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Staff Spotlight: Darryl Lester, IEI’s new Service Year Director

Darryl Lester’s mother had a mantra: “If your mind can perceive it, your behind can achieve it.”

Lester carries this homespun wisdom, bred in his tight-knit hometown of Marion, S.C. with him in all that he does, including his recent appointment to the position of Service Year Director at the Institute for Emerging Issues.

“Throughout my life, I have been pulled to fields where I could see myself making a difference,” Lester said of his years spent working in the higher education, philanthropy and volunteer fields. Believe it or not, though, he started off working in finance.

“I thought I wanted to go into banking,” said Lester, 55,  who graduated from South Carolina’s Wofford College with a degree in finance. However, a year spent repossessing people’s trucks and cars proved to him that he wanted his career to travel a slightly different path.

So, he found his way to NC State, where he received a master’s degree in counselor education. Afterwards, he began working in African American Student Affairs at NC State, where he worked with staff to create an inclusive environment for African Americans at the university. Lester loved the work, noting that as a member of a minority group himself, thinking about inclusion and diversity was already a part of his every day life.

Next, Lester worked at Shaw University in the student counseling center and then landed back at NC State, where he worked as the assistant coordinator of African American Student Affairs. He then started working with the Service Year program in 1994, just as the organization was being born. Next, he forayed into the world of philanthropy, working for a professional fundraising company and eventually running his own fundraising consulting company.

“At the base of it, fundraising’s all relational. If you can build relationships and be genuine, you can get the money,” Lester said.

Being back at NC State and working again with Service Year, is a natural career culmination for Lester, who calls his Service Year Director position at IEI “ . . . the culmination of my varied career experiences.”

Lester sees parallels between how he grew the number of people giving to his philanthropy work and how he wants to grow the number of people recruited to Service Year here at IEI. “The Service Year pipeline has to be broadened just like the philanthropy highway had to be broadened,” Lester said. “Many people don’t participate in Service Year because they don’t know about it.”

Casting that wider net is important because participating in service is beneficial for everyone, Lester said. Not only does service help those receiving the service, it grows the individuals who are serving as well, Lester said. Participating in service has a way of broadening people’s perceptions of community problems and changing their mindset from not just helping the effects, but looking at the causes of a social problem.

In his spare time, Lester likes to spend time with his 17-year-old daughter Danielle (he also has a 36-year-old son named Bradley ) and rides motorcycles. He is a member of the Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club’s Raleigh Chapter.