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Cookies and Community – Behind the Counter with Kara Kennish

Aug 18, 2021 | Homepage, News & Updates

Kara Kennish is the owner of Tim Hortons Binbrook, a dedicated corporate partner of Empowerment Squared who donate the annual proceeds of their Smile Cookie campaign to Empowerment Squared. In 2020 they sold 36,000 Smile Cookies, the second most in Canada, and donated $36,000. Kara is also an athlete, leader, and active supporter of our community.

On the eve of the launch of the 2021 Smile Cookie campaign, Kara sat down with sat down with Joana Fejzaj, Empowerment Squared’s Manager of Partnerships and Community Development, for an in-depth conversation.

Joana: You are a successful entrepreneur, professional athlete, philanthropist, and a key voice at the Tim Hortons Foundation. Where does your personal and professional drive and ambition come from?

Kara: My core values of seeking to be the best version of myself, dedication to hard work, and having a competitive spirit, are deeply rooted in the Kennish family. I grew up in a household where a competitive mindset drove myself and my sisters Hayley and Karli to always strive for excellence in everything that we did. My father Steve jokes that he will always be the second best athlete in the family, as my mother Loraine is a great tennis player. My parents always made sure that my sisters and I were surrounded by opportunities that challenged us as people and as professionals, ensuring that we experienced life and learned from those challenges. Ultimately, this equipped us with lessons that have helped me build my confidence and given me the courage to overcome anything that life throws my way. I thank my father for always encouraging and challenging us to be the best version of ourselves. 

What was the driving force behind your decision to own your own Tim Hortons?

This is a really fun question! Many people don’t know this, but I’m a third generation Tim Hortons franchisee. My family has been in the business for 51 years. It started with a deep friendship between my grandfather and the late Ron Joyce, CEO of Tim Hortons. I remember being four years old and my grandparents coming to school with me for “bring your grandparents to school day.” My grandfather shared his story about how he was a police officer and had made the decision to serve the community in another way, which was to serve coffee and donuts to everyone that walked through the restaurant’s doors. I remember the passion in his voice and knew that I wanted to do the same! I also wanted to be my own boss and run a successful business. As a franchisee, I have been able to use my platform to make a difference in our local community, just like my grandfather did when he opened his first restaurant.

How did you come across Empowerment Squared and what has been your experience working with the organization as a corporate partner?

I first was introduced to the organization at E2’s 2018 at Liuna Station in Hamiton. I walked inside the hall and was surrounded by 600 people who were working together to build a better world. I remember sitting at my table and feeling an incredible sense of community and energy in the room. I had never experienced anything like this before. I knew I had found a group of people who wanted to build a stronger community and were looking for others to do the same. 

Since that day I have stood proudly beside the mission and work that Empowerment Squared is involved in and can confidently say that they are making tremendous impact in the community and the lives of vulnerable members of our society.

I’m a big believer in equal opportunity. Reflecting on my own life, my success is very much connected to the opportunities that I have been given by my family and my community. I recognize that society is not an equal playing field and some have more opportunities than others. I want to be someone that uses my platform to create opportunities for newcomer, racialized, and marginalized youth and children in Hamilton who don’t have the network and resources to reach their potential. I am here to be a part of change and committed to do that for years to come. 

Since 1996, Tim Hortons has supported over 550 charities across Canada through the Smile Cookie campaign and raised a record breaking total of $10.5 million in 2020. What inspired you to choose Empowerment Squared as your charity of your choice for the Smile Cookie Campaign?

Fun fact – the Smile Cookie campaign was started in Hamilton by a group of franchise owners, including my parents and grandparents, who decided to work together with the community to support charities in Hamilton focused on social issues to help kids live healthier lives. This year we celebrate 25 years of Smile Cookie impact.

I chose Empowerment Squared because of their innovative approach to social issues, their commitment to the Hamilton, and the successful outcomes that they produce for children, youth and families in the community. Empowerment Squared that aligns with my values and personal philanthropic goals. 

Last year, the community purchased a whopping 36,000 cookies, giving you second place across Canada for the most cookie sales. You’re a Canada wide success story – how were you able to gather so much support?

It feels great to be number two, however the competitive spirit in me means that this year we’re working towards being number one! The Binbrook community really came together last year and established itself as a community that is collaborative in nature and committed to making a difference in the lives of children and youth in need of support. Binbrook is a community that rallies behind one another and we step up to the task when we are needed. We are there for each other like a big family. 

For those who have never visited Binbrook and are looking to do so, what are some places that they need to visit?

First you need to grab your coffee from Tim’s and come say hello! After that I recommend you visit the Binbrook Conservation Area where you can swim and enjoy water sports, nice hiking and walking trails, picnic areas, and a splash pad. It’s a really lovely place to enjoy with family and friends while taking in the beautiful nature around you. The Binbrook Fair is held in the second week of September and is over 150 years old. It’s a fun place to experience a live demolition derby, a baking competition, and a midway. For those who love anything “pick your own”, we have great farms to pick fresh fruits and vegetables. For those who like to golf, we have two beautiful golf courses that I highly recommend. 

Can you take us behind the scenes and tell us what goes into the planning and execution of selling that many cookies? 

I have a love affair with Smile Cookie because it’s not only rewarding, but also extremely challenging. The first step is identifying the areas of greatest need within Empowerment Squared, how many kids can we support, and what it will it take to do it. Based on the needs, we identify how many cookies we need to sell and how many hours of baking need to be done. We bring on amazing volunteers that help with the baking, decorating, and packaging. A lot of fun and heavy lifting that goes into creating the lovely Smile Cookies that Canadians will get to enjoy between September 13-19. 

What is your favourite part about the Smile Cookie campaign and what do you look forward to the most about the campaign this year?

My favorite part of Smile Cookie week is seeing the community come together to support a important cause and the ways that people support through volunteering, spreading the word, and buying cookies. I love meeting all of the volunteers, including hockey teams that use this opportunity as a team building activity and as a way to give back. We get to meet some great people and have meaningful conversations about how you need to be a leader on and off the ice as an athlete.

This year I look forward to going neck-to-neck with Tim Hortons Dunnville in a friendly competition to see who can sell the most cookies in Canada! We are both supporting great causes and creating awareness about social issues that are affecting people in our communities. Finally, I really look forward to spending time with my team from the restaurant because I really feel that spending time together doing something that benefits others brings us closer together. 

Why is investing in the community and giving back important to you?

I’ve made a conscious decision to invest in the community because I’m aware that life is not an equal playing field and I want to use my resources and power to create opportunities for others. On the personal side, I feel great giving back to others and knowing that I can add value to the community and invest where it matters most. I grew up watching my grandparents and parents support different organizations and I want to continue that legacy. I have had the fortune of being surrounded by inspirational people, leaders, changemakers, storytellers, and visionaries who all influenced and impacted our business and our communities, and now it’s my turn to pay it forward. ⠀

How many cookies are you planning to sell this year? What is the cost, how can we buy them, and what portion of the proceeds will go to Empowerment Squared?

This year our goal is to sell 40,000 Smile Cookies, but I have a feeling with your help we will be able to sell at least 50,000! Smile Cookies are $1 each and 100% of sales will go directly to Empowerment Squared programming. You can purchase them at Tim Hortons in Binbrook or online at Empowerment Squared’s website. You can buy cookies for your friends, families, clients, and everyone who you know will appreciate a smile that will brighten their day and make a difference in our community. Last year we had people purchase cookies for weddings, parties, and other social events so if you have an event coming up, order your cookies today! 

In my conversations with you, I’ve learned that you are an avid reader, love your coffee, and indulge in donut eating from time to time. Do you have a favourite book that you recommended? Next time we visit a Tim Hortons, what donut should we try?

My favorite book is The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday, who is one of my favorite authors. I recommend that you not only read this book once, but come back to it as needed. You will know what I mean once you’ve read it. I’ve learned and implemented great lessons from this book that guide me daily as an individual and entrepreneur. 

My favorite donut is chocolate coconut because it’s delicious! It’s one of my guilty pleasures. Being around coffee, donuts and Timbits at any given time makes my life wonderful as I enjoy all those three things daily. My favourite quote, which makes me laugh, is “I will take on the world, after my cup of coffee.” 

We thank Kara Kennish for her time, the opportunity to learn more about her as a community leader, and for taking us behind the scenes of the hard work and dedication behind the Smile Cookie campaign that will positively impact the lives of young people in our community. We thank her for her leadership and for choosing Empowerment Squared as her charity of choice!