Each year, the Long Island Advance solicits nominations for our Inspiration Award winner. During this time, we seek people who take it upon themselves to make a difference in their community—not simply someone who has a job to do, or who happens to be a member of a well-established organization.
Many of this year’s nominations were worthy.
For example, an adorable couple who, during the height of the pandemic, would take it upon themselves to stand outside of the Brookhaven Memorial Hospital to hold signs encouraging frontline workers.
However, none of this year’s nominees had nearly the resume—volunteer resume, that is—of Susan Kahl. And they shouldn’t be faulted for that, either; Kahl had just set the bar high—really high.
“I truly feel she is the perfect example of altruism, volunteerism, and an inspiration to all who meet her,” said her nominator and educator friend, Linda Pickford. “She is a longtime volunteer throughout Bellport and Patchogue-Medford.”
Kahl started her career in the late-‘70s as a reading teacher in the Patchogue-Medford School District. By the ‘90s, she went on to become principal of South Ocean Middle School and later Eagle Elementary, partially retiring in 2003 and spending three years at Eastern Suffolk BOCES, before officially retiring.
At that time, in 2006, she started her volunteer efforts and can now often be found running the Mary Immaculate Thrift Store every Saturday. In the past three years, in her role with the store, she has helped raise over $30,000.
She also is an active volunteer for the Bellport Fire Department Ladies Auxiliary, past director of the Pilot International Executive board, past president of the Pilot Club of Patchogue, and is also president and treasurer of the Steering Committee for four soup kitchens in Patchogue and East Patchogue communities.
At the soup kitchens, Kahl, age 75, orders and picks up the food at the Long Island Cares Food Bank and delivers it to the soup kitchen locations each and every week. She also volunteers her time to cook at the St. Joseph’s Church site in East Patchogue every Tuesday evening. In addition to cooking, she insists on helping clean up afterwards. There have also been numerous times during the week when she provides help and meals to people in need. During the holidays, she takes extra time to decorate the cafeteria and is well known by guests. She hosts fundraising events to support the soup kitchens, helping feed families and people a hot meal four times a week.
While serving on the executive board of Pilot International, she currently is the liaison for Florida and Mississippi, contacting them weekly via Zoom to help them with their service.
The three main causes, she said, is advocating for brain health, often hosting puppet shows at local schools to promote brain safety; supporting caregivers; and caring for the youth.
During her time with the Patchogue Pilot Club, she said, she also recently helped facilitate iPods for senior residents at McPeak’s with music from their generations. She is also proud of a project in which the club delivered realistic baby dolls to Alzheimer’s patients at Medford Multicare Facility.
“They sing to them, rock them, and it totally changed their life,” she said.
One of her other most well-known charities is the club’s Pick Me Up program, which rewards caregivers with gift cards to restaurants or a salon. During the pandemic, with her help, the club has also provided bagged lunches for the Patchogue Railroad station for people in need and knit caps for newborns at Stony Brook University Hospital.
“We can all help support our community in any number of ways. But Susan goes above and beyond the typical volunteer,” Pickford said. “She is awe-inspiring with her sincere generosity. She is also extremely humble, and anyone who knows her casually would never know how instrumental she is in her works of charity.”
Coincidentally, her partner, Jim Vaughn, was also nominated as the Long Island Advance’s 2009 Man of the Year, as a longtime advocate for local veterans, making them a power couple for sure.
“I think it’s fantastic, and I can’t think of anyone more deserving,” he said of Kahl. “She does, I couldn’t tell you, how many hours a week volunteering. She is involved with so much; the list just goes on and on.”
Together, they live in Bellport. Kahl grew up in East Meadow and later moved to Bohemia, where she raised her daughter Allison, who is now a social worker in Massachusetts. She now has three granddaughters as well: Brianna, Amanda and Sammie.
Honored by the award, Kahl simply plans to continue her work.
“It’s very, very rewarding,” she said of her volunteerism. “The soup kitchen is a big part of it. When you go down there, you see people receive a hot meal, and you can just see the pressure and anxiety come off of them.”
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