Pastor Lester (right) of Bethel Worship Center visits with a member of the Hickman Mills community. Photo by Heather Wimmer

Because We Care: Hickman Mills pastor develops successful community outreach program

“At first there was no plan, only a vision.”

Hickman Mills Community Empowerment Center Gaining Momentum

By Heather Wimmer 

What does hope look like?

 It is a question that Pastor Dennis Lester thinks about regularly. For him, at one time with overdue utility bills and a home foreclosure notice, hope looked like a retired gentleman at United Way who looked over his finances and offered assistance while treating him like a friend. Pastor Lester was embarrassed to accept help with his bills, and was about to refuse help with groceries, until the kind gentleman reminded him it could give him a few more dollars to direct to other needs.

Because he has been in that situation, Pastor Lester has empathy for families struggling with poverty, emotional trauma and addiction. He was fortunate to have the help, skills and education to make a comeback. Still, he wanted to provide a bridge for families who are unable to break generational cycles that perpetuate poverty, abuse and addiction. With his background in nonprofit work, and an encouraging church community, he started a nonprofit based on helping families break destructive cycles and start new, healthier stories for themselves.

Hickman Mills Community Empowerment Center (HMCEC) started with “Because We Care” events that helped families in the Hickman Mills area weather the financial strain of the pandemic. They successfully began recruiting partners who shared the vision to build up neighborhoods and families in the Hickman Mills area. 

“At first,” Lester says, “there was no plan, only a vision.” 

Community partners made Christmas wishes come true for around 600 Hickmans Mills families who applied for assistance last year at Hickman Mills Community Empowerment Center’s Christmas Giveaway. Photo credit Latter-Day Saints of Greater Kansas City

He  recruited local businesses, church groups and other nonprofits to help families go back to school. Partners included Caring for Kids, the Concerned Clergy Coalition, the Hickman Mills Community Alliance, International House of Prayer, Grace Point Baptist Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Bethel Family Worship Center, Saint Luke’s United Methodist Church and Christian Charity along with KCPD, Cerner, Cloverleaf Apartments and others. 

Pastor Lester set four guiding principles for each organization to embrace that he calls the four C’s: “We don’t Compete with each other or other services, we don’t Compare, we don’t Complain, and we don’t care who gets Credit.” The result of that cooperation has been three successful “giveaway events” during the pandemic:  back to school, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Plans are underway now for the Thanksgiving event  (Nov. 20) and Christmas ( Dec. 18).

But these outreach events are only the beginning—phase one of the plan. A second phase will offer training and social services in the near future. The goal is to help educate and empower families to have better, more sustainable employment and provide the tools to get on top of cycles of emotional trauma and substance abuse.  HMCEC will partner with Skilled KC. Families will receive 6-12 months of specific job training which will help them find better paying employment and make their lives more stable. HMCEC hopes to spark a new vision of what can be possible in their community. They invite all who are interested to apply.

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