Lester Lin loves Elmhurst. He loves human beings more.
When the son of Taiwanese immigrants watched his neighbors rally against a homeless shelter in their neighborhood in June 2014, he was shocked to hear racial epithets being hurled at the mostly black and Hispanic residents in the former Pan American hotel on Queens Boulevard.
“Let’s just say Elmhurst didn’t put its best face on during those protests, especially our Asian community,” Lin said. “I knew I had some work to do to mend some fences and help these people.”
As part of that work, Lin and an army of young volunteers hosted a barbecue for families in the shelter.
“I wanted to show the residents of the shelter a better side of the community and invest in the futures of these families,” he said. “I also wanted to show my community that these are families who have jobs and have children and are struggling to make ends meet just like the rest of us.”
Lin’s band of volunteers, known as City Mission, received non-profit status last year. They run monthly events and holiday parties inside the Pan American hotel, and expanded their efforts to include The Landing, a new shelter for homeless families in East Elmhurst.
“The commitment that Lester shows to homeless families in Queens is second to none,” said Elizabeth Abdur-Raheem, the senior program manager at The Landing. “I am personally awed by his boundless energy and optimism. When Lester and the City Mission team invest their time and resources to provide activities and school supplies, parents start to regain their sense of worth and confidence. This is the foundation they need to become self-sufficient. Lester is truly changing lives.”
Lin and his family were briefly homeless when he was 3 years old and slept outside a Catholic church in Flushing. Now City Mission is working with pastors and church leaders in the community to shelter small numbers of homeless overnight.
“A lot of these leaders felt bad because they saw families living in parks and they didn’t know how to help,” Lin said. “We have large buildings that go unused at night. We’re helping them get permits with the city to open their own small shelters. Hopefully, they’ll be up and running before winter. It’s a good first step for Elmhurst.”
He is also helping to bring health care to immigrant seniors who have no insurance, working with the FDNY to supply smoke detectors after a rash of fires in the neighborhood and joining forces with the New York Asian Women’s Center to help sex workers in Elmhurst and Corona learn job skills.
“It’s simple to help people,” Lin said. “The one thing we need to do better at City Mission is fund-raise.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr