Elaine Rooker Jack, Special to The Courier-Journal 2:38 p.m. EST January 27, 2016
Achievement: Chad Kamen was one of 10 national winners in the Kohl’s Cares Scholarship Program. He receives a $10,000 scholarship and $1,000 for the nonprofit organization of his choice.
Background on Kohl’s Cares: Since 2001, Kohl’s has recognized more than 24,000 youths, including the 2015 winners, with nearly $4.7 million in scholarships and prizes. The Kohl’s Cares Scholarship Program is part of Kohl’s Cares, Kohl’s philanthropic program focused on improving the lives of children.
Chad’s project: Chad created Team Food Chain, a nonprofit dedicated to raising funds to support organizations combating hunger in Kentucky. As part of his efforts with Team Food Chain, Chad partnered with the Kentucky Association of Food Banks (KAFB) and lobbied to establish a $1.2 million appropriation in the Kentucky state budget for KAFB’s Farms to Food Banks Program, which provides farm fresh foods to people in need.
Team Food Chain, from the beginning: Chad said it might sound crazy to say he was inspired by a reality TV show, but in 2009 when he was thinking about a service project for his bar mitzvah, he was very interested in the program “Top Chef.”
“I’m passionate about food, and I knew food had to be a part of it,” Chad said.
He calls himself more of an “appreciator” of food, admitting that fixing cereal is about as close as he comes to cooking. At the same time, he was preparing a speech for the school speech team on the importance of family dinners.
“I wanted to inspire people to have family dinners but also to help others who couldn’t afford to do so," he said.
Phases of accomplishment with Team Food Chain: The first three years Chad focused on family dinners and hunger relief in Louisville, raising over $15,000 for Dare To Care as an event sponsor for the Hunger Walk. The second three years he focused on hunger relief in the state of Kentucky. In the third phase, beginning now, he will focus on the sustainability of hunger relief programs.
Turning a disappointment into a victory: In the effort to generate sustainable funding for Team Food Chain, Chad pursued the creation of a license plate. He raised over $22,000 in the process of demonstrating support for the idea: finding 900 people to pledge $25 each. When he met with the review committee he was told there was a problem with the way he raised his funds; he would have to re-start the process from the beginning.
“I was pretty upset,” he said, adding that he took several days to decide what to do next. “I decided to go back to my principles: to bring positivity, and to show that anyone can make a difference. I decided not to get mired down in the negative and stay focused on sustainable means of funding. I gave all the money we collected to Kentucky Food Bank.”
He estimates that since the beginning of Team Food Chain he has raised and distributed over $58,000.
Lessons learned: “Anyone can make a difference, with passion. You have to remain positive, and recognizing that great work is being done is the first step,” he said that sometimes people get “muddled down in the darker stories, but Louisville has some great things going on.”
Personal benefits for Chad: He said that his greatest benefit from his work with Team Food Chain has been the change in the way he views the world.
“The accolades are nice, and it’s great to be honored, but I’ve been able – lucky enough – to spend years having an impact on others," Chad said. "I’ve grown up through my experiences. I’ve gained confidence; I’ve gained positivity. I’ve learned what I want to do with my life. I’m only 17, but I know I want to help others for the rest of my life.”
Chad’s home life: He lives in Prospect with his parents Abby and Craig Kamen. His older sister Samantha is a student at Indiana University.
Teacher Quote: “Chad believes deeply that one person can make a difference,” teacher Lydia Brownlow, said. “His volunteer work is not simply an extra-curricular activity, but rather it's a deeply-rooted, integral part of the fabric of his life.”
Future plans: Chad says he’s still undecided on where he will attend college, but he’s interested in schools with programs in business entrepreneurship, music and Spanish.
He enjoys: Running, listening to music, researching interests - from Anna Karenina to Andy Warhol - on the Internet, playing guitar, reading and hanging out with friends.
MEET THE ACHIEVER
Achiever: Chad Kamen
School: Kentucky Country Day School