Holiday Helper

December 1, 2006 by  
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David Moore of Elves & More

On Dec. 12, nearly 4,000 volunteers will fill Reliant Center to construct 20,000 bicycles and wrap 5,000 additional presents for needy children. Donating their time to Elves &More, they are making sure that every child in the Houston area has at least one good Christmas — and a better chance at life.

Volunteers will donate $40, the cost of an unassembled bike, for the privilege of becoming an elf. Santa’s workshop stays fast and furious through Dec. 21. The next day, the bikes and presents will be loaded into trucks, and on Dec. 23, Santa and his elves will distribute them to every child in, yet undisclosed, neighborhoods.

The founder of Elves &More, David Moore and his wife, Jenny, have committed $2.5 million to the program. However, as the name indicates, there is more to this charity than holiday cheer. This year, David started a back-to-school program, and a summer camp is in the works. He is aiming to conquer poverty in Houston, then the entire country.

Planting the seed
David Moore grew up in the suburbs of Marshall, Texas. “So that’s pretty much the country,” he concedes. His dad was fighting the Korean War with the Marines until David was 3 years old and his older brother was 5. Another brother was born that next year.

When David was 8 years old, his 34-year-old father died of a heart attack. The family’s first Christmas without their dad was very sad. Their mother suggested they, “‘Give away Christmas,’ and that’s what we did,” he remembers. “We gave our Christmas to a poor family.” It was healing for his poor-in-spirit family.

At 13, David got his first job helping his grandfather build houses. At 14, he went to work for Jerrill and Louise May at the corner grocery store. “They were my real parents,” he says. “I slept at home, but they were my real parents.” His mother had remarried, and he now had a new stepfather.

The tool box
David’s career path peaked as a partner with Accenture. In the then-new field of privatization, he traveled to 40 countries, “helping nations modernize their oil economies; and reform pricing, taxing and regulatory systems,” he says. “Basically, [I was] helping turn their government monopolies into commercially competitive businesses.”

“When you’re born, you get a tool box of skills,” he says of business success, “things like strength of character, intelligence, determination. In my toolbox, I got an ability to squint my eyes at complex situations and see the truths, and the places to intervene in complex situations and find the golden thread that you can tug on and change the system. And I believe poverty is no different.”

David retired from the business world in 2001; his new career is finding and tugging on the “golden threads” that will help eliminate poverty. “Here, as much as one can criticize, we have a pretty good system with plenty of opportunity,” he says. “So, how can you fail in a system that has good government, a sound economic system and abundant opportunity?”

“Some subsets of our poor have had their spirits crushed for more than a century,” he explains. “It is no accident that the biggest groups of chronically poor are Native Americans and African Americans. Those groups of poor are fundamentally different in thinking than … recent immigrants, such as the Hispanics and Asians.

“Like previous immigrants who came here for the opportunity, the new immigrants come with determination, with families intact (even if they are not physically with them) and with a strong religion,” he says. “That means parents see it as their obligation to work hard to sustain their families and to motivate their children to ‘do better than I did.’ They are the working poor whose children and grandchildren are and will be in the mainstream of our society. They are thriving in our system. It is proof positive that our system works.”

Institutionally scarred
“I believe communities, which have been defeated and subjugated, have been institutionally scarred,” he says. “That scar manifests itself in false beliefs. A false belief of, ‘We can’t get ahead.’ And the big one, ‘They won’t let us.'”

“There is abundant evidence this is just not true,” he continues. “There are many people from our Native communities succeeding in our system; but step into poor communities, and you will find them ravaged by alcohol, drugs and crime. Marcus Aurelius said 2000 years ago, ‘Poverty is the mother of crime.'”

David goes on a long discussion about the huge numbers of young black males in prison, concluding with, “Psychologists tell us everyone always chooses the best option they can see. So, what must the options look like if the best option is to take a gun in your hand or stick a needle in your arm? If you want someone to change, you have to give them new options.”

The bicycle option
David Moore’s option is bicycles. “Why bikes?” he asks rhetorically. “A bike is an instrument to take a child to another place.” Metaphysically, as well as physically. “Another place where a mentor can be found who will guide that child and help that child see new options.” Like Jerrill May did for David.

David tries to pair bikes with neighborhoods that have mentoring programs like Scout Troops. “A study shows, the kids go to school more often, behave better in class and get better grades,” he says of one neighborhood that has had Scout Troops instituted for three years. However, many of these children need wheels to get to Scout meetings.

To David, it all comes down to numbers. “One person in prison for one year costs $30,000,” he says. “If that person were, instead, working for a year at minimum wage, he’d have earned $10,000. So, that person is costing society $40,000 a year.”

“We can buy a thousand bikes at $40 a piece,” he says. “There’s your $40,000. If one child served by our program meets a mentor and doesn’t go to prison for just one year, we’ve saved society $40,000. We’re at break-even. If more than one out of our 1,000 children doesn’t go to jail because the bike gets them to a mentor who saves them, it’s a win for society. That’s a fantastically successful program!”

“I believe we’re helping more than one out of 1,000, not for a year, but for a lifetime!” he says proudly.

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