who looked out for me as I healed from my traumatic loss.

Since 2019, I’ve also been fortunate to have the opportunity to represent St. Francis House to its many loyal supporters as a member of the development staff. It is a privilege to work with our donors: helping them make gifts, showing our appreciation, and letting them know how their gifts allow the agency fulfill its mission. It is also an honor to interact with our guests, whether by serving lunch, attending choir concerts, or just talking with them in the lobby. For all the hardship I endured in 2001, I know that many of our guests have survived much worse, and I admire their resilience.

People experiencing poverty and homelessness often find themselves at the lowest possible point in their lives. But my colleagues at St. Francis House welcome our guests each day and treat them with the kindness and dignity they usually, sadly, do not receive outside our doors. The expertise of our staff in defusing conflict, rendering first aid, supporting our guests through mental health challenges, and accompanying them on their journey out of homelessness is awe-inspiring. Our guests’ bravery, combined with our staff’s compassion and professionalism, combine to make St. Francis House, for me, a magical and sacred space. Just being here is, as I mentioned to a family member who was struggling with sadness brought on by the ongoing pandemic, “good for the soul.”

I cannot think of a more rewarding experience than working at St. Francis House, and I’m deeply grateful for the opportunity to – selfishly! — contribute what I can to fulfill its mission.