There are many people in this world who make a positive difference in the place where they live. Sometimes it is with intent and other times it ‘s merely the wake they leave as they pass through doors by leaving them open for others to follow. Most times the two go hand in hand.
The room may feel a little brighter, or the mood may become a little more cheerful when they walk in. Such is the case with Lester Moon. As founder and executive director of “Hands in the Community,” he has touched the lives of many residents who live in Tulare and Kings Counties. Since the inception this non-profit organization in 2008, many special needs of the elderly and poverty stricken have been filled. This is the story of why “Hands in the Community” was created; it is the story of Lester Moon.
It was without trepidation that he began to tell his story
“I grew up in the Adirondack Mountains in the little town of Lake George. The population had less than 2,000 people. I lived at the end of town, in a two-room house, without any electricity, without running water, and an outhouse for our bathroom. It snowed a lot where I lived and I only had one pair of shoes, and they were for school. I didn’t have sneakers in the summertime, I just ran around barefoot.”
He continued to talk about his childhood.
“We were on the receiving end of charitable baskets brought to our home at Thanksgiving time. They would come back at Christmas and bring presents for the entire family, that is, the churches and some of the local residents. Other than what my grandparents gave us, these were the only Christmas gifts we had.
“At one time in my life, I remember feeling really blessed. The people who were so kind to us never asked us for anything back; they didn’t require anything from us. They just gave without expectation because our family was poor.
“Education was tremendously important since my father never made it past the third grade and my mother left school before starting junior high. My parents divorced when I was 12, so I lived with my grandparents for a couple of years. I entered Job Corp and left that program, so at age 14 I was basically on my own.
“I was in and out of foster care, but at age 19, the county gave me the check and told me to get my own place to live. I had previously quit high school, so I returned and got my diploma. I was a much better student this time. It was the school guidance counselor who persuaded me to go on to college. I was accepted everywhere I applied so I chose one of the state colleges near home.”
Moon talked about his first experience with the higher education system.
“I really didn’t apply myself to my studies at State University. I was having too much fun. I was kind of a BMOC (Big Man On Campus) and involved in a lot social activities. Even though I was editor of the school newspaper, the dean called me in and informed me that perhaps I should take a leave of absence from my studies. So I left and went back to junior college and graduated with a 4.0 GPA and an AA in Business.”
When asked how he supported himself, Moon responded, “I worked for an Elder at the church I attended who owned a restaurant. I sometimes wouldn’t have had a hot meal if it weren’t for my job. I lived in a rented room and used to cook on a hot plate. I would even keep the milk outside my window at night so it was cold in the morning for my cereal at breakfast.”
Moon went on to reflect about how came to enroll at Cornell University.
“The restaurant owner who I worked for wrote a fabulous letter of reference for me and urged me to continue my education. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, so I took his suggestion and applied at two major universities. Once again, I was accepted at both, so I had my choice. I decided on attending Cornell instead of Syracuse. That’s where I received my Bachelor of Science Degree in Industrial and Labor Relations.
“By the time I graduated from Cornell, I still had never been on a plane. So when I flew to California for an interview, I was awestruck. I was put up at the best hotel in Palo Alto, and wined and dined by the company that recruited me. The sunset on the California beach was amazing. That was almost 40 years ago. I can remember playing volleyball on the warm, sunny beach one afternoon and then be snow skiing at Squaw Valley the next day. You get spoiled. I guess that’s why I never left California.”
When Moon got married and had children, things changed. He worked from sunrise to sunset and found that he didn’t have time to enjoy his family as much as he desired.
“I wanted more than early evenings with them, but the commute to work and back alone was more than three hours a day. I would get up before the kids and come home when they were getting ready for bed. What kind of life is that?” exclaimed Moon.
When the recession hit, he started the first Love Inc. in San Mateo County.
Moon explained, “I was the founder and executive director of this chapter. It was the fastest growing Love Inc. on the West Coast. I was the mentoring affiliate of all the other chapters that wanted to start their own Love Inc. in our region. Back then it was part of World Vision. It was a Christian non-profit program that helped people who were falling through the cracks. We provided service through volunteers who went out and helped people in the community. This is very much like what Hands in the Community is doing today.
“Being in business, having been a business major in college, you know how to put things and people together. When you do recruiting, you find the need and fill it with the right individual. This is the formula used to create Hands in the Community.
“Our vision is to expand our services and to provide a network of resources to anyone in need. By assisting families, we can make a difference in someone’s life and in the entire community, by sharing the love of Christ through our volunteers,” explained Moon.
When asked how Hands in the Community gets its volunteers and funding, Moon said, “We grow our database for both of them through contacts we make in the community. I am forever grateful to the many individuals, churches, service clubs and especially the local businesses and corporate partners that provide for Hands in the Community and support its mission.
He went on further to say, “Hands in the Community does a lot of community events to raise funds. The first year we had a dinner as our only fundraiser. The following year we added a concert and then the next year we added a golf tournament to our event calendar. This last year we participated for the first time in Visalia’s Christmas Tree Auction. Now we’re up to four major fundraising events annually.”
Moon then discussed how the funds were spent.
“Even though we’re non-profit, we still have to pay the rent for the office, the utilities, the internet, the telephone and all other business-related expenses. I’m the only full-time, paid person. We also have a paid part-time office manager; she works 12 hours a week. Any of the other staff are all volunteers.
“We may get a call at our offices from a person who needs to go to the doctor, and we find a volunteer willing to take them. If an elderly couple needs their yard cleaned, we contact the church youth group, a local business, or a service club that are willing to go, as a group, to the couple’s home and clean up the yard.”
When asked how people in need find out about their program, he smiled and said, “We don’t have a problem with people finding us. The more we do in the community, the more the word gets out. We’ve been featured in many local magazines and newspapers and I do radio and television interviews as well. We participate in many of the local chamber functions and community events each year. However, word of mouth provides us with a lot of new clients. We probably get the most new referrals from someone telling another person what we did for them.”
He was quick to add that they screen all requests by verifying that those in need are at the poverty level or have an extreme circumstance.
Moon has been doing work with non-profit organizations for nearly 30 years now. He considers it to be his ministry in life. It is his grateful feelings about what others did for his family when growing up that feeds his passion for giving to others today.
Moon tells one of his favorite stories, “An elderly woman called to tell us that her house was dark. The volunteer who answered the phone first asked her if she had paid her utility bill. She said she had, so he asked if there was something wrong in the breaker box. She said that wasn’t the problem either. The volunteer found out that she was 81 years old. She lived in a little 850 sq. ft. house that had five rooms inside. In the middle of each room was a wire that hung with one light bulb attached. When the first room’s light bulb burned out, she migrated to the next room, and the next room, until she had only one room left with light. She didn’t belong to any church or service club, and her family lived over 250 miles away. She also didn’t trust any of her neighbors, so she called us.
“After finding out that her need was legitimate, we found a volunteer to purchase the four light bulbs and go out to her home to replace them. Late in the afternoon we got a call from her and she was sobbing. The same volunteer asked her what was wrong. Didn’t the volunteer show up and help her? She told us that he had just left. So the volunteer then asked her why she was crying. That’s when she told us that she was so grateful because he had given her back her home and her life.
“This is what Hands in the Community is all about. From the simplest of fixes, like a burnt-out light bulb, to providing for people who have lost everything when burned out of their homes by fire, we will be there to help fill the needs of our neighbors.”
For more information about Hands in the Community, call (559) 625-3822, or visit www.hnconline.org.