"Charity is what passes between a willing giver and a thankful recipient."
Monte Fast's profound words convey the essence of his two decades of leadership of Friends In Service Helping (FISH), Carson's charity that helps people in so many ways. Monte, FISH and their many supporters and workers have been an immeasurable blessing to Northern Nevada for 30 years.
To celebrate and thank Monte, some folks inspired by his leadership have organized a reception and dinner at the Governor's Mansion for Tuesday, Sept. 16 at 5:30 P.M., and everyone is invited. The cost is $25 per person for dinner, or $125 for those who want figuratively to sit at "Monte's Table." Proceeds will endow a scholarship in his name for students at Western Nevada College and provide a gift for Monte and his wife, Billie. Reservations can be made at 882-3474 (882-FISH).
Monte, FISH & Co. have given life to Monte's aphorism that perfectly captures a central tenet of Christianity: charity. Working with private donations, volunteers and a minimum of dedicated paid staff, they have provided to needy families and individuals food, clothing, shelter, medical services, counseling, education, job opportunities, tax preparation services, social and support services, utility bill help, a thrift store, love and spiritual guidance, and more.
They've changed lives, supported families and homeless folks, and helped build community.
They've done all of this overwhelmingly with private means, because their point is true charity, not the taking-from-Peter-to-pay-Paul idea behind taxes. FISH's use of government funds is limited almost completely to administering grants that would come to public agencies even without its involvement.
FISH was founded in 1979 by local ministers and volunteers. Many similar organizations fail for lack of volunteers. It is a testament to our community that FISH has had continuing volunteer support. In the 1980s, it benefited particularly from the help of three church youth groups, it merged with Friends Of Citizens Under Stress, and it opened its family dining room.
In December 1988, Monte, a pastor from Oregon who had moved here in 1985 to work with the youth of First Presbyterian Church, was chosen as its third Executive Director. He first had to raise money to pay the electric bill and his own salary. In his first year, sales at the thrift store, plus individual, church and business donations allowed FISH's monthly income to exceed expenses for the first time.
Soon, he secured transitional and emergency housing for the homeless and needy on the Stewart Indian School campus, opening six homes to low-income families for up to two years. He also established a second emergency shelter to house single men separately from women and families with children.
With donations from local grocery stores and food drives in our schools and by postal workers, he expanded FISH's food programs. Today, FISH provides over 100,000 free meals each year.
He was instrumental in establishing the only free medical clinic in Northern Nevada, named for Dr. Charlie Ross, who started it in a broom closet at the FISH offices. With volunteer doctors and nurses, it helps hundreds of patients each month.
In 2000, on behalf of FISH, Monte accepted a Best Practices Award from the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development for FISH being a model agency for other rural one-stop assistance programs throughout the nation.
After FISH had rented offices and its thrift store on Long Street for many years, in 2006 Monte secured its presence here. With a strong business plan and the support of Carson City, he led FISH to purchase the property. Instead of paying rent, FISH now holds a mortgage and is building equity in the future of Northern Nevada.
Among the many education services FISH has provided are help with General Education Degree achievement and a course in family finances. FISH education and job help, plus a strong self-help ethic communicated to FISH clients, have helped move many folks out of need and into successful careers as productive citizens.
Following a nearly fatal medical crisis early this year, Monte retired. In announcing his retirement at his final staff meeting, he emphasized another message central to his management philosophy and FISH's success: Loyalty begets loyalty.
Carson City Supervisors subsequently named him Citizen of the Year.
Monte and Billie have three sons and five grandchildren, and they have traveled throughout North America and in the Middle East. Monte is also an author and gardener, especially good with tomatoes, and he and Billie keep busy in retirement.
Monte won't know until he reads this column that Chris Bayer, Vicki Preston, Patt Quinn Davis, Jeff Fast (his son and FISH successor) and I are planning to help folks honor him. He has blessed us all in so many ways. Let's all get together to say, "Thanks, and God bless you, Monte."
University Regent Ron Knecht taught "Managing Your Life and Family Finances" for FISH.