Rhys W. Powell: Educating children with good nutrition
CRAIG D. FRAZIER Special to the AmNews | 9/12/2012, 8:31 p.m.
Back to school means new clothes, school supplies and a lot of homework assignments for New York City children. For Rhys W. Powell, Red Rabbit CEO, the school year means preparing healthy school meals for students in the New York metro area.
Powell believes that good nutrition is essential to a child's academic growth, physical health and behavior. His company makes more than 10,000 gourmet meals from scratch every day and services over 70 schools. Their "kid-tested and approved" menu is farm-fresh and locally sourced.
Powell, a transplant from the Bahamas, now calls Harlem home. "My father was a diplomat with the Bahamian government stationed here at the United Nations, and I joined him when I was 14. I spent one month here and fell in love with New York," he explained.
Rhys then went off to college and received a BS in computer science and engineering from MIT. For a short time, he was an equity trader for a private firm. "I left finance because I really felt that I wasn't helping people," Powell said. "Finance is a critical function in our society, but it is pretty disconnected from people. I like being up close and personal. I especially like helping children."
Powell decided to tap into his entrepreneurial side and started Red Rabbit. After completing the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program at LaGuardia Community College, he acquired vital tools in accounting, human resources, negotiating and marketing. Those skills allowed him to expand his business.
"More than 50 percent of children we serve are enrolled in charter schools," noted Powell. "I wanted to start a program to provide children with healthy meals during the school year. Our meals are developed and reviewed by Red Rabbit chefs, nutritionists and pediatricians." In total, his Harlem-based company has a team of 54 employees.
"The energy in Harlem really made me feel welcome and comfortable. Once I drove past 96th Street, I felt like I was coming home. Something must be different in the water up here in Harlem," he said. "You know that New York can be a little rough. When we moved here, we got a sense of community. Our neighbors spoke to us. They helped us feel welcome. That just doesn't happen anymore."
Powell closes by saying that by partnering with local schools, Red Rabbit's breakfast, lunches and snacks are changing that way food is being served to children. His program helps the local economy and educates families, teachers and community about nutrition and health.
"I have been working in food services for seven years now. It has been a welcome change in my life," said Powell. "I shifted from a career based on self-fulfillment and goals to a career that is based on how many people we can help and how many lives we can change. At the same time, having an impact on our community is something that is very motivating for me. I wake up excited for work."