Volunteers 'do it all' at local hospital

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By Lisa King

Helen Poole is everywhere.

If she isn't running a bake sale, she is collecting money for a silent auction, organizing a fundraiser or bustling around the coffee shop at Jewish Hospital Shelbyville, where she is beginning her 13th year as a volunteer.

She laughed when asked about the last time she worked at the coffee shop.

"I spilled coffee all over my feet," she chuckled.

Though one could see Poole anywhere at the hospital, her main job is working in the human resources office and at the coffee shop. In addition, she has been treasurer of the JLS Volunteer Axillary for the past eight years.

"What do I do here? Well, let's see," Poole reflected, leaning back in her chair in her small but cozy office surrounded by filing cabinets, and presided over by a cuddly teddy bear perched on her desk.

"I file, and make copies, and answer the phone, and I just do a lot of odd jobs."

Holly Husband, public relations director at JHS, said that Poole is being too modest about her "odd jobs."

"Helen is one of the hardest working treasurers I have every seen," Husband said. "She is our chief fundraiser, and we count on her expertise to manage activities."

The hospital usually has a variety of activities going on, and Poole is usually there, Husband said.

"When we had our women's event on Tuesday night, Helen was right there, running the cash drawer, and taking money for the silent auction," she said. "It just seems that whenever there's an event, we count on Helen because she is one of our most dependable and faithful volunteers."

In addition to volunteering at the hospital, Poole still works in her flower garden and is active in her church, Buffalo Lick Baptist in Bagdad.

Poole said that after she retired from the Department of Military Affairs in Frankfort, she found herself with some time on her hands. She had lived alone since losing her husband in 1990, and after retiring, she took a cue from her sister, who was already doing some volunteer work.

Now, she and her two sisters, Willena Marion and Ann Harmon, all three volunteer at Jewish Hospital.

"We call them, 'the sisters,'" Husband said, laughing. "It's a really neat thing to have three sisters here--it's so great to have them all here with us!"

Husband calls all of the sisters "high-hour folks."

Poole put in 605 hours last year, and Willena contributed 1,500.

"We have some who can't volunteer a great number of hours, like they do, but we are appreciative of every hour that a volunteer serves," Husband said. "We really depend on them."

Cindy Stewart Rattray, director for Human Resources, agrees.

"Two years ago, I had to be off on surgical leave, and then Andrea had to be off, and I'm telling you, there were days when it was just Helen," she said. "I felt confident leaving Helen in charge. She is exceptional."

In May, volunteers the nation over will be honored during National Volunteer Week, which was created in 1974 when President Richard Nixon signed an executive order to establish the week as an annual celebration of volunteering. Some volunteers, like Poole, even have some health problems themselves.

"I've had some medical problems, but around here, you always see people in a whole lot worse shape than you are," she said. "You just want to do what you can to help."

Rattray, who gave Poole the Teddy bear which graces her desk, said the hospital has 50 volunteers, who contributed a total of 8,499 hours last year.

"If it were not for our volunteers, we would have to hire four full-time employees," Rattray said.

"When I think 'volunteer,' I think of Helen. She just makes all the difference in the world. And what a difference it makes to have her here in this office! She is a gift and a blessing."

Poole's son, Ron Poole, who lives in Bagdad, agreed that his mother is a very giving person.

"Helping people is awful important to her," he said. "And she's real important to me, and I don't show her how I feel the way I should. It's so hard to find time to do the things I have to do as a farmer, and I am always so busy. I know she knows that, but I wish I had more time to spend with her."

Helen Poole has this advice for people who are considering becoming a volunteer:

"The most important thing is to find something that you like to do," she said. "And if you like being around people, just being helpful will make all the difference in the world."