Leonard Carlisle goes above and beyond at the Youth Empowerment Project. The man simply known as “Mr. Lenny” works as a program assistant, but for him, it’s no normal 9-to-5 shift.
While some people do their job and go home, work never really stops for Mr. Lenny.
“I try to assist and give back what I can on a daily basis so I'm in most of the components that we have,” he said.
From working behind the desk with day-to-day responsibilities, to more hands-on activities, he has been giving back to the community for decades. He says he started working with children back in the 90s in Queens, New York with a D.A.R.E. program, which encourages children to stay away from drugs. Since then, he has never stopped, even with two children and two grandchildren of his own.
“You just fall in love with them (children). They're precious, they're pure and they just make you feel good about yourself,” Carlisle said.
“No matter what you ask him to do, he's the first person to volunteer to do it. He's the last person to go home after an event,” Melissa Sawyer, YEP Executive Director, said.
“The most genuinely kind, thoughtful, responsible person I've ever met,” Sawyer said.
Whether it’s making sure every woman at YEP gets a rose on Valentine’s Day or making sure Santa Claus shows up for the children, Mr. Lenny is there.
“Anything that is going to make someone else's life better, Mr. Lenny is automatically ready for,” Darrin McCall, YEP Director of programs, said.
But no one could be ready for what Mr. Lenny faced next.
“Woke up one morning and couldn't get out the bed,” he said.
Two more days went by and things did not get better. A man who has five years without a day off, missed nine days of work last November.
“I've been suffering from Renal disease for the last 10 years,” he said.
In other words, Mr. Lenny’s kidneys are shutting down. He says his kidney function is down to 15 percent, which The National Kidney Foundation describes as Stage 4 severe kidney disease.
The 64-year-old has to do nine hours of dialysis every night. He uses a machine to do what his kidneys can no longer do, which is remove excess waste, salt, and water from the body.
Mr. Lenny was placed on the list for a kidney transplant in April.
“Yes, it worries me, it worries me. It worries me that I may not come up on the list for 3 years. It worries me that I might not wake up one morning, that's possible,” he said. “They'll tell me to cool out, take it easy but sometimes I can't.”
Often times, the people shut out are the ones who need the most help. Mr. Lenny says that’s why he continues to work and give back to the community no matter how sick he is.
“It's important and it's needed,” he said. “If I don't do what I want to do or what I have to do to keep going then I'm no good to anybody and I'm really no good to myself.”
While Mr. Lenny may be dealing with a lot regarding his health, he manages to be a neighborhood hero everyday.
Kristin Pierce can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.