By FRED KRONER
This is one of a continuing series the Mahomet Daily will publish about the ordinary men and women from the community who have done or accomplished extraordinary things in their lifetime. We encourage readers to submit nominations for other deserving individuals who deserve consideration. We are delighted to tell the stories of these persons who have contributed so much, often without the recognition they were due.
Long before Ann Paul was affiliated with Helping Hands, she used her own two hands for nearly 15 years to help on a regular basis.
The setup was drastically different in the 1970s and into the mid-1980s.
Paul and her husband, Keith, were foster parents in a program for newborns.
“We had 89 foster babies,” Ann Paul said, “sometimes two at a time. They’d come straight from the hospital.”
The children would stay in the Pauls care until arrangements were made for a more permanent placement.
“The longest I had one was for five months,” she said.
Some were in the couple’s Mahomet residence for just a few days.
“Even if you just have them for three days, you get really attached,” Ann Paul said.
The seed for the fostering idea was planted by the Paul’s daughters, Diane and Linda, who were old enough to babysit in 1971.
“They said it would be fun to foster kids,” Ann Paul said.
Paul and her husband went through the certification process, which included, she said, “an interview and fingerprinting.”
By 1986, Paul’s ailing father was requiring more attention and the couple stopped fostering infants.
“I quit to take care of my dad,” she said.
After his passing, Ann Paul still had a desire to be actively involved.
“I wanted to do something to help people,” the Monticello High School graduate said. “It seemed like God told me I should be helping somebody.
“I thought I should do this.”
‘This’ was her volunteer venture was with the Mahomet Helping Hands, an organization which can trace its origins in the community to 1983 when a group of women at the Mahomet United Methodist Church started it.
It didn’t take long before Paul was chosen as vice-president, a position she held for two years.
In 1996, she became President, replacing Hilda Kimble Pfiester.
“They said President for life,” Paul said. “I think they mean it.
Twenty-two years later, the soon-to-be 83-year-old maintains the same title.
“It makes me feel good, that they still want me.,” Paul said.
In 2015, her husband died eight days after their 60th wedding anniversary.
Helping Hands became more than helping others.
“It keeps me busy and I can do it when I want to,” Paul said. “That has helped me. It keeps you active and your mind occupied.
“It gives me satisfaction.”
The former Ann Dickerson met her future husband while working in Mahomet as a waitress at Daisy’s Cafe (now Circle K).
“He worked for Philippe Brothers (construction) and would ask for ‘a cup of mud,’ “ Ann Paul recalled.
It took several tries before she agreed to a date.
“He wanted me to go square dancing, but I didn’t know how and kept saying, ‘no’ “ she said.
Finally, Keith Paul changed his approach.
“Our first date was to a movie,” she said.
One person who has been involved with Helping Hands throughout Paul’s tenure is Mahomet’s Bob Quinlan.
“You don’t talk about people being an angel too often, but that fits her to a ‘T’ “ Quinlan said.
“Quiet and humble. Even-natured, very unassuming. She’s a woman who never thinks of herself first. She is a consummate ‘caring about others’ person.
“She listens to suggestions. She doesn’t always have to have it her way.”
Donations are accepted at the Helping Hands office the second Saturday of each month, from 9-11:30 a.m. Giveaways take place the third Saturday of each month from 9-11:30 a.m. as well as the Thursday following the third Saturday, from 6-7 p.m.
“You have to like people to do this,” Paul said. “It’s take what you want. You don’t pay for anything.
“It gives me a good feeling helping people.”
Approximately 75 area families take advantage of Helping Hands offerings each month.
A network of volunteers is in place to provide assistance. Various churches and civic groups send helpers on certain dates. Mahomet-Seymour High School’s Interact Club also helps.
“People from about every organization in town rotate and are willing to give up a Saturday now and then,” Quinlan said.
Despite the variety of new faces that clients may see from month to month, there’s one that’s a regular: Ann Paul.
“Ann is someone the clients trust,” Quinlan said. “Sometimes someone will bring a thank you, but it’s usually verbal.
“There’s no financial reward. It’s totally paying forward for the community and the needy.”
A Mahomet resident since 1957, Paul estimates that she devotes 20-plus hours a week to Helping Hands.
“That’s if I want to,” she said. “If you don’t work (elsewhere), you can do a better job at this.”
Among her duties are cleaning, stocking shelves, calling volunteers to confirm scheduling and taking down clothing that will be transitioned elsewhere, usually to the Salvation Army or Salt and Light Ministry.
Though she is originally from White Heath, Ann Paul has become attached to Mahomet.
“It’s a giving, caring community,” she said. “We have so many donations and without them, we couldn’t do this.”
The biggest change during her years with Helping Hands, she said, is the level of the community’s involvement.
“We used to worry about having enough food,” Ann Paul said, “but we haven’t had trouble (lately) having enough.”
Thanks to the generous donations, Paul estimates that Helping Hands is able to purchase between 2,000 and 3,000 pounds of food each month.
“If we need something, and get the word out, we’d have it,” Paul said. “It’s running so smoothly.”
Paul hasn’t committed to how much longer she will serve, though she acknowledged that 25 years could be a goal.
“It’s hard to say, but it depends on my health, and this is what keeps me healthy,” she said.
Quinlan said Paul’s role has changed only slightly over the years.
“She went from child care to taking care of adults as she grew older,” Quinlan said.
Paul doesn’t have a shortage of other activities.
“I like gardening and I love to work outside,” she said.
And, her five grandchildren have produced a total of seven great-grandchildren, whom she enjoys following in their various endeavors.
The Mahomet she knew six decades ago has changed considerably.
“Then, you knew everybody,” she said. “Now I don’t know anybody hardly.”
The flip side is not true, of course.
“Everybody knows me I think, and my number,” Ann Paul said.
She can be reached through the Helping Hands contact number, 217-586-3392.