WORK LIFE PROFILE
A deep commitment
Published: Monday, January 13, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 13, 2003 at 12:35 a.m.
PROFILE: GWAIN DAVIS, executive director of the Gainesville office of Catholic Charities Bureau Inc.
After spending time at the University of Florida, the Alachua County school system and Gainesville's recreation department, Davis landed the job as executive director at Catholic Charities in June 2002. He wasn't unfamiliar with the organization, having served for four years on its local board of directors, but Davis has discovered that it's also the right fit for his career.
"I really think the best jobs are the ones you're not looking for, the ones that come to you," said Davis, 48. "That's what happened here."
Davis came to Gainesville in 1995 after 14 years at the University of Minnesota, where he was in charge of the school's sport clubs program. He took an identical post at UF, where he managed the operations for about 40 sport clubs, which travel and compete regularly against other schools.
He left UF in 2000 and started work as a substitute teacher in the local school system. It was in the schools where Davis said he first took note of the needs of Alachua County's underprivileged families.
"I met a lot of young kids who were having trouble getting along," he said. "It was an eye-opener, and being from Chicago, I've seen how bad it can be for some people."
Davis then took a job as supervisor of after-school programs at Gainesville's recreation department. He worked at various neighborhood activity centers for about one year, and was eventually encouraged to apply for the vacant executive director's job at Catholic Charities.
Davis admitted he's still getting settled into the job after about seven months, but he's enjoying the work.
"It's amazing how many people out there are just barely getting by," he said. "I know it sounds cliched, but it's the best job I've ever had. Our attitude is to solve the problem that got the person here, and at the end of the day, it's good to know that we've made an impact on people's lives."
The Gainesville division of Catholic Charities covers a 10-county region that includes Alachua, Bradford, Columbia, Dixie, Gilchrist, Hamilton, Lafayette, Levy, Suwannee and Union counties. Davis also supervises offices in Lake City and High Springs in the local network.
The non-profit organization operates on an annual budget of about $800,000, which is supported primarily through the national Diocese of St. Augustine. Although the name might suggest it, assistance from Catholic Charities is not devoted strictly to people of that religious denomination.
Davis' office also receives financial support from private donations and acts as a member agency of the United Way of Alachua County. Through those contributions, Davis said Catholic Charities is able to commit nearly 90 percent of its budget to programs and services for those in need.
"I think Gwain is working out just great," said Jan Zak, program director for United Way's information referral in Alachua County. "It seems that he has earned the respect of his staff right away. It's a comfort to know that someone has such a deep, personal care of people. Gwain's commitment runs very deep."
Catholic Charities' main programs offer financial assistance for rent and utility bills for needy families and individuals. Clients must provide a "disconnect" notice for utilities or a notice of pending eviction in order to qualify for assistance.
Gainesville Regional Utilities provides an average monthly stipend of $300 to help with the utility program, and Catholic Charities staff members often negotiate with landlords to give clients some time to pay their rent bills. Catholic Charities also operates a food pantry and has a "clothes closet" for those in need of clothing.
The local bureau helps about 30,000 people a year, Davis said, but there are thousands more in the 10-county region who probably qualify for help. A staff of 11 full-time employees work at the bureau's office on NE 9th Street in Gainesville, and Davis said he'd like to see the numbers grow in the future.
Staff members provide counseling on maternity, family matters and divorce. The local bureau is also a licensed child-placing agency that can assist parents with the adoption process, and because of the scope of Catholic Charities' overall operations, Davis is more of a chief executive officer than a social worker.
"When this bureau started in 1975, there were probably three people working here," Davis said. "We run it more like a business today, and we have to as the population grows around us. We definitely want to reach out to more people."
Joe Coombs can be reached at (352) 338-3102 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
found a perfect fit
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