With support from the Bryan school district and broader community, Lester Banks broke the record for most support in National Life Group’s LifeChanger of the Year program.
Out of 830 nominees, Banks received the LifeChanger of the Year Spirit Award on Wednesday afternoon at Bryan High School. A National Life Group representative noted he had amassed 1,557 comments on his nominee profile.
“Honestly, I realized when there was 830 people from the United States that [were] nominated, up for this award, I thought to myself, ‘There’s no way I can win this.’ I just felt good that I was nominated, and that’s the whole key. People out in the community watching and nominating, that’s what really made me feel good about it,” Banks said.
It made his day, though, to read the emails, posts and comments on the nominee profile and social media.
“And when you come to find out you set the record with the most votes, that’s just too much. It’s incredible,” he said.
It is that support, he said, that makes him want to go the extra mile and continue giving back to the community where he grew up.
“LifeChanger of the Year recognizes and rewards the very best K-12 public and private school educators and employees across the United States for making a difference in the lives of students by exemplifying excellence, positive influence and leadership,” said Clare Ronaghan, senior relationship manager for National Life Group.
The 830 nominees were narrowed down to 16 award winners, selected by an external selection committee, and from those 16 winners one Spirit Award winner was selected based on the support he or she received from the community.
Over the eight years of the LifeChanger program, Ronaghan said, National Life Group has recognized more than 4,000 educators and employees in nearly 2,000 school districts throughout the country, and once the 2018-2019 cycle ends next May, the program will have awarded more than $500,000.
When choosing the winners and the Spirit Award recipient, Ronaghan said, the selection committee looked at the nominee profile comments, social media posts and other celebrations the district had for the nominee. In Bryan, Banks said, that included student-created signs and banners and surprise parties at some of the elementary schools.
Talking about the surprise parties, Banks said, “That’s where the tears come out, because you’ve got kids K-4 that admire you for what you do, and then you have kids tell you, ‘Hey, I want to be just like you one day.’ That’s very special.”
Banks said he plans to hang the LifeChanger of the Year banner he received in the Silver Campus cafeteria. In addition to the banner, the BHS campus monitor supervisor received a $5,000 award with $2,500 awarded as an individual award and the other half going toward the charity of his choice.
For Banks, that charity is the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Brazos Valley, where he has volunteered and worked part time for 28 years.
In receiving the award, Banks noted the Essential Eight character traits the district has been emphasizing throughout the year and specifically picking out leadership, caring and kindness.
“Those three are the most important in my life,” the 28-year Bryan school district employee said.
A 1984 Bryan High School graduate, Banks is known at his alma mater as a “jack of all trades.” More than that, though, he wants to be known as a person who cares, has a heart, is willing to give back and serves his community.
“We’re here today to celebrate your incredible dedication to the Bryan High School and this community,” Ronaghan said. “Your presence is unmistakable here. You’re one of the first people anyone sees when they arrive at school in the morning and the last at night. Even if they can’t see you, they can hear you selling football tickets in the hallways.”
Ronaghan read two stories posted on Banks’ nominee profile.
David Weir wrote, “Thanks for all you do. I hope one day to be just like you.”
BHS art teacher Renee Richards wrote, “He might be disguised as [Santa Claus] for the kids at the [Fannin] Elementary Fund Raiser. He might be the guy slipping your son a couple of high school football tickets because he noticed his attendance has [improved] this year. He might be the guy that secures the doors during a fire or weather drill. He might be the one getting a bottle of water and calming your son or daughter down, telling them in so many ways that they matter when something goes wrong, as so often happens in teenagers’ lives. In a million little and big ways, Lester is there.”
Bryan High School Principal Lane Buban called Banks another right hand, noting the help he provides is just the “tip of the iceberg.”
He meets students in the mornings and makes sure they eat breakfast before getting to class on time, Buban said. He provides scholarships for graduating seniors or students who do not have the means to attend sports camps.
“Going the extra mile to take care of kids. That’s what he’s all about,” Buban said. “He’s got a heart for kids like nobody’s business. You don’t find that very often in a lot of people where they’re so giving of themselves and willing to put others first before themselves. That’s what he does a lot of times. … He’s one of those pieces of the campus that makes it work.”