The Remarkable Life of Lucy Poulin

Photo by Dorothea von Haeften

Lucy Poulin, a champion of Maine’s rural poor for more than 50 years, died October 14 in her home in East Orland, Maine at the age of 83. Lucy was a founder and longtime director of H.O.M.E. Co-op (Homeworkers Organized for More Employment) in Orland, Maine. Founded in 1970, H.O.M.E. is a non-profit that provides services to and creates employment for the low- and very low-income community of rural Hancock County, Maine.

But Lucy Poulin was much more than a nonprofit director. I knew Lucy for 42 years and worked with her for much of that time. Lucy dedicated her life to creating lives of dignity for thousands of people, many of them battered by life and many who just happened to land at H.O.M.E’s Orland campus. No forms to fill out. No ID required. State a need, and under Lucy’s leadership H.O.M.E Co-op did its best to fill that need. Shelter. Housing. Food. Hot meals. Clothing. Day care. Education. And jobs. Real jobs. Construction. Logging. Sawmill. In the kitchen. In the day care center. In the Learning Center.e In the craft cooperative and craft store, where homebound crafters earned 40 percent more than retail shops paid. And it all started from nothing.

H.O.M.E is a member of the worldwide Emmaus movement, a global Catholic-inspired poor people’s movement founded in Paris in the immediate aftermath of World War II by Frenchman Abbe Pierre. They were once known as the ragpickers of Paris, a name Lucy liked, as it embodied the fight for the very poor, who are left out by many assistance programs, governmental and private.

Lucy came from rural working-class stock. Her father was a logger. He worked in logging camps deep in the Maine woods for entire winters, emerging only when spring rains and the resultant mud made it impossible to transport the felled trees to Maine’s great rivers, where they flowed by the thousands downstream to the state’s paper mills and shipyards. Like many rural Mainers, Lucy was raised on hard work, and it stuck, all her life.

It’s tempting to say that Lucy rose from very humble roots to a higher station, but Lucy would reject the idea that this is an elevation in life. To her the poor and working poor were as extraordinary as presidents, and were to be honored and celebrated every bit as much. For Lucy that was not a distant, abstract concept. It was who she was. It was in her bones.

Lucy helped create the St. Francis Community on 300 wooded acres in East Orland, where for decades she lived and broke bread with those who had been knocked about by life. At St. Francis they found peace and refuge, surrounded by woods, dogs, cats, horses, chickens, geese, peacocks and sheep. All were welcome. No questions asked. No forms. No ID. Just like at H.O.M.E. Co-op.

H.O.M.E. became a sanctuary for undocumented refugees fleeing war in Central America in the 1980s, and it became a stop on the underground railroad that led Central American refugees to real refuge in Canada. We ran refugees through remote Orient, Maine, where, before 9/11, border workers went home after work and left the border wide open. And we protested the U.S. dollars that were fueling those wars.

H.O.M.E. built homes for the poor, the working poor and the homeless. And Lucy didn’t just design and implement the housing programs. Lucy didn’t mail in a check. She invited the homeless into her home. She pounded nails. And she was happiest when she did.

In dedicating her life to the poor, Lucy walked the walk as few have. But what amazed me most about Lucy was her enormous power of forgiveness. I’ve never seen its equal.

But Lucy wasn’t blinded by rose-colored glasses. One of my favorite memories of Lucy took place one day in H.O.M.E. Co-op’s soup kitchen. While I was waiting my turn in line, someone asked me in anger, “Why do you hate rich people?” and I said, “Because they’re destroying the world. If you don’t believe me, ask Lucy.” The person looked over at Lucy, who was sitting a few feet away, and Lucy quietly nodded her head.

Somewhere is a black and white photo of me and Lucy talking, when I was in my early twenties and she in her forties. I have long since forgotten what we were discussing, but in the photo I am speaking and I am counting off discussion points with my fingers. And Lucy is listening. Attentively. At that young age my points were likely half-baked, but that didn’t bothered Lucy. She was listening. She listened.

And that was Lucy. Listening. Forgiving. And fighting. Always fighting. For the poor. For everyone. Because Lucy knew that the fight for the poor was the fight for the souls of all of us, every one of us, rich and poor.

I miss Lucy, as do many. She changed many lives, mine among them. Lucy Poulins don’t come along every day.

Lawrence Reichard lives in Belfast, Maine, and can be reached at