A small but important piece of paper hangs above Karey Bishop’s desk, its simple message typed in blue.
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping,’” it reads in part.
The words are from Fred Rogers of the beloved TV show “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.” Watching it was part of Bishop’s childhood in Indianola, she said, and for years she’s striven to be a “helper” here.
“I grew up in a very community-minded household,” she explained. “I always have thought that if you support local, you’re just going to help the community and help everyone.”
Her efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. Bishop has earned the Distinguished Leader Award from the Indianola Chamber of Commerce. She was nominated by Heather Hulen, who serves on city council and is the executive director of the local YMCA.
“Throughout 2020, a challenging year for local businesses, nonprofits and community organizations, she committed both personally and professionally to being a helper,” Hulen wrote of Bishop in her nomination letter.
Perhaps Bishop is best known around Indianola as a Realtor with Iowa Realty, a profession she began in 2005. Even in her “day job,” she looks for extra ways to assist clients, mindful that sometimes she’s their first acquaintance in town.
“I’ve been the emergency contact on people’s forms for their kids at school because they didn’t know anyone else,” she recalled. “Or, you know, I’ve helped somebody find someone to cut their hair or mow their yard — things like that.”
It’s no wonder that Hulen described Bishop as an “incredible ambassador for our city.” But to Bishop, it’s simply a matter of a human connection that goes beyond business.
“I always tell people that after we close on your house, continue to call me as you need things,” she said, “whether it has to do with your house or the community or something else I can help you with. I’m happy to do so.”
When Bishop isn’t working, she’s often volunteering, currently serving on the Peoples Bank Board of Directors and the Indianola YMCA Advisory Board. She’s also co-chairperson of Operation Christmas, an annual fundraiser that results in giving gift cards to families in need.
“We collect donations and turn around and turn that money into vouchers at Walmart for people to purchase gifts for their kids, or gift cards to Fareway where they can purchase a holiday meal,” Bishop said.
Operation Christmas functions as a nonprofit in conjunction with Helping Hand of Warren County, which gives food, clothing and household items to anyone in need. When Bishop learned of the surge of visitors to Helping Hand during the pandemic, she knew it needed to be a big year for Operation Christmas as well.
“In the past, we would raise, like, $20,000, and we knew we needed to raise a lot more this year,” she said. “It ended up that we had $56,000 this year, which was an incredible increase. It just shows the support of the community.”
Also spurred by 2020’s unique challenges, Bishop launched a series of special projects on her Facebook business page, aiming to help families, local nonprofits and small businesses — sometimes all at once.
For instance, this past fall, she encouraged shopping and giving local with “Time to be Thankful Bingo.” During last spring’s mandated school closure, she invited youths to participate in “It Pays to Do Homework,” in which themed art “assignments” accrued donations to related nonprofits.
Every student who completed the “draw your pet” assignment, for example, spurred a $5 contribution by Bishop to Kiya Koda Humane Society. Eighty-five kids participated in that task alone, resulting in a $485 donation.
“I always have supported nonprofits and supported my clients — the things that they’re involved in. But I felt like this year it was needed more than ever,” said Bishop. “It was hard to have the same connection that I would typically have with clients or the community.”
Hard, yes, but possible with plenty of creativity and dedication. Hulen said that Bishop’s effort “epitomizes why we honor people for their leadership in our community.”
And in a year with “plenty of scary things in the news,” as Mr. Rogers would say, perhaps Indianola needed leaders — and helpers — more than ever.
“Her leadership and love for our community during this tough year has shined a light of hope and determination to us all,” Hulen wrote. “If you’re ‘looking for a helper,’ you can find one in Karey.”