When Eileen Pannell took over Sacred Heart Parish's Caring Community more than a decade ago, she was given two simple rules: Don't promise what you can't deliver and what you do for one, you do for all.
As she started overseeing the Lewisburg-based parish outreach, she added one rule of her own for the nearly 100 volunteers she works with: Don't worry if this isn't the assignment for you, you'll know the right one when it comes along.
Following those three simple ideals has led Pannell to perhaps the widest-ranging nomination for The Daily Item's people Who Made a Difference in 2019. When Holly Morgan, a parishioner at Sacred Heart, nominated Pannell for the recognition, she had sent a list of 11 ways Pannell changes lives for the better.
They ranged from setting up rides for parishioners to get to Mass, to hosting monthly lunches and spending time with residents receiving end-of-life care at Valley assisted-living facilities.
"To list all of the ways she helps and supports others would be almost impossible," Morgan said. "She gives of herself tirelessly to help others! While the activities above may not be 'glamorous' or big events, each act of kindness does make a big difference to the person receiving assistance. The number of people Eileen helps each year is amazing!"
For Pannell, a 68-year-old mother of six adult children and grandmother to 12 grandkids, it's about finding the right people for the right spot. Pannell admits, however, if there is an empty spot, she is likely to fill it herself.
"We've been so successful because people trust us," she said. "The Caring Community has a certain reputation. What we do, we don't talk about it; we just do it."
Among the things Pannell does include arranging rides to and from Mass; preparing meals for people who recently had surgery or an illness, lining up volunteers to make calls and send notes to families during the first year of bereavement, organizing the purchase of groceries for those unable to shop. She also organizes the Cookie Sale to Combat World Hunger.
Additionally, Pannell takes time to sit with individuals who are dying, an experience she called “a very holy time” and a “great honor.”
Following her rules has allowed for years of successful fellowship and outreach for Pannell and her extensive group of volunteers.
“We don’t ever promise right away because we don’t want to be wrong,” she said. “If someone needs a ride, I say ‘Let me see what I can do and I will call you back.’ We make sure we can accommodate someone. What we do is not a burden. There is never a time when people feel remorse or regret because (the volunteers) only respond if they can help.”
More often than not they do help, Pannell said, because of one underlying reason.
“People are good,” she said. “They want to help others. The Caring Community, it’s not me. It’s everyone and the Caring Community gives us the opportunity to help others.”