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Meet Paul Downey of Serving Seniors

Today we’d like to introduce you to Paul Downey.

Paul, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I grew up in a suburban middle class family and only knew about poverty from the news and college classes, but I had never seen the physical, mental and emotional toll of living in poverty until I started volunteering at Serving Seniors in 1986 while working in the Mayor’s Office. The visceral impact of speaking with seniors who literally did not know where they would sleep that night or where their next meal might come from profoundly changed me. I was inspired by the stories of perseverance and hope despite the odds from people who had not caught many breaks in their lives.

In 1995, I became aware that Serving Seniors was looking for a President/CEO. My volunteer experience had made me passionate about the mission and, fortunately, the Board hired me. Now, 22 years later, we have been able to grow the organization into a nationally recognized non-profit helping San Diego’s poorest seniors. My role has evolved also into a staunch advocate for seniors at both the national and state levels.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
The biggest struggle for a non-profit like Serving Seniors is raising enough money to meet the increasing demand for our services. We are reliant on the generosity of donors to pay for our innovative programs that literally save and change the lives of our seniors.

Serving Seniors – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
Serving Seniors is a San Diego based nonprofit with a national and international reputation for providing impactful programs and services to older adults living in poverty. Serving Seniors is supported primarily by donations, grants, bequests and investments.

Our staff, board and volunteers believe each and every person is worthy of respect and dignity. Our goal is to provide seniors life sustaining services in a welcoming and supportive environment where they can get the help they need.

Since 1970, Serving Seniors has been transforming the aging experience through our innovative approach to providing comprehensive services. Our method has earned national recognition as a model for helping seniors remain healthy and independent. We’re the only organization in San Diego, and one of the few in the United States, that provides such a broad base of vital services to vulnerable, at-risk older adults.

More than 85% of our clients live below the Federal Poverty Level and struggle to meet basic needs, living on an average income of $948/month and paying $750 in rent, leaving just a few dollars a day to pay for food, medication, transportation and other expenses.

Our programs and services are provided to our senior clients free of charge.

Programs & Services:

  • Meals – nearly 600,000/year
  • Affordable senior housing
  • Homeless outreach, support and transitional housing
  • Social services, case management and support
  • Local and national advocacy on behalf of seniors
  • Learning, socialization and fitness opportunities
  • Health and wellness services

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
There have been many proud moments. But what I will always remember are the intimate one-on-one moments with a senior who thanks me — often accompanied by tears — for the help provided by Serving Seniors that saved their life. I never forget that we are in the people-helping business.


  • $10,000 provides 4 month of rent and case management services for 3 seniors in transitional housing program
  • $5,000 provides 2,000 hot meals
  • $2,500 provides 100 social work visits
  • $1,000 provides 25 nursing visits
  • $500 provides 200 hot meals

Contact Info:

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