WASHINGTON – To Lester Goldberg,the best way to help a homeless person is to give him a home. And for the past 10 years,he's been doing just that – sharing his own home with “street people,” as he calls them,from around Ventura County,Calif.
Goldberg,89,has been helping homeless people for more than 20 years now. From collecting items for a local food bank to serving lunch in the park,Goldberg has made it his mission to help the homeless and hungry in his community.
In February,Goldberg won the 2008 Jefferson Award for Public Service for his efforts in Ventura County. That earned him his first trip to the Nation's Capital in more than 30 years.
He and the other winners toured the capital Tuesday before a party in the afternoon,at which many members of the Senate appeared,and a gala dinner. There,five of the 76 local winners were named as winners of the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Award.
Goldberg arrived in Washington Sunday and has had time to explore the city and visit some of its many museums.
Goldberg said he has been enjoying his trip to Washington and he found it interesting to meet all of the other award recipients and hear what they do for their own communities.
“Helping people is very exciting,” Goldberg said. “It's the best part of my life. You get so much satisfaction out of helping people.”
After he retired from an engineering job in the early 1980s,Goldberg started working for Food Share,a food bank at a Jewish temple that provided food for several nonprofit community groups.
“I found,as a retired person,that giving out the food was the thing to do,” Goldberg said. “It's so rewarding and it's so easy to do.”
In 1993,he created the Breakfast Club,a group of homeless people whom he met for breakfast every Sunday morning – Goldberg would bring the food,and the street people would cook it. They eventually formed their own committee to run the club.
After his wife died,Goldberg decided to sell his mobile home and buy property to create a building with an office and some rooms for street people. Two months later,in 1995,five Breakfast Club members moved into the Goldberg House,which the Community Action Agency of Ventura has been using for 13 years.
“Little by little,I became a hero to the street people,” Goldberg said.
For Goldberg,the next step was clear: He decided to ask seven street people to come and live with him in his own home. He set no rules on how long the men could stay with him,and said that they still provide him with valuable help around the house.
Now,Goldberg drives to Trader Joe's three days a week to pick up the food that the store no longer wants and takes it to local nonprofits for distribution. He also gets pastries from Starbucks,and almost 40 pounds of coffee beans a week from Pete's Coffee House.
And every day,Goldberg packs a lunch of hardboiled eggs,fruit and cookies,and brings it to the park to serve to the homeless people he finds there.
“I just can't pass them,” Goldberg said. “I have to help them.”
Goldberg said that,although the Ventura County Jefferson Award was an honor,he has already received his true reward.
“When you do what I do,there's an instant reward from the person you're dealing with,” Goldberg said.
The American Institute for Public service gives the Jefferson Awards each year to honor people who have contributed to their communities. Five of the 76 local winners were named recipients of the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Awards at the dinner Tuesday night.
They are Lia Rowley,Santa Rosa,Calif.,who founded and runs a housing program for foster children; Hank and Debbie Perret,Lafayette,La.,who founded a center to help cancer patients and their caretakers; Jackie Betz,Erin Drischler and Megan Neuf,Pittsburgh,who as high school students founded a group that counsels girls about sexual assault; Harry Vogler,Denver,who founded a center for abused,neglected and mentally ill children; and Nancy Collins,Tupelo,Miss.,who founded a hospice.
Four national winners of the Jefferson Awards were also honored at the dinner.
They are Sen. Joseph Lieberman,Ind.-Conn.,greatest service by a public servant; Darell Hammond,greatest public service to the disadvantaged for his nonprofit group KaBOOM! that builds playgrounds in poor neighborhoods; Edward Michael Jagen,greatest public service by a private citizen for his nonprofit the Good Knight Child Empowerment Network that teaches children to avoid predators,and Ocean Robbins,greatest public service by someone age 35 or younger,who has worked as an environmental advocate since he was a teenager and founded Youth for Environmental Sanity.