Vt. College Student Donates 1/3 of Pay to Help Neighbors: ‘It Just Feels Really Good'

Painting With Purpose has a business model that helps people experiencing homelessness move into secure housing

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A college student in Vermont is putting an uncommon twist on a fairly common summer job: painting houses.

Zach Dunn, a rising senior at the University of Vermont, is actually giving away a big part of his paycheck.

“I think it's just a more fulfilling way of running business,” Dunn said Wednesday while working at a job site in Williston, scraping old paint from a historic barn.

Dunn recently launched a new enterprise with a business partner. Called Painting With Purpose, the operation sends a third of its profits to the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity to support people looking to break the cycle of homelessness.

“It just feels really good to have a business with a purpose other than profiting,” Dunn said.

Painting With Purpose
Painting With Purpose

The money raised will help folks with security deposits, first month’s rent and other move-in costs, said Paul Dragon, the executive director of CVOEO.

“When Zach thrives, a person experiencing homelessness thrives,” Dragon noted.

Dragon called it inspirational to witness Dunn’s pledge to give 33% of proceeds from Painting With Purpose to people seeking housing. He added it is an especially critical gift, considering the housing crisis in the Burlington area and beyond.

“This is really a dark time in our country, I think – a very hard time,” Dragon said. “And to be approached by a UVM student, you know, who is really heartfelt and wants to give back, my ears perked up immediately.”

Spectrum Youth & Family Services has its largest annual fundraiser this Friday night, with some help with a group that commits to being cold for the cause.

CVOEO said Painting With Purpose recently made a roughly $1,800 gift, its first, which the agency will distribute to people seeking permanent housing. The partnership is expected to grow in future months, the company and CVOEO said. The company is booked until September, Dunn noted.

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Jeff Flores said he knows just how impactful the painters’ gift will be. He once lived on the streets in Chicago, he said, and credited CVOEO with helping him find a safe and secure housing situation.

“Not many people think that way,” Flores said of Dunn’s 33% donation pledge. “That's your money, you earned it. But he's doing it because he loves the community he's in.”

A historic barn being repainted by Painting With Purpose in Vermont on Wednesday, June 29, 2022.
A historic barn being repainted by Painting With Purpose in Vermont on Wednesday, June 29, 2022.

The concept seems to be a hit with customers, too. The owner of a historic barn where the Painting With Purpose crew was working Wednesday said she picked the contractors because of their commitment to uplifting the community.

“If we can help, in even a minor way change one person – two people's lives – it makes a difference,” Dunn said.

The student said he got the idea for his business through a class at UVM that focused on social entrepreneurship.

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