Paul Feuerstein

New York, NY

“The number one issue facing women with disabilities nationwide is domestic abuse.”

I am an Episcopal priest who served in the Diocese of New York and also at St. Alban’€™s School in Washington, DC.

When my first wife left me, it was a wake-up call. My work was a “demanding mistress.€” In the middle of family life, if somebody had an emergency, or committed suicide, I’d have to drop everything and minister to someone in crisis.

I was eventually laid off from my job, lost all my belongings in a robbery and struggled to find work while living with a friend. I developed a keen sense of what it’s like to go from being OK to not OK overnight in our society.

That led me to my primary career in working with people with disabilities. I became associate director of a program for newly disabled people. The program’€™s funding was cut at the beginning of the “Reagan Revolution.” People would roll into our storefront in wheelchairs saying, “I have been discharged from a hospital today. I have no place to go.”€ It was a byproduct of the same cuts that led to our defunding. I moved from associate to executive director of a new agency called Barrier Free Living. I developed transitional housing for severely disabled people and have placed hundreds of people with disabilities into permanent housing.

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What’s your encore story? Share it now.

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My “encore”€ work is expanding our focus into assisting disabled victims of domestic violence with emergency and permanent barrier-free housing.

Thirty years ago, I had no clue that the #1 issue facing women with disabilities nationwide is domestic abuse. Once I realized that the city had no services for this population, I worked to build a totally accessible domestic violence shelter for severely disabled women and their children, as well as victims who had children with disabilities.

It took us years of advocacy to get our shelter. I was 58 when we opened our shelter. I’m 68 now. I spent over a year in the Bronx looking for property and couldn’t find anything. Someone said: “Why don’t you try Manhattan?” I did, and by the grace of God, I found a property in northern Manhattan that had just been transferred to the city, destined to become a parking lot.

Now our shelter is the first in the U.S. that is totally accessible, and the only shelter with occupational therapy as part of its services. Our newest project opened in 2015 is 120 units of supportive housing for survivors of domestic violence, 50 units for families and 70 studios for single individuals.

I’ve long looked at my job as an opportunity for innovation. I see myself as a not-for-profit entrepreneur. I would say to others with entrepreneurial experience in the corporate world: Look at the gaps in services found in your community. It can be extremely satisfying to fill them and leave one’™s footprints on this world, leaving a legacy for people with disabilities that would not have been there. Just look at the possibility and the freedom of being retired as the potential for trying out other things.