LAWRENCEVILLE - Vernon Goins' life has been about public health. And his retirement will be, too.
Goins, who recently turned 60, retired Aug. 28 as the communications and outreach coordinator for the East Metro Health District, which includes the health departments of Rockdale, Newton and Gwinnett counties.
But instead of resting, Goins is returning to his roots and training for a more hands-on role to keep people healthy. He is joining the Christian Appalachian Project to work with his sister, Eleesa, as a volunteer giving vaccinations among the poor in eastern Kentucky.
"My career I've enjoyed, but this is going to be my life's work," he said, "giving back to the place that spawned me."
Goins grew up in the rural areas of Kentucky. His parents were poor, but they worked hard to allow their nine children to get an education and become more prosperous. Much of that family remains in Kentucky, near the Mount Vernon community where he will build a home.
After studying gerontology in graduate school, Goins said he learned that people who are happy in retirement have a plan for their lives, so he set about finding a new mission in life.
He considered going back to school to become a nurse, but instead decided to pursue a nursing assistant's certificate, which will take about nine months. Then, he will join his sister, who is a nurse, on the volunteer project, spending about three months a year trying to help the poor.
Because the first doctor who ever treated him and the first dentist he visited were volunteers, Goins knows the importance of the project.
"We want to go door-to-door if necessary. The houses can be miles apart and there might not be roads," but he said it combines his love of camping and the outdoors with his heart for public health.
"I feel like I'm stepping back in time," he said of returning to his home. "I understand problems with access" to health care.