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In Pasco County, a retired CPA has been inspired by his son to do good

Barry Poppel devotes much of his retirement to helping others in need: preparing tax returns for low-income families, making home-cooked meals for runaways, and installing clean drinking water and sanitation systems in developing countries.

His inspiration, he says, came from his son Joshua, an avid water conservationist and bicyclist who does cross-country rides to raise money for causes.

"He is somewhat of a tree hugger," said Poppel, 62.

A shoot-from-the-hip CPA, Poppel had a different outlook than his son. But over time, with prodding, he began to see things differently — beginning with the need for clean, safe water.

"He (Joshua) has been extremely concerned from a very young age about conservation of resources, not running the water," Poppel said. "He was somewhat inspirational in planting these seeds in my mind."

While living in New York, a friend asked Poppel to provide accounting assistance to Pure Water for the World, a nonprofit that provides clean, safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene education in developing countries. He said no at first, because he'd soon be moving to Florida, but finally relented, becoming the group's treasurer. "It's just grown from there," he said.

Several times a year, he travels to developing countries doing hands-on work. During a recent trip, he and some other members of the Trinity Rotary installed water filters and latrines in 95 homes in three communities in Trojes, a remote, impoverished region in southeast Honduras.

He organizes weeklong trips to Honduras once or twice a year, thanks to a Trinity Rotary grant made possible by Keith Fulton.

He also travels throughout Florida giving presentations to different Rotary Clubs.

He passionately rattles off facts and figures about the seriousness of the world's water situation and has a PowerPoint presentation and sources to back him up. He said 3,500 children die every day in the world because of inadequate drinking water.

"I do what I can do try to gather support … my ultimate goal is to get them to participate in some way," Poppel said.

Sandy Barley, president of the Trinity Rotary, has known Poppel about six years. Barley recently went to Honduras to help out. "It was an amazing trip," he said.

"He and (Poppel's wife) Patti both do a lot of volunteer work," Barley added. "I said 'you know, you're supposed to be retired.'"

Among those other good works: Poppel created a program through Trinity Rotary to provide home-cooked meals to kids at the RAP House, a New Port Richey shelter for youth who run away, regularly skip school or are in between foster care placements. He modeled it after a cooking project at the Ronald McDonald House that he and his wife, Patti Reynolds, helped with when they lived in upstate New York.

Called "Cook for Kids," the program brings people from the community into the RAP House to prepare meals. It started out once a month, but it was so popular that Poppel suggested they do it twice a month.

"They've been very successful," said James Simms, director of development for Youth and Family Alternatives.

When Poppel was still working full-time as a CPA, he chaired a golf tournament to benefit St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital, helping to raise more than $400,000 over 13 years.

For the past three years, he has done volunteer tax preparation for low-income people through the United Way's Prosperity Campaign, which partners with the AARP to help residents file for tax refunds.

Bill Humphrey of Trinity, coordinator for the local tax aide program, said Poppel "is a very experienced tax preparer. … He's very good at what he's doing. I couldn't get along without people like Barry doing volunteer taxes."

"It was another way to keep my brain challenged," Poppel said. "And have the opportunity to do some good in the community."

Poppel lives in the Champion's Club Sienna neighborhood of Trinity, but spent most of his life in Albany, retiring to Pasco in 2007 after spending a couple of winters in Dunedin.

While he still goes golfing, rides his bike and reads, Poppel said, "I found myself with more than enough time to volunteer and work for some of these organizations that I felt passionate about."

His father was a small-town mayor and did a lot of things for a lot of people, he said, serving as a positive role model early on.

"There is no shortage of need in this world," he said. "There are plenty of organizations willing to accept what you're willing to give."

He said Trinity Rotary is "a dynamic organization that is involved in so many good things." He tells others to "choose projects that create a spark."

Poppel is Jewish and admits, "That is an area of my life that hasn't received much attention."

There is a well-known Jewish concept known in Hebrew as Tikkun Olam, or repair of the world. He said that phrase didn't necessarily enter his mind, but he has a desire to make a difference nonetheless.

"He's kind of a quiet guy," said Simms, who joined one of Poppel's trips to Honduras to provide clean water. "But people who are in trouble, not necessarily on the front page, those are the people he tries to help. And he gets other people to go along for the ride and help, too."

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How to help

Barry Poppel is spending his retirement helping numerous organizations and nonprofits. To join him, contact:

• Pure Water for the World, a nonprofit that provides clean drinking water and sanitation systems in developing countries. Visit purewaterfortheworld.org or call (802) 747-0778

• Youth and Family Alternatives/RAP House, a nonprofit that houses runaways, truants and other youth in need. Visit yfainc.org or call (727) 835-4166.

• Pasco County United Way/AARP tax assistance program, which provides free tax filing services for lower income residents. Call Bill Humphrey at (727) 376-9119 or send an e-mail to taxvol@earthlink.net, or contact Kristen King at United Way at (727) 835-2028 or kristen.king@unitedwaypasco.org.

• Trinity Rotary, a professional service organization that tries to make a difference in the health, education, and welfare of the lives of children locally and beyond. Visit trinityrotary.org or call (727) 452-4693.

In Pasco County, a retired CPA has been inspired by his son to do good 01/21/11 [Last modified: Friday, January 21, 2011 6:56pm]
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