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Melissa Akacha PharmD’04: Taking Care of Our Neighbors When They Are in Need

By Colleen Chase

Published on October 21, 2019

Melissa Akacha and Lynn SchutzmanMelissa Akacha PharmD’04 cares for strangers daily in her role as pharmacy manager for CVS Caremark. In April 2019 she took that compassion from the pharmacy to the street when Dr. Akacha lent a helping hand to a stranger she found living in a car. At the time, she did not realize her actions would result in a new friendship with someone with whom she had a lot more in common than she originally thought.

When Dr. Akacha’s daughters alerted her to a woman with two dogs that they noticed had been parked in the same spot in a King of Prussia parking lot, it was instinctual for her to lend a hand. Keeping an eye on the well-being of others is a way of life for a pharmacist. 

Melissa AkachaUsing her healthcare experience, Dr. Akacha partnered with Jennifer Elsier, a close friend and a medical social worker, to triage the situation. Dr. Akacha approached the car, discovering a woman named Lynn, who had been living in her car for approximately two years.

Lynn’s homelessness followed the death of her husband and declines in her own health. Living off of her social security benefits, she was able to buy food and water for her dogs but couldn’t afford gas or a new battery for her car, or much else. When Dr. Akacha first offered assistance, Lynn felt proud and pushed away the help but thenhad a change of heart and accepted.

The day Lynn met Dr. Akacha she was at her lowest point. “That morning, I made the decision that it was unfair to my dogs. I could no longer provide the care and support they needed,” she said. “My dogs are my family. I sat in my car and thought this is it. I needed to make sure they would go to a good home.”

Within one night, with the help of her neighbors, Lynn’s outlook was changed.

“I would tell anyone who needs support but doesn’t ask for it to bury their pride, put it away, and accept the help. Those who supported me do so out of the goodness of their hearts. It’s good for their souls also.”

As Dr. Akacha and Lynn became acquainted, they discovered a common bond—both had graduated from Philadelphia College of Pharmacy. Lynn Schutzman P’72 had graduated three decades before Dr. Akacha.

“I see myself in Lynn, “ said Dr. Akacha, who has had hardships of her own. “People looked at me as if I had to have it all together because I was a pharmacist, but at the time, life took me in another direction. We went through a lot of the same things in life, and I wanted to help her. Everyone has a story, and at times people hit their breaking point. I was able to put myself in her shoes.”

Akacha and her daughters with LynnDr. Akacha and Elsier rallied their Upper Merion community to raise money and gather donations to help Schutzman get back on her feet. They put her up in a motel, helped her to find a new apartment, fixed up her car, and helped to care for Schutzman’s beloved dogs, Chase and Chaucer.

“Melissa and Jennifer have such kind hearts, said Schutzman. “They said to me you are not going to spend another night living in this car, and they kept their word. We met on a Thursday, and they had me out of my car on Friday. I am so grateful.

“I’m so glad I accepted the help. I have a whole new life. I call Melissa and Jennifer my angels. God bless my angels. They had the courage to approach me and I am forever grateful. I will have their backs forever. I owe them everything.”

Dr. Akacha and her family continue to visit Schutzman throughout the week. “We are her family now, her support system. It was important she stayed close to us. Lynn went from having little support to a revolving door of friends who help her walk the dogs, provide healthy meals, and keep her company.”

“With the help of our community, we were able to change someone’s life in less than a month,” said Dr. Akacha. Dr. Akacha credits her experience in the pharmacy program with shaping her work ethic and character.

As a result of this experience, Dr. Akacha plans to help others like Schutzman in her community, one by one. In Philadelphia and the surrounding counties, there are more than 7,000 homeless individuals on a given night, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

Dr. Akacha’s efforts to help Schutzman inspired members of the USciences community to follow her example of providing support. Dr. Akacha welcomes fellow alumni to connect with her on Nexus to learn how you can continue to help Schutzman

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Categories: News, Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, Alumni, Department of Pharmacy Practice and Administration, Pharmacy, Community