Life with Gracie: How a sandwich-board hiring campaign helped turn a life around

Mark Moore (left) and Terence Lester, founder of the nonprofit Love Beyond Walls, get ready to start the search for a job for Moore. Six days after launching #HireMark, Moore was offered a job. CONTRIBUTED

Mark Moore (left) and Terence Lester, founder of the nonprofit Love Beyond Walls, get ready to start the search for a job for Moore. Six days after launching #HireMark, Moore was offered a job. CONTRIBUTED

Any day now, Mark Moore will start work at a local software company doing business-to-business sales, a position that he considers compatible with his work experience and skill set.

It might not have happened had he not been spotted last year foraging for food in a dumpster outside Love Beyond Walls,the nonprofit founded by Terence Lester and his wife, Cecilia, four years ago.

In another dumpster, behind another business, that could’ve spelled trouble for Moore, but thankfully that’s not how Terence or his wife operates.

For years now, the College Park couple have been opening their hearts to people like Moore. Instead of passing judgment like so many of us tend to do, they choose instead to get to know people, hear their stories and then, if they can, give them a hand up.

Moore, 60, got a pink slip in 2010 and after going through his savings, found himself homeless and alone.

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“I couldn’t find another job,” he said. “I went into depression because I wasn’t living up to my personal standard.”

He ended up living in old abandoned houses, and because he didn’t care much for panhandling, he searched for meals in dumpsters around town.

He was pillaging in the nonprofit’s dumpster early in 2017 when another man spotted him, introduced himself and encouraged him to speak to Terence Lester.

He’d barely begun to tell his story when Lester discerned Moore was not the typical homeless person he was used to seeing.

“He was articulate and his story wasn’t the stereotypical one I was used to hearing from homeless people,” Lester said. “Before 2010, he’d had a pretty stable life. I learned that he was adopted and that his foster mother had passed away, so one of the greatest things we could give him was community.”

Lester offered Moore temporary housing until he walked out of his predicament. All he had to do was help with the grounds upkeep and attend discipleship classes that would help with his spiritual growth and strengthen his character.

If Moore remained committed, Lester promised him he’d do whatever it took to move him forward.

Did he ever!

Each week, Gracie Bonds Staples will bring you a perspective on life in the Atlanta area. Life with Gracie runs online Tuesday, Thursday and alternating Fridays.

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Moore had no birth certificate. No Social Security card. Nothing that would confirm his identity.

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Lester reached out to an attorney at the Georgia Law Center for the Homeless who petitioned Moore's home state of Pennsylvania to get his birth certificate.

Meanwhile, Moore secured a Georgia identification card. That way, he could at least apply for employment. It would take seven months, but his birth record finally arrived. In July.

Together, he and Lester created a sandwich board and painted “Hire Mark” on either side. They launched the #HireMark campaign early last month, updated Moore’s resume, printed 100 copies and headed to downtown Atlanta.

Lester donned the sandwich board, and Moore, dressed in a dark suit donated by D&K clothing store, stood nearby holding his resume.

“Hire Mark,” Lester barked to passers-by.

For the next six days, they traversed the city hoping someone would notice and give Mark Moore a chance. Dozens of people stopped to talk, but no one offered Moore employment.

Then D&K, the retailer that donated the suits, called Moore in for an interview and then another. On Dec. 18, they offered him a sales position.

It wasn’t his dream job, but Moore took it.

“I was ecstatic to be working again and earning a paycheck,” he said. “I’d never done retail before, but I’m so happy to be working.”

Mark Moore, who was homeless for nearly 10 years, was hired in December by D&K Suit City. He recently got a second offer more suited to his skill set. CONTRIBUTED

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Last week, he got a second call from a software company.

Lester, who wore the sign everywhere he went for six days straight, talked about his decidedly unconventional methods to draw attention to Moore’s plight.

Sure, he wanted to grab people's attention, but this wasn't just about Mark, he said. It was about all the Marks in the city, people who like Mark Moore are down on their luck through no fault of their own, or one paycheck away from being on the streets.

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That doesn’t mean they’re done helping Mark Moore. They aren’t. The nonprofit is committed not only to paying Moore’s rent for the next six months, but the Lesters have dedicated their lives to raising awareness about the plight of the downtrodden and doing what they can to impact their lives for the better.

Hence MAP 18, the 370-mile trek to Memphis, Tenn., that Terence Lester is planning to mark the 50th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s death.

“We’re doing this in a modern-day civil rights way but also to use it as inspiration for people to focus on communities in need of economic redevelopment,” he said. “We want to bring attention to two of the triple evils that King stood against, poverty and racism, in hopes of uniting people and bringing racial healing.”

The walk, co-sponsored by the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, will begin in March at the civil rights center and end at the Lorraine Motel, where King was assassinated.

In important ways, I’ve long thought Dr. King was ahead of his time. In many ways, I get that same feeling about the Lesters.