Carlos Guedze came to America from Dogo, Niger in West Africa when he was 18 years old. He spoke only French, and his single acquaintance was a cousin in Atlanta, Georgia. Two weeks after arriving, he got a job as a dishwasher at a local KFC restaurant and began learning a few English words by interacting with the cooks.
Now, five years later, Guedze speaks fluent English, is a restaurant shift supervisor, has enrolled in college and will graduate next year. He has plans to go to medical school and become a neurosurgeon.
“I pretty much learned English while working at KFC,” says Guedze, 23, currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in biotechnology at the University of Georgia. “I forced myself to talk to all my co-workers. I had to answer all their questions in English. It’s a blessing to work at KFC. I’ve always worked with amazing teams. It was more than a workplace – it’s a relationship with a family. They really care. All the managers were truly good.”
Guedze is one of many KFC restaurant hourly team members and shift supervisors who have received a KFC Foundation REACH Educational Grant. Launched in 2013, KFC employees are able to win $2,000 – $2,500 annually for 4- and 2-year college degrees, vocational programs or graduate school through the REACH Grant Program. By reapplying every year, employees can secure funding for as many years as necessary until they graduate. So far, the foundation has awarded 2,442 grants totaling $5,012,500 to KFC restaurant employees.
“This program is inspired by Colonel Sanders himself,” says Krista Snider, managing director of the Kentucky Fried Chicken Foundation. “We know that most of our recipients are first-generation college students. We often see people who are really surprised that they won. They are so honored. It gives them the confidence to say ‘Hey, maybe I can do this!’”
Snider shares an anecdote about Colonel Sanders as a struggling young man covered in mud who was standing along a roadside after his truck broke down on his way to work in the fields. A nicely dressed man with a beautiful car stopped and gave him a ride.
“The Colonel’s promise to never pass anybody up certainly inspires all that we do,” Snider says. “College is one of those almost-out-of-reach, mysterious things to many of our recipients, so we’re proud to be able to bridge that gap.”
“Never passing anybody up certainly inspires all that we do,” Snider says. ”College is one of those almost-out-of-reach mysterious things to many of our recipients.”
KFC program expands in 2017
Most recipients continue to work at least part-time at KFC and attend college full-time, but some are full-time employees and part-time students, Snider says. Those who attend college out-of-state often come home during holidays and summer breaks to resume work at their restaurants.
Students study all kinds of different majors, Snider says. “It is all over the map.” Popular majors include business, nursing, psychology, marketing, education, accounting, IT and criminal justice. Other more unique majors include philosophy, dance and mechanical engineering.
“Giving employees the opportunity to go to college is consistent with the KFC culture,” Snider says. “KFC believes in helping people be their best selves and in helping them reach their full potential.”
To provide a more complete range of educational offerings, the KFC Foundation partnered with GED Testing Service in September 2015 to provide comprehensive support to restaurant employees wanting to earn their high school credential. The foundation covers all GED preparation and exam fees and provides a personal advisor to help employees successfully complete the program. So far, 22 employees have earned their high school credential through the REACH HIGH/GED program, which takes an average of six to nine months to complete.
“We have dozens of people who are in the pipeline currently working toward earning their GED,” Snider says. “We hope to see many of our GED graduates go to college and take advantage of the REACH Grant as well.”
Paying It Forward
Carlos Guedze says he plans to give back to both his hometown in Africa and his community in America as he continues to be successful. “I believe in the American Dream,” Guedze says. “It’s given me all the opportunity here to pursue my goals.”
Guedze plans to create a non-profit in Africa to help young children gain access to quality medical care. He says his non-profit will also help African American teens by connecting them with professional mentors who can give them a vision for their own successful future and provide them support in achieving their goals.
Guedze plans to sit for the MCATS medical school entrance exams in June 2017 and will apply for med school in the 2018 cycle.
“To be able to go to school and have someone support you emotionally and financially really makes a difference,” Guedze says. “Having someone who believes in you is great. KFC gave me the opportunity to make myself better. And I’m not having to do this journey alone.”
Don’t you want to work for a company that empowers it’s employees to realize the American Dream? Visit KFC’s career site for openings.
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