What do you think of when you hear the word “philanthropist?”
This year’s theme for employee campaigns is to “put away your top hats and monocles” and that “anyone can be a philanthropist.” We believe that whether you give $5 a year or $500,000 a year, you are a philanthropist; it is your giving spirit and earnest attempt to better your community that grants you this fancy-sounding title. We could find no better example of this than Kevin Rogel, who graciously agreed to let us share his story.
We met Kevin, 16, a few years ago when he was a student at Webb Middle School. He joined our Volunteer Project Leader group, which teaches middle school students to not only give back, but to design and lead their own volunteer projects.
While on a tour of the middle school, H-E-B senior vice president Jeff Thomas heard Kevin speak about the program and was impressed with his confidence, philanthropic heart and always positive attitude. Thomas told Kevin later that day, “when you hit 16…look me up” for an open position awaiting him at H-E-B.
Mere days after Kevin’s 16th birthday last April, Kevin filled out his application with the help of his mentor and UWATX Director of Volunteer Engagement, Nikki Kruger–and as Thomas promised, he was hired as a Customer Service Associate.
Unfortunately, Kevin awoke a few days later in a hospital in San Antonio with more than 40% of his body covered in third-degree burns. While helping his mom cook, he slipped and dropped a cauldron of hot soup over him entire body, causing injuries that will require special care for the rest of his life.
He made a fast recovery, leaving the hospital weeks before expected. He quickly made strides in regaining body strength and taking care of his own dressings and injections to prevent infection. He even returned to school for the last few days of the semester and began his H-E-B job over the 4th of July weekend.
Kevin’s quick recovery is not too shocking to his mom, friends or school and UWATX employees who have worked closely with him over the years. In fact, resilience and exceeding expectations seems to be his standard M.O.
At age 6, Kevin and his family made the frightening trek across the border from Mexico to the United States. He began school behind his classmates, not knowing how to read or write in neither Spanish nor English. By the time he was 9, he was completely bilingual, which held even more importance for his Spanish-speaking mother after his dad was deported two years later. As one of four kids, Kevin took the role of being his mother’s second in command in stride, while still excelling in middle school, earning a scholarship and playing on the soccer team.
He began to volunteer in the 7th grade by translating for Spanish-speakers at a food pantry in St. John’s, and even spent his last four spring breaks volunteering by his own choice. Before starting his job at H-E-B, the company that nearly always raises the most for UWATX through employee campaign each year, Kevin told us he couldn’t wait to make his pledge to give back part of each paycheck to help other kids like him. He even shared his story at the H-E-B campaign training in June to inspire his new coworkers to become philanthropists too.
Special thanks to Kevin Rogel and Jeff Thomas for truly embodying what it means to be a philanthropist. View Kevin’s full story in the Austin-American Statesman (requires paid access).