Many from the Shepparton area have been touched by the influence of Richard Poole.
Mr Poole spent many years working with children and youth when Gowrie St Primary School’s principal approached him more than 12 years ago, requesting that he took on the role of school chaplain.
From day one, Mr Poole saw the position as an opportunity to help his community.
Three years on, Mr Poole had made such a positive impact on the school community that he found himself alternating between Gowrie St and Bourchier St Primary School as chaplain for the pair.
Today, Mr Poole remains a well-known, much-loved, significant and influential member of the two Shepparton primary schools.
Spending the first two days of his week at Gowrie St and the following three at Bourchier St, Mr Poole is constantly smiling at the wide spread of children he has the opportunity to encourage and communicate with daily.
As school chaplain, the heart of Mr Poole’s role is simply to encourage and speak life into situations where children are experiencing difficult times.
‘‘It’s not about religion, it’s not about convincing kids of anything that’s not in line with the school protocol,’’ he said.
Mr Poole said he always encouraged children to make their own decisions and often his time was spent just being a listening ear to children who needed someone to talk to.
He said he spent a lot of time one-on-one with students, but he also gathered groups where students may have experienced a similar situation.
He said doing this allowed the students to realise there were others around them who had faced similar circumstances and could also support each other.
Mr Poole said as well as providing encouragement to students and staff within the schools, something he considered a significant privilege was to provide support and stand beside students and their families who had faced grief and loss.
During his 12 years in the schools, Mr Poole has seen a number of families in that situation and he has witnessed many children who have grown through the process.
Upon starting as Bourchier St’s chaplain, Mr Poole also started a breakfast program at the school for any students who wished to attend.
He said the program ran Wednesdays to Fridays and fed about 100 children each day.
‘‘They’re not kids who necessarily haven’t had breakfast, they’re kids who come in just for the social occasion and spend a great time with me and others who come along,’’ he said.
Mr Poole said some children who had come through the primary school and were in secondary college continued to visit him at the breakfast program on their way to school.
‘‘I appreciate it and they appreciate it. It’s encouraging for me and them,’’ he said.
Upon a visit to Wanganui Park Secondary College just days ago, Mr Poole walked through the school yard where many past Gowrie St and Bourchier St students approached him, including Year 12s who came to speak with him and hear how he was doing.
It is evident that past and present students, teachers and families of the Shepparton community have developed a high respect and have been positively impacted by the much-loved chaplain.
Kind, funny and helpful were among the words students used to describe him.
‘‘I think because I’ve been a chaplain for a long time, it really helps the families to know that there is someone they can call who they trust,’’ he said.
And that is exactly what they have done and continue to do.
Many call on Mr Poole and his response to students and families is a reflection of his caring demeanour.
Mr Poole said he knew he was where he was meant to be and considered his position to be rewarding and fulfilling.