CoolPeople at CoolSys!—Chris Hutnyak
For CoolSys Team Member and Volunteer Chaplain, ‘It’s All About Meeting People Where They’re At’
It started as a regular day—a soccer tournament for his son, just like so many other games before. But this particular day changed Chris Hutnyak’s life forever.
Driving home from the tournament, they came upon a terrible car accident. They were the first on the scene, and Chris ran up to the demolished vehicle. “Where’s my husband?” the driver asked Chris. Looking around, he spotted a body lying nearby on the side of a hill. He went to the man, sat next to him, prayed with him in his last moments of life. Soon, the EMTs arrived and worked valiantly to save the man, but without success.
“I saw the look on their faces as they tried to revive him,” Chris recalls. In that moment, he felt compelled to do something to help first responders like those EMTs, who routinely endure tense, highly emotional and volatile situations in their line of work.
A Perfect Match
A few days later, Chris told the story to a friend who worked for the Richland County Sheriff’s Department—adjacent to Lexington, South Carolina, where Chris and his family live. “Why don’t you become a chaplain?” the friend asked.
His immediate reaction was to reject the idea, Chris says, but then “the Lord slapped me up the side of the head and said, ‘That’s what I want you to do!’” So despite his already busy life as a husband, father and owner of Carolina Refrigeration—now the newest member of the CoolSys family—Chris applied and was accepted as a chaplain in the Richland County Sheriff’s Department. Fans of the former TV show Live PD, which aired on A&E, will recognize that department as one of the show’s long-time featured agencies.
‘Ministry of Presence’
Now, five years later, Chris’s work as a volunteer chaplain has become, in essence, a second full-time job. He’s in charge of the 25 volunteer chaplains who work in the sheriff’s office, he offers free private counseling to the 800-member department, and he writes devotionals and records an occasional Sunday video message that are distributed throughout the department. If you’d like to receive Chris’s daily devotional just drop him an email at email@example.com.
But perhaps the most immediate impact of Chris’s work occurs as he rides along with members of the sheriff’s department. He calls it a “ministry of presence”—being there in the moments of greatest stress and emotion for the law enforcement officers and the citizens they serve. When asked, he prays with deputies and their families, and he provides whatever other assistance they need, day or night. At other times, he becomes a bridge between law enforcement and the public; the “Chaplain” patch on the front and back of his vest can sometimes help to calm a situation, he says.
Counselor and Friend
Mostly, though, Chris is a listening ear and confidential counselor to the officers as they patrol their regions. “We talk about everything, from relationship advice to marital advice to financial advice,” he says. “Having four children and being married for 20-plus years has taught me a lot.”
One of the most important aspects of Chris’s work is to help deputies process the things they’ve experienced after particularly stressful calls. “I’m that steppingstone to help them transition from work back to their home life,” he says.
It’s all about meeting people where they’re at in their life, Chris says. “What I do is a unique experience,” he concludes. “It’s not for everybody, but for me, it’s very fulfilling.”