Member Spotlight: Ray Shrestha

Rajendra Shrestha, known as Ray, was born and raised in a small village in the Huwas region of the Parbat district in Nepal.  He excelled in his studies at the local Shree Janasewa Sansrkrit Secondary School. With the assistance and encouragement of his village and family, he worked his way through university in Katmandu and became a practicing attorney. The significance of this will, we believe, becomes apparent later in this narrative.

            In a poverty stricken country, practicing law is far from a sustaining profession. With a new child to feed, he and his young wife, Anjana, known as Ann, made a bold decision.  In 1999, at the age of 29, Ray came to America on a student visa with the hope of studying for the bar exam and practicing international law in the New York/New Jersey area. 

            Since his English skills were weak, he was compelled to take ESL classes in Manhattan, but he had found a living space and a job in Bergen County.  Initially hired by a restaurant as a dishwasher, he took on additional duties which increased his income while saving money for his employer.  After five years of impossibly long days, he had sent enough money home so his wife and baby daughter could join him.

            Ray’s wife Ann had already been practicing eyebrow threading and other beauty skills in a small beauty parlor in Nepal and had hoped to practice in the USA. However, to become licensed in New Jersey, she would have to pass a trade school certification course. Due to her weak English skills at the time, she endured great difficulty in her attempt to pass the course. Not wanting her to be disappointed, Ray put his own plans on hold and took the course himself.  After graduating at the top of his class, he realized that he had found a new calling. So, he and Ann went into the beauty care industry together. Eventually, they purchased the building in Fair Lawn where they now reside, with their daughter Carrline, in the second-floor apartment and operate the ARC Beauty Salon on the first floor.  They have added a second location in Montclair, NJ and are in the process of opening a third.

            Ray has been in this country for only 20 years and is still working to refine his English skills.  He is an active member of the Fair Lawn Chamber of Commerce. He leads by example as a supporter of charitable projects through the Chamber, the schools, local charities, and Rotary charities and projects.  His generous support is not only financial but also through hands-on participation whenever his work schedule allows.  He is usually the first to volunteer sponsorship for any worthy cause, and he will readily put a collection can on his shop counters.

            Ray was first introduced to Rotary in 2013 and he immediately associated with the ideals of the Four Way Test.  He had already built his business on the principles of honesty, quality, fairness and beneficence. For this reason, he was invited to Rotary and proposed for membership by Rotarians who were clients of his salon.

            Ray’s business philosophy is a classic Rotarian model:  Since he is in a service industry, he insists on treating his clients with fairness and respect by maintaining fair pricing and working to generate satisfied, repeat customers. What makes Ray unique is that he believes that the path to that end is to make sure that his employees are happy in their work and are treated fairly. Each of his beauticians receive a generous share of each procedure plus inclusion in a group health insurance plan.

            Many of his full-time employees are able to do very well financially.  But that’s not all. Each employee and their family are treated to a week-long vacation each year at the company’s expense to a location of their choice (within a budget).  On Christmas day, the only day of the year that his shops are closed, Ray rents a hall and hosts a party with food and live music for his employees, their families and his Rotary and Chamber friends.  He does these things to show his appreciation for his work family and to promote his belief in the importance of family values.

            By making the effort to promote good will, fairness and benefit for all, he firmly trusts that his work family will help continue the growth of the business for the benefit of all.  It will come as no surprise that he has very little employee turnover–a rarity in the beauty industry.  It is also a common sight to see them splitting their tips with the collection cans put in store for certain causes.

            His friends know that Ray’s underlying motivation is that he always remembers where he came from and what it took for him to get where he is now.  He and Ann have continued to send money home to Nepal to assist the local community and education system. His most recent and most ambitious project was designed to assist the entire village and region.

            In 2008, Nepal replaced the former monarchy with a democratic government.  But the country was still left with a 25% poverty rate, and literacy rates of 60% for men and 50% for women.  In the remote village areas like his home Huwas region, these numbers were worse. Their daughter’s success at the Bergen County Academies and Northeastern University, and his acquired appreciation of American life, convinced Ray and Ann that the key to Nepal’s future development is in its educational system.

            Ray joined the Friends of Nepal-New Jersey, Inc. and he also set up his own funding site through which he solicited other Nepalese immigrants around the world who had found success in new homes.  He was able to raise significant, but inadequate funds, for the village’s needs.  Fair Lawn Sunrise Rotary offered to try and help; and our club was soon able to provide 40 computers and some science lab equipment which Ray delivered to his old school.  Of course, the joy was short-lived since damage from the 2015 earthquakes required that the school be leveled and completely reconstructed. 

            The school has since been rebuilt with additional rooms for computer and science labs.

Ray was able to find a partner Rotary club in Nepal who could handle a joint Rotary Foundation Global Grant project.  Sunrise Rotary was successful in procuring a global grant to refurnish the school classrooms, offices, library, science labs and the area’s first computer labs.  Also, through the influence of the Shrestha family, the school has the area’s first sewing classroom which will, along with vocational training, produce a sustainable supply of reusable sanitary napkins so adolescent girls will be able to complete an uninterrupted education. 

            Ray and Ann could be living in the biggest house in Fair Lawn. Instead, they are happy with the modest apartment connected to their business.  They could be living la dolce vita but choose to use the fruits of their profession to give back to their community in Nepal, to their work family, and to their new American family and community.  Ray is the product of his own work ethic and his belief in, and love of, people.  He is as simple, direct and unpretentious a man as you could ever meet.  And yet, he a man of the world who embraces all of it.  He didn’t have to join Rotary to learn about Service Above Self, but his affinity to it is why he so strongly embraces Rotary.