David Ekin

David Ekin shaking hands with John Mitchell as he receives the Lifetime Achievement Award
David Ekin shaking hands with John Mitchell as he receives the Lifetime Achievement Award

Dave was the President of the Board of the National Council of Private Agencies for the Blind and Visually Impaired (NCPABVI) from 2001-2004 . 

Back then NCPABVI was a loosy-goosy volunteer led organization, so whoever was President of the Board also was a full-time Executive Director of a blindness organization.  At the first meeting he presided over, he told us that he believed NCPABVI’s members could be the leaders of the field because together we held the power and knowledge to influence policy, improve services, and communicate with the public.  Dave recommended that the members participate in a strategic planning process, which they agreed to.  It took place at the next 2 or 3 NCPABVI meetings.  Dave was absolutely phenomenal during the process as it was important to him that every single member was given a voice. 

Dave made sure that those who could afford to come to meetings weren’t the only voices heard and the only opinions considered.  He spent considerable time connecting and talking to everyone – small and large organizational leaders – those at meetings and those who had never attended a meeting.  The overwhelming outcome of the planning process was that members knew that NCPABVI needed to professionalize – to apply for 501(c)(3) status, hire an executive director, and set up an office.  Dues back then were $150 (give or take a few bucks) for every member no matter the size of the organization.  $150 from 50 members wasn’t going to pay for staff or an office, so Dave was very thoughtful and inclusive (once again) in trying to figure out how much dues should be.  After much discussion by a committee and with members, Dave proposed raising dues big time and that dues be paid upon budget size.  Every member was going to see a dues increase, but the middle and large sized agencies were going to see the biggest increase – from $150/annually to upwards of $2,000/annually. Not one member dropped their membership!   In addition, Dave asked every member to consider contributing to a start-up fund so the administrative person could be hired right away.  He started the fund with $1,000, and 35 (plus or minus) additional members contributed $1,000!  With money in hand to hire someone, Dave then offered to host NCPABVI’s office at his agency’s building in St. Louis, donating furniture, computer, telephone, and access to the copier, FAX machine and his staff.  Dave is the reason NCPAB

David Ekin delivering a speech after receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award
David Ekin delivering a speech after receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award

VI professionalized and grew, and became the VisionServe Alliance we know today!  And his in-kind donation of office space is why VisionServe Alliance is headquartered in St. Louis.  As they say .. And the rest is history.  

Dave’s national influence at AER, creating ACVREP, and professionalizing NCPABVI into VisionServe Alliance are all important reasons why David is so deserving of VisionServe’s Lifetime Achievement Award.  And also, how he took his agency the St. Louis Society for the Blind from a small little thing to a multi-million-dollar budget and one of the leading Low Vision Clinics in the country! 

AER- As the Treasurer Dave, negotiated with AFB to make JVIB an AER member benefit.

It was the AER Board that “invented” ACVREP – at the time, AER had a “certification” process that was so simple that it didn’t really verify expertise or knowledge. 

Dave was a big part of knowing that to make the World aware of our vision professionals and the services we provide, that there had to be a way to assure that World that vision rehabilitation therapists, O&Mers, and low vision therapists were deserving of respect and that was to test their knowledge.  ACREP was invented. 

Successes at the St. Louis Society for the Blind. 

. David has served on the Boards of MacMurray College, the National Vision Rehabilitation Network, the Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals, the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Impaired, the Association for Education & Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired, and as President of the VisionServe Alliance.

For 25 years, David Ekin led for this Society and for the blind and visually impaired individuals it serves. From 1994, when he originally was recruited, to the present, the Society has increased its services to its clients from $400,000 per year to over $2,000,000 per year. The Society now serves more than 1500 individuals with low-vision assistance through the Drews Low Vision Clinic, rehabilitation, mobility, technology, and other training that clients can access.

David’s commitment to the visually challenged began almost as soon as he left The Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in 1984. He immediately began his career at the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired while serving as an instructor in Social Work at MacMurray College. After briefly moving to Los Angeles to work for the Foundation for the Junior Blind, he was recruited back to St Louis to become the CEO of the Delta Gamma Center where he was able to improve the fiscal health of the organization and to incorporate community members into the governance structure.

In 1994, our Society for the Blind and Visually Impaired lured him away from Delta Gamma to become the tenth CEO of our organization and has now become our longest-serving director. In the past quarter-century, he has implemented school-age services to area school districts, developed a relationship with the university of Missouri St Louis School of Optometry to expand Low Vision Clinic services, overseen development and implantation of the first and subsequent Strategic Plans, implemented outcome measures for programs and services, hired the first Development Director to address the need for more diverse funding sources, assisted in implementation of a more robust grant writing program that has garnered increased funding for Society services, worked with the Board of Directors to implement a term limits policy, improved Board recruitment, and reduced the dollar amount used from investments for annual operating costs by finding other funding sources.

But it will be his relationships with all levels of partners in this enterprise that will be hard to duplicate. He has established rapport with clients, staff, Board, and donors – a difficult, if not impossible feat. His responsiveness to multiple challenges, from leaking rooves to unexpected bequests, from downturns in the market and reduction in the endowment to loss of personnel has been upbeat, friendly, and optimistic with solutions found. All for the sake of helping those with visual impairments!

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