Rancho Santa Fe couple helps San Diego Rescue Mission graduates through internship program

Elaine and Paul Newkirk

After purchasing four houses near 17th and Market streets, Rancho Santa Fe residents Paul and Elaine Newkirk had to remove homeless individuals from the properties. Paul said it was an “uncomfortable” experience for everyone involved.

“We can’t just move these people from one place to another,” said Paul, a real estate developer. “As Christians, Jesus’ imperative was to reach out to the poor, mainly.”

After connecting with the nonprofit San Diego Rescue Mission, he decided to create an internship program at his downtown gas station for graduates of the men’s center at the rescue mission. The center offers a 12-month recovery program that teaches vocational skills and other classes, in addition to helping attendees overcome mental health issues or other problems they’ve faced. The paid internship gives them a chance to learn how to operate the pumps, perform some maintenance on the car wash, stock shelves and learn customer service skills.

So far, one out of three graduates from the program has successfully completed the internship. A fourth intern, who has been furloughed due to the novel coronavirus outbreak, has so far excelled in the position, Paul and Elaine said. After successfully completing the six months, Paul gives them a letter of recommendation and helps them find a job.

“I’m hoping at least one out of three would work,” Paul said. “I’d like to see 100%, but it’s not easy.”

He added that spending more time with the interns, getting to know them on a more personal level, helps them acclimate to the position.

“I’ve learned I have to take that time,” Paul said. “If I’m going to do this right then I’ve got to expend a certain amount of time.”

The Newkirks first met Donnie Dee, president and CEO of the rescue mission, after a church sermon one day after moving the homeless individuals off their new properties and saw an opportunity.

Dee called the internship program “another great opportunity for our students on their path to rehabilitation and recovery.”

“Everyone knows our city has a homeless problem,” he said via email. “If everybody does something, I believe we can change the state of homelessness in San Diego. Thankful for couples like Paul and Elaine Newkirk who are part of the solution.”

Elaine also saw a chance to gather family, friends and neighbors to volunteer at the mission. In addition to the men’s center, the rescue mission also has a women and children’s center, which focuses on making sure children receive proper schooling and other family-oriented services.

“I went on a tour of the mission and saw that there were opportunities there,” Elaine said.

She added that “friends and family get to see what a great opportunity this is.” After touring the facility, she said, it raises their awareness of the organization’s work. Volunteers typically perform tasks such as organizing the “shopping room,” which provides basic necessities to families in need, as well as serving food.

“There’s just a variety of things people can do, and a lot of people wrote checks to be able to get the new bathrooms that are needed and the new family centers that are needed,” Elaine said.

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