Making History: Charting a Future in Service
While his service footprint has been made throughout the Washington, DC, metropolitan area, his inspiration comes from the hills of Tobago, a small island nestled in the southern Caribbean. It was in these lush, green hills that Kester Edwards learned of the power, and impact that local service can have on a global population. Thousands of miles from his hometown, Kester recently received a significant distinction from the world’s top service club organization, and made history.
As a charter member of the Washington, DC, Special Olympics Lions Club in 2001, Kester Edwards has taken that inspiration and transformed it into a focused effort to ensure that community service is not just offered TO individuals with intellectual disabilities, but also FROM them. His signature projects include dedicated support to food kitchens throughout the nation’s capital, women’s shelters, at-risk youth, and the local Special Olympics program. Fundraising, advocacy, hands-on service, connecting members and inspiring the next generation of Lions, both in his Club and abroad, are just a sample of the highlights that Kester Edwards has achieved in nearly two decades as a Lion.
Kester Edwards’ story is one of millions, and at the same time, one of a kind. Kester Edwards has provided some of the strongest global service focus to Special Olympics athletes of anyone in the world today, perhaps most notably because he himself is a former SO athlete. He is also a former SO coach, international member of the Board of Directors, and currently a formidable sport development expert.
His profile has inspired a generation of Lions and SO athletes, and the world is taking notice. In the company of Dr. Timothy Shriver, Chairman of Special Olympics, Inc., Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF) Chairperson Dr. Jitsuhiro Yamada, and a range of Special Olympics and Lions Clubs International leaders, Kester Edwards received his Melvin Jones Fellowship, recognizing his dedication to LCIF. He is the first Special Olympics athlete to ever receive an MJF.
“I am proud to stand here before you as the first SO athlete to receive this distinction. My commitment is that I will not be the only, or the last,” said Kester, at the Lions Clubs International Centennial celebration event, hosted by Special Olympics at the 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Schladming, Austria. “I have been a solider of Special Olympics for many years, most of my life in, fact. And tonight, I commit to all of you at Lions Clubs International, I am now a lifetime solider of Lions Clubs International.”
As recognition of humanitarian work, an MJF is an honor presented to those who donate US$1,000 to LCIF or to people for whom a donation was made by others.
“Words do not capture the admiration we have for Kester’s deep commitment to a more just and inclusive world for all,” said Dr. Timothy Shriver, Chairman of Special Olympics. “Kester is a role model, a man of physical strength, professional achievement, and enormous integrity. A role model not only because of the service he provides to others, but also because he is a great colleague, dear friend, and strong advocate for change.”
Kester continues to support his community through a range of projects, and has most recently been identified by Special Olympics and Lions Clubs International as a key driver of the youth activation work underway with Leos throughout the world.
“I have been blessed,” said Kester at the Centennial event. “More athletes should be given the opportunity to serve, and that is now my mission: to make sure that I am but the first of many. That is inclusion in action.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a guest post by Special Olympics.