It takes a village to raise a child as they say, and for Crockett Secretary Cecilia Lester, she wholeheartedly believes that.
“We can all change the world by just being kind,” Lester said.
Over the last 13-years that Lester has been working within the school system, she has been credited with creating the Crockett Care Closet for students who need a little extra to get through the day.
“We have everything anyone could need. From toothbrushes to shampoo, laundry soap, clothes, you name it, we can get it if they need it,” she explained.
“Cecilia has done so many great things for Paris ISD. From clothing to feeding students, she makes sure all our kids are taken care of,” Crockett ISD Officer Billy Jordan said of his coworker.
Her giving heart all started back when she was a girl living in a family of seven in a small south Texas town.
“My dad was the only one who worked, so we lived on a tight budget. He showed my siblings and me that kindness is key,” she said. “From bartering with other neighbors to always having someone over for dinner or lunch. I learned from a young age that we all need help at some point, and even the smallest gestures can make a person’s life better.”
As she continues to teach her students the value of kindness, she has seen over the years how her teachings, no matter how small, can genuinely influence each child as they get older.
“I have students that are in high school that still come to me and ask if they can help with packing food baskets or help another student,” Lester explained.
And for her, it’s not just a nine to five extracurricular duty; what she does is who she is, and she firmly believes that the world can change if everyone showed a little kindness.
“I’ve had students whose home has burnt down to the concrete, and they were left with nothing. I put the word out to friends that I needed beds, clothes, furniture, and it still floors me at how giving this community is,” she said.
From food to clothes to furniture, it’s not just about giving back to a student and their family; it’s about helping them get back on their feet to live their best possible life.
“We have a saying here, ‘We don’t give handouts, we give hand-ups,’ and that’s precisely what it’s all about,” Lester explained.
Lester’s Crockett Care Closet began with a tote or a small bit of space under a desk or in a closet of a room to now having grown across the school districts in Lamar County.
“It’s never just been about our kids here at Paris ISD, it’s about helping all our kids in our county,” she said. “I’ve had calls from other schools who had students that needed items or food and so I would get what they needed and deliver them to the school.”
It’s also not unheard of for Lester to make a trip out to a home to make a delivery. It happens more than you would think, and especially during those long spring and winter breaks, she knows first hand that some families do it a little tougher than others and if she can help make life a little easier, than that’s what she will do.
“I once had a young man who was finding it hard to secure a job. The only thing that was stopping him from getting it was a pair of steel-toed boots. Within 30-mins. of me posting on Facebook, I had a friend send me a message letting me know there was a pair on my front porch when I got home,” she said. “That night, I delivered the boots to the young man and he got that job.”
“It doesn’t matter if you are black, white, polka-dotted or where you come from, what matters is being kind, and that’s what I continue to instill in the kids here at the school,” Lester said.
Over her lifetime, Lester has never wavered from her unique mantra, and in 2013 when she was diagnosed with Breast Cancer, she became more than humbled that her student’s past and present rallied behind her reciprocating the lessons she instilled in them.
“I left it to God, and now I am in remission,” she said. “I was fortunate to have my cancer removed through chemo and surgery.”
She said that a former student Payne Couts was one student that never let her do anything that he could help her with.
“He would see me walking to my car and carry my purse, he would help me make up food baskets, he would always be there to help, and every time I see him now he continues to help who he can where he can,” she said with a smile.
With thousands of stories that could easily be written into a book showcasing how she has changed the world for the better no matter how small she feels it is. Lester will be recognized later this month with an award from the NAACP for her work within the community.
Robert High, the President of the NAACP, will award Lester their Heritage Award, which recognizes someone in the community that helps children.
Never one to stand at the forefront, Lester said that it’s never been about the recognition and that she has been satisfied to stay out of the spotlight. Her drive to do good comes from an upbringing, and life lessons learned that she feels should be a staple in any community.
“She is always there when I need her help with a student. She knows she can depend on me for help and I can depend on her,” Jordan added. “ Cecilia is always here to help and that’s why I consider her more than just a friend, she’s family.”
A whisper from a student who’s friend needs help, to the family that has been displaced to the child that needs laundry cleaned or a jacket to keep warm, Lester knows no bounds on which to stop.
An unsung hero that works in the background with no cap to wear and no beacon to know she right there waiting to pick you up when you need it most; Cecilia Lester is challenging the generations to be the change the world needs through kindness.
“Do it for love and not recognition. Our village is a great one, and we can all be the change to a kinder world for everyone,” she said.