Paul and Susan Helo are seniors living in Ashland doing what they have waited on for many years — and that’s to retire. However, their definition of retirement following their working years is far from the explanation in Webster’s Dictionary. They now live in a world of volunteering their time in the service of others.
Born in Louisiana in 1946, Paul once had aspirations of becoming a Catholic priest. After a few years of religious studies, he left the world of Catholicism in favor of joining the workforce and having the freedom of dating along with the possibility of choosing to marry and raise a family.
“In 1973, I moved to Colorado to accept a position as a correctional officer at the FCI Englewood Federal security prison in Denver,” Paul said. “Two years later, I graduated from the University of Denver with a master’s degree in social work and started looking through the computer for job openings as a prison social worker. I never dreamed that I would receive a response from Ashland, Kentucky.”
Within weeks, Paul was interviewed and subsequently hired as a case worker at the Federal Correctional Institution in Ashland — a town he had never heard of until two weeks prior. The majority of his job responsibilities were group counseling sessions and educational planning for new inmates. He stayed in this position until his first retirement in 1997.
“Not being totally comfortable with retirement, I went to work as a social worker at King’s Daughters Hospital in Ashland,” Paul said. “My second retirement came nearly 20 years later in January 2016.”
Unlike her husband, Susan had moved to Ashland from Marlinton, West Virginia, where she grew up and graduated from Concord College (now University).
Years later, she was introduced to Paul with help from friends who thought they seemed naturally compatible. Their friends must have been correct because that introduction eventually led to a marriage that has lasted more than 26 years so far. This was a second marriage for both and, according to Susan, it’s going much better the second time around. There are grown children from both previous marriages.
“After graduating from Concord, I began teaching at Collins Career Center on Route 243 in Chesapeake, Ohio,” Susan said. “I stayed home for one year after retiring from the career center and decided I was too young to stop working. I just wasn’t getting the good feeling I thought retirement was supposed to produce. I missed staying busy.”
Susan found her second job at Valley Health Systems in Huntington working with women and children as a nutritionist. She retired again in 2015. At the time, Paul’s second retirement was a few months away, so they began discussing areas where they might like to volunteer their time.
“Right about the time Susan had retired from Valley Health, the Cannonsburg home of my son and daughter-in-law was totally destroyed by fire,” Paul said. “With three small children, their lives were devastated. After we saw firsthand the swift, compassionate outpouring of support provided by the Red Cross, we knew where we were going to volunteer.”
For more than five years now, the combined weekly time volunteered by this couple with the Red Cross averages between 30 to 40 hours. They both agree their retirement years are now the best years of their life.
“Helping with blood drives is just one area we are involved with,” Susan said. “Project Sound the Alarm gets us involved with families by installing smoke detectors in people’s homes free of charge. This service also provides the opportunity to discover any unsafe living conditions in the home. Pillowcase Project is another service I’m involved with that primarily deals with kids by helping them cope with the disrupted lifestyle brought on by disasters in the home.”
Paul, as you might suspect, deals with mental counseling for families involved with everything from floods to fires. Another area he supports involves air travel to military installations to conduct workshops.
“Resiliency Training for military families is part of an agreement between the American Red Cross and the Armed Forces,” Paul said. “It involves life skills, anger, depression and issues with family separation during times of deployment. Both my mother and father were in the military, and I’m aware firsthand of the problems with family separation.”
“It’s the satisfying feeling we get by the expressions on the faces of those we help,” Susan said. “Volunteering to help others in need not only makes the world a better place, it make you a better person.”