New Wendy’s Foundation Chair: ‘These Children Need Us’
Impatient with too many children leaving foster care without a family, Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas started his Foundation for Adoption in 1992. The Foundation recently appointed a new Chair, Mary Schell, to a role that fits her passion for community service and social justice for children.
By Andrew Parker, CFE
Many of the widely-held myths and assumptions about adoption simply aren’t true. For example, foster care adoption normally costs little to nothing. Individuals over 55 years old can provide a healthy and loving environment for a foster child, despite many Americans believing that this isn’t the case. These are the types of misconceptions that the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, and its new Chair, Mary Schell, seek to change.
In the late 1990s, after working for the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, Schell was presented with a rare opportunity to start a government relations department from scratch at iconic fast-food restaurant brand Wendy’s International. She jumped at the chance to work with company founder Dave Thomas, a longtime member of the International Franchise Association. Thomas encouraged Schell to join the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption’s Board of Trustees in 2001. Early this year, the Foundation’s Board elected Schell its new Chair, along with Vice-Chair Todd Penegor, Wendy’s President and CEO. Schell also serves as Chief Public Affairs Officer for Wendy’s.
Through programs and strategic awareness efforts, the Foundation addresses the needs of children in foster care waiting to be adopted, while fast-tracking the adoption process for the longest-waiting children. Wendy’s founder played a key role in the Foundation until his death in 2002, and his impact lives on. “He understood the role government plays in the life – and future – of children waiting to be adopted from foster care,” said Schell. Getting involved with the Foundation, she continued, was a chance to “bring together my experience in political advocacy with a cause our brand enthusiastically embraces.”
A mother of two sons, Schell said being a parent “reminds you how vulnerable children are, and how fleeting childhood is.” Thomas was impatient with the slow-moving government systems that often impede the foster care adoption process – a concern shared by Schell. He used his considerable public persona and resources to change things, Schell said, and his legacy of giving back still inspires the Wendy’s family.
“Dave Thomas believed that we all have a responsibility to the children in foster care.”
Schell’s goals for the Foundation include bolstering its signature program, Wendy’s Wonderful Kids, which issues grants for social work professionals to receive specialized training in an evidence-based, child-focused recruitment model. Several U.S. states are on board to make this model their official approach to adoption, and the Foundation has an ambitious strategy to scale the program in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. According to Schell, once that happens, “we’ll dramatically increase the number of adoptions in America and end the crisis of children ‘aging out’ of foster care. My goal as chair is to ensure the Foundation has adequate resources and is maximizing its opportunity to partner with those who share our commitment.”
As a business, Wendy’s faces many of the challenges that face others in the restaurant space – expanding sales and managing costs that pressure operating margins in a highly competitive marketplace. Schell believes that Wendy’s franchisees, operators, and suppliers are crucial proponents of the brand’s success.
One of the challenges for the Foundation remains educating and convincing the decision-makers in government (government systems hold the custody of children in care) who can co-invest and implement the model proven through the Wendy’s Wonderful Kids program. “Finding a family for every child who is waiting can be achieved if government will embrace our approach. We have the research, the reach and experience that proves how successful it is, but we need political support, too,” she noted.
Schell stressed the importance of advocacy and outreach programs for all businesses, and especially those involved with franchising. Wendy’s is 95 percent franchised, she said, meaning that most of its owners are part of the communities they serve. The franchise network’s support of the Foundation at the restaurant level “allows us to reach millions of people each day and raise awareness about children waiting in foster care,” she said. The Wendy’s Wonderful Kids program has been responsible for more than 7,000 adoptions.
“We invest in educating franchisees on issues important to them and their businesses,
so they can be activated as a nimble, effective grassroots network.”
Wendy’s government relations strategy seeks to create a system-wide culture of political involvement. “We invest in educating franchisees on issues important to them and their businesses, so they can be activated as a nimble, effective grassroots network – and it has worked very well,” she said.
“Dave Thomas believed that we all have a responsibility to the children in foster care,” Schell continued. “We embrace that sentiment and engage in finding solutions because these children need us – and in doing so we contribute to stronger communities and a better country.”
Andrew D. Parker, CFE, is Editor-in-Chief of Franchising World magazine and IFA Senior Manager of Publishing. For more information about the Foundation, visit www.davethomasfoundation.org. Find out more about franchise opportunities at Wendy’s by visiting www.franchise.org/wendys-franchise.