Campus Community / People of SU

Staying the Course

Written by Allison Nitch

September 21, 2020

Image of people volunteering with a quote superimposed over the photo.

Image credit: Yosef Chaim Kalinko

Nonprofit leader Gary Davis, '10 MNPL, embraces change while supporting communities.

Infused with Jesuit-based values, the nonprofit Companis focuses on creating healthy communities by matching skilled volunteers with local organizations. 

Gary Davis, ’10 MNPL, former Companis volunteer-turned executive director and board member, says his team is learning and growing during these unprecedented times with COVID-19.

“Our core values are in service, community, compassion, inclusion and reflection,” says Davis. “Reflection is the tool put into action to inform our approach to loving our neighbor, as we would love ourselves. Companis recognizes individuals are on a journey that brings new awareness, challenges, triumphs and unexpected turns.”

Serving as Companis’ executive director since 2014, Davis is responsible for operations and fiscal management, along with guiding all program direction, outreach and resource development.

Being an agency that loves togetherness, becoming fully virtual in response to COVID-19 hasn’t been easy. “Our first challenge was to bring all of our volunteer support programs online,” he says. “We’ve increased the frequency of our meetings, along with multiple learning and connection opportunities.”

Davis and his team also discovered advantages, such as more frequent communication and extra time to plan new learning opportunities, including workshops in health and well-being in the Black community, civil rights programs, healthy boundary-setting, secondary trauma and more.

“We’re learning different ways to help each other and communities during these stressful times.”

Companis strengthens nonprofit capacity in the Puget Sound region by providing free or affordable professional help through its talented and committed volunteers. Areas of focus include homeless prevention and support, physical and behavioral health care access and services, and providing community for refugees, immigrants, seniors, youth and LGBTQ+ neighbors.

In its 26-year history, Companis has worked with dozens of Seattle U students. While it’s not an internship program, “our model allows for great flexibility for students across the spectrum to be directly engaged in social justice causes, direct service work and career building,” notes Davis.

Each applicants’ service or personal goals are matched with a nonprofit that needs specific skills and talents. Schedules and commitments are closely considered in fashioning a service opportunity that works for both the individual and the agency.

Before Companis and Seattle U, Davis was at a career juncture in 2004. As a public radio journalist and an activist in civil affairs and LGBTQ civil rights, he knew he wanted to do something to help his First Hill neighbors living without homes. “I learned about Companis when I met founding director, Craig Darling. ... It offered the opportunity to serve my neighbors and be supported as a worker volunteer through its reflection-based program.”

Davis was first placed as a volunteer with the former Interfaith Hospitality Network of Seattle in communications and program administration, followed by a second placement with Boomtown Café in development and communications. After volunteering for a total of three years, Davis returned to public radio.

Following much personal reflection and speaking with mentors, Davis realized his life calling in public service. “My road to Seattle U had many guides,” he says. Davis’ husband, Rod Shutt, ’07, ’09 MPA, was his first introduction to the university and Jesuit education. “Witnessing Rod’s experience firsthand made me feel Seattle U was also right for me,” Davis says.

Then another fateful meeting occurred—crossing paths with Mike Bisesi, EdD, the late MNPL program director, which moved Davis to apply to the program.

Says Davis, “Mike was interviewed for a KPLU story about the local nonprofit community. His passion for the sector shined throughout the conversation. He handed me the MNPL brochure as he left the station and encouraged me to talk with him and check out the program. A few months later, I was in school for the first time since 1986.”

Davis considers the MNPL program “life-changing for me, by offering many salient skills in organizational management, resource development and community building. My MNPL cohort is one from which I continue to derive strength, support and inspiration.”