The sweet fragrance of a warm blueberry scone wafts through the air while chefs tirelessly chop away at bundles of produce delivered fresh from the farm. With customers already queued up at the door, a slight commotion stirs as the team scrambles around the kitchen preparing for the typical lunch rush. From an outsider’s perspective, the behind-the-scenes operations of a kitchen can be a complete sensory overload. Yet amidst all this organized chaos, pantry worker, Kevin Kawawata, is a breath of fresh air as he calmly greets each café customer with an endearing smile. Although the hustle and bustle of the kitchen was a daunting challenge for Kevin, he was determined to break out of his comfort zone and never let his disability define the limits of what he can achieve. After years of hard work, this admirable commitment to growth and exceptional leadership earned Kevin one of SourceAmerica’s prestigious distinctions: the President’s Award.

SourceAmerica is an organization that fiercely advocates for a more accessible and inclusive future in the workplace by championing employment opportunities for people with disabilities. Each year, SourceAmerica recognizes just one individual with the honor of a President’s Award for their outstanding character and leadership exhibited in the public sector. In 2020, Kevin was the winner of this special distinction for all his years of excellence at Lanakila Kitchen. Finally, after almost two years of delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Kevin had the opportunity to walk on stage and receive his award at the 2022 SourceAmerica Xforce National Conference.

From serving customers at the café, to training his coworkers on the register, to managing orders for Lanakila Kitchen’s retail customers, Kevin has worn quite a few hats throughout his tenure here. According to his colleague, Julian Cooley,

“Kevin is like the glue that holds our team together. On the very rare occasion that Kevin takes off from work, we all feel the impact of his absence. His attention to detail keeps us all in check, and when he’s not here, small things slip through the cracks.”

Although he has certainly mastered his skills and become an integral part of the Kitchen, keeping up with a large team in a fast-paced work environment wasn’t always so easy. When discussing his career journey thus far, Kevin declared,

“I have Asperger’s Syndrome, which kind of makes it difficult for me to communicate with others. But I feel like if I hadn’t worked in the Kitchen, I wouldn’t have been able to grow as much as I did.”

To reach his full potential, Kevin had to embrace the discomfort of taking on new roles that were completely foreign to him. This curiosity for learning and determination to improve is ultimately what makes Kevin a shining star in the kitchen. Funny enough, it is also one of his favorite parts about working at Lanakila Kitchen. When asked why he enjoys working here, Kevin shared,

“There are a lot of growth opportunities within the organization, and I love expanding upon my skillset. I enjoy working here because of the mission to help build independence for people like me – individuals with disabilities. And I think I’m doing that by working hard and setting an example.”  

While the future is uncertain, Kevin is excited about what opportunities may lie on the brink here at Lanakila Kitchen. Wherever he goes next, there’s no doubt that he will continue to push the envelope, persevere through challenges, and refuse to allow his disability from stopping him achieve his goals.