Miss Kentucky Adrienne Poole: A voice for those who fell between the cracks

Adrienne Poole takes a photo with Grace after a fashion show for Down Syndrome of Louisville on April 11, 2018; both were models in the show.

Arden Barnes

Miss Kentucky woke up on the ground outside Bowman’s Den ready to take a hot shower, with a heavy heart for those in Lexington who sleep outdoors nightly and thankful that she only did it for one night. 

UK junior marketing and economics double major Adrienne Poole, along with a few other students, participated in One Night Without a Home, an event where students voluntarily slept outside to bring awareness to homelessness.

“It seemed unfair to me that I get to go home and the hundreds of homeless people in Lexington that were in the same situation as I was, but 10 blocks away—they didn’t get to go home,” Poole said. “It was disheartening but also empowering because it gave me a sense of empathy that we all sometimes need to be reminded of.”

Poole brought two bath towels and a small umbrella as protection and warmth against the cold and rain that can come with Kentucky’s spring weather.

“My undergarments and my socks were so wet, and we actually stood in the portable restroom to warm up because it was so cold,” she said.

Poole participated in One Night Without a Home as part of her involvement with Wildcats for Housing, Opportunity, Mentorship, Employment, and Services, better known as H.O.M.E.S., which encourages students to “take action against homelessness.”

Poole said that getting together a group of people who want to make a difference and advocate for something is a success to her. 

Only one student stopped to see if the group was OK. Poole said that proved they had a long way to go to bring awareness about this problem to UK.

Along with being involved with Wildcats for H.O.M.E.S., Poole is an independent marketing contractor with Goodwill, an instructor with Jobs for Life in the Fayette County Detention Center and was crowned Miss Kentucky United States 2018 in February.

Jobs for Life prepares incarcerated men and women for continued relationships and mentorships once released.

As part of the curriculum, Poole emphasizes “practice what you preach.” Her first few weeks with Jobs for Life were difficult.

“I cried a lot,” she said. “All I had to lean on was my faith.”

These women weren’t much older than she was; some had children.

“There’s no simple way to explain how it feels,” Poole said. “The room we teach in is very cold and I think that’s very ironic because they are very warm people, but society thinks of them as cold.”

For many of these women, “practice what you preach” means to be a positive role model to their children or family members, but Poole realized she also needed to take this to heart when she had the opportunity to compete in the Miss Kentucky pageant. 

“This is exactly what I need to do because women here are incarcerated and are forgotten about,” Poole said. “If this is a platform I can use to make people aware and make my voice heard, it’s worth stepping onto the stage and being vulnerable myself so these women don’t have to be vulnerable their entire life.”

She reflected back on one of her first classes, in which one of the students told her that “all you see is my jumpsuit.” This prompted a 30-minute discussion about how Poole and the other instructors didn’t see them that way and were not there to look down on them but to sit beside them and help them.

“I don’t want someone to see me for the dress I’m wearing or a hairstyle I have and I don’t want my incarcerated women to think I just see them for a jumpsuit,” Poole said. “We have to fight what other people think of us so we can move up in the world and be appreciated and be loved. I’m not going to let something physical determine how I feel about someone.”

Poole dedicates time to these organizations as examples of her passion to help others, and she was able to use the Miss Kentucky pageant to promote her passions on a large stage.

“My grandmother is 95 percent of the reason I do what I do,” Poole said.

When Poole informed her family that she planned to get involved with Jobs for Life, she received a lot of negative reactions, but when she called her grandmother, she was happy her granddaughter found something she was passionate about.

“You just have to be careful,” Poole said her grandmother told her.

“I know. I’m doing it because of you,” Poole responded.

Along with her grandmother, Poole credits the concept of second chances as a major motivation for her dedication and involvement with Jobs for Life.

“I wouldn’t believe in second chances had she not instilled that in me,” she said. “Between her and my mom, they are the reason I believe in second chances.”

Before Poole was born, her grandmother’s brother, Uncle Bobby, committed a crime and dealt with alcoholism. He was sentenced to the federal penitentiary in La Grange, Kentucky. 

Poole’s family and the victim’s family were both prominent in the community, so the crime created issues among the families and the community.

“There was that tension there,” she said. “So my family just naturally shut Uncle Bobby out.”

Poole’s grandmother, two of her grandmother’s sisters and Poole’s mother were the only members of the family who visited Uncle Bobby on a regular basis.

When Poole was a senior in high school, Uncle Bobby died behind bars.

“I rode with my mom and my grandma to the jail,” she said. “I will never forget [her grandmother] standing on the steps of the federal penitentiary in La Grange holding those two garbage bags of stuff saying this is Uncle Bobby’s stuff— this is everything he owned.”

Poole said she didn’t know anything about her Uncle Bobby until she started asking questions in high school.

“As my grandmother’s gotten older, she’s gotten feistier and she’s been open and has told me some things not only about him but also about the victim and the aftermath,” she said.

One of Poole’s grandmother’s sisters who would also regularly visit Uncle Bobby died in January. Uncle Bobby was mentioned in her obituary.

“I think that was a huge step in the right direction,” Poole said. “She was the first person in the family to pass away in 10 to 20 years. I think it opened the rest of my family’s eyes and said he was not forgotten, he’s not gone.”

“That encouraged me even more,” she added. 

Poole volunteers at least four hours a week on top of keeping her grades up.

“My priority right now is figuring out who I am and what I’m going to be and what I can do to make this place a better place. My education plays a factor in that,” she said.

Poole wants to work for a non-profit, so she plans to get a master’s degree in policy administration after completing her undergraduate coursework at UK.

“If you want to be successful and you want to help people, you can’t settle,” she said. “So I’m living a life were I’m not going to settle.”