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Search The Fig Tree's stories of people who make a difference:

Jesuit volunteer does not let his blindness inhibit his ability to assist people

 

Technology makes it possible for David Paullin to serve others.

Working with Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest (JVCNW) and AmeriCorps as emergency financial assistance coordinator with Catholic Charities Spokane, David Paullin understands the people who come to see him for assistance in paying part of their rent, utilities or transportation.

After graduating from Gonzaga University with a bachelor’s degree in history in 2007, he worked on Capitol Hill as a U.S. Senate student intern.  From 2009 to 2010, he worked as a National Mall and Memorial Parks guide.  While David was growing up, he lived near Sacramento.

David spent four years living with his parents in Sheridan, Wyo., and applying for jobs.  He understands desperation, because he experienced it as he received rejection letters or no response.

Because he was born with a genetic syndrome that leads to blindness, few employers wanted to hire him.  They were unsure how someone with such a disability could work for them.  He uses a cane when walking and has adaptive technology to help him work.

At a 2013 Gonzaga University Day in Billings, he met former Jesuit volunteers who encouraged him to apply for Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest and Americorps.  In 2014, he was placed in Spokane at Catholic Charities.  He will earn an Americorps education award after completing 1,700 hours and two capacity-building projects. 

“The JVC program involves a commitment to simple living, community, work on social and ecological justice, and spiritual reflection,” David said.

Rob McCann, executive director of Catholic Charities Spokane (CCS)  and Scott Cooper, director of parish social ministries, are his supervisors.

“They figured either it would be a great success story or a failure.  They were open to the Holy Spirit,” David said.  “They give me support and encouragement.”

It has gone well, and he is staying for a second year.

David trained with the Washington Department of Services for the Blind and Lilac Services for the Blind, which provided adaptive computer technology, a bluetooth headset, a Braille note taker and a digital tape recorder.

He has access to assistive technology and programs such as screen readers to convert text to speech.  He listens to everything on forms being read to him.  CCS redesigned its client database with tabs, so he can use keystroke commands to create, delete and search for client files.

Catholic Charities can assist someone only once every 12 months, so David needs to look up the clients’ records to find out when they last received assistance.

“It’s an opportunity to meet people where they are in life, in all conditions,” he said.

David sees 10 to 12 walk-ins a day and handles 20 to 80 calls a day for emergency assistance with rent, utilities and transportation.

“I see people with troubles from loss of jobs and income, separation or divorces, and living on fixed incomes.  Some are just coming out of the hospital, don’t budget well or fall on hard times,” he said.  “I see a gamut of men and women with or without children, all struggling.

“Stories I hear on the phone or in person are humbling and heart-breaking.  It makes me realize things aren’t so bad for me.  I have a strong sense of gratitude for all life brings me each day,” he said.

David is grateful for benefactors and donors in parishes and other Christian churches who give the funds he distributes each month.

“Our job is to be good stewards with limited funds,” he said.

Varying each month based on donations, he has $2,000 to $4,000 to allocate to clients.  He is able to help 175 to 225 people a month.  He estimated he served 2,300 people as of July 31.

David believes the community needs more rent assistance, because churches and agencies struggle to offer that service.

“We need to look at root causes for why there are so many homeless youth and families,” he said.

With funds limited, he might offer $100 for rent if the tenant makes financial arrangements for payments with the landlord.

“The goal of rental assistance is to keep people in the rental unit and to prevent homelessness,” he said.  “The client needs to have a plan in place.”

Other local agencies that offer limited rent assistance are the Department of Social and Health Services, St. Vincent de Paul and the Salvation Army.

He also disperses partial assistance on utilities or half the cost of a bus or train ticket up to $75.  He must confirm that the client will be met and have a place to stay, so they do not move to be homeless in another city.

“It’s a tough job,” David said.  “There are hard calls to make.  Sometimes the answer is yes and sometimes it is no.  If it’s no, we refer the person to other funding options among our partners.”

From July to October, funds are lean.  Charitable giving gears up in November and is strong through April or early May.

Catholic since birth, David said his faith teaches him that “we need to walk with people, lending human dignity, seeing the human condition and treating people with care, concern and respect.

“We walk with people through struggles and allow space for the Holy Spirit,” he said.  “Even if we do not have funds, we need to care for people, because we are to love our neighbors as ourselves.”

David appreciates Catholic Charities’ motto:  “Need not creed.”  Scott told him that Catholic Charities does not serve people because they are Catholic but because “we are Catholic.”

Some are surprised he is blind.

“Many clients, angry about their situations, see me as someone they can relate to, so they don’t yell,” he observed.  “They see some of their brokenness in me.  Many are grateful to be seen by someone who cares, listens and is present.”

David hopes he changes people’s ideas about what it means to be blind, breaking down expectations about what a blind person can do.

“It’s hard for some to think that a blind person can take charge of his life with self reliance,” he said.

“This job is an opportunity to learn I can move forward in my life,” he said.  “It has meant the world to me to help people and have the support of staff.  It’s a great opportunity after so many said ‘no’ to me.”

After this year, David plans to go to graduate school to earn master’s degrees in social work and nonprofit leadership.

In 1956, Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest was founded to serve Native Americans, and poor and marginalized people in Alaska, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Oregon. In the region, 148 volunteers served this year.

For information, call 456-2253 or email dpaullin@ccspokane.org.





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