Kevin’s aim: Serving special needs of others

From left, Edie Riedel, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society; Kevin Melancon; Carolyn Lambeth, Chick-fil-A; and Lonny Melancon stand below a sign touting Kevin's Man of the Year campaign. (Photo: Ken Stickney/The Daily Advertiser)

LAFAYETTE, La. (The Daily Advertiser) – When Lafayette businessman Mike Placek handed Chick-fil-A employee Kevin Melancon a $5 tip last February, Melancon headed straight for a donation box located in the Ambassador Caffery Parkway restaurant and deposited the money.

That had happened before, but this time Placek, who has known Melancon for more than a decade, posted about it on Facebook. Melancon, a man with Down syndrome, is somebody special, Placek wrote, and ought to be Man of the Year. Ten thousand people read the post and many agreed.

That’s why Melancon, a 1994 graduate of Comeaux High School and a Chick-fil-A employee for 19 years, was invited to vie for the Man of the Year title as awarded by The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Edie Riedel, campaign manager, said nine competitors are seeking the Man of the Year and Woman of the Year designations, which will be revealed June 1 at the concluding dinner at Le Pavillon. Winners raise the most money for the charity through individual events and through a final auction that night.

Lonny Melancon, Kevin’s father and a AT&T retiree, knew he and his son were out of their element when they attended an organizational meeting for this year’s campaign. They’d raised funds before for Special Olympics, St. Martin ARC, Acadian Village and walked with Kevin’s fellow Chick-fil-A employees for charitable causes. But they’d never raised money on the same level as Kevin’s formidable Man of the Year competition.

“How can we step out on the big stage?” Lonny Melancon wondered. “As parents, how can we do this?”

That’s where Jim Doré, an oilman and former Man of the Year, stepped in to help. He was at the meeting where competitors revealed their fundraising plans, and he said, “It was clear that Kevin and Lonny were going it alone. You don’t want to go it alone.”

They needed help. Doré said he’s been guiding Kevin along, helping him to develop fundraising efforts. They’ve held one, a Cajun “Family Feud” event, at Pont Breaux’s in Breaux Bridge.

The next one will feature Chef Wesley Turnage of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, who will host a “Cooking with Kevin” fundraiser at Top’s Appliances and Cabinetry, 5826 Johnston St., from 6 to 9 p.m. May 24. Riedel said tickets — $100 each or $150 a couple — are available online at eventbrite.com by searching Cooking with Kevin. The event includes a formal, seated dinner in Top’s dining area.

The American Culinary Federation of New Orleans has named Turnage “Best Chef in Louisiana.”

Lonny Melancon said for Kevin, working on behalf of The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society was a natural fit, a chance to help others.

“Down syndrome does not hurt,” he said. “Leukemia and lymphoma hurt.”

Kevin said customers have told him they have leukemia and he tells them, “We’ll raise money for you.”

That’s the attitude Kevin has shown since he’s known him, Placek said. Placek said their friendship has extended beyond knowing Kevin from the restaurant to church at First Baptist and from watching Kevin bowl.

“He’s just a genuine person, an uplifting type of person. When I leave him, I feel how blessed God has made him,” Placek said. “I wish I was more like him.”

Kevin has embraced the opportunity to work alongside friendly competitors in common cause for a great charity, Lonny Melancon said.

Doré said Kevin is enjoying the journey of the Man of the Year competition. For his part, Doré said, he’s enjoyed sponsoring Kevin and “making a new friend.”

Kevin is no stranger to competition. He’s an enthusiastic bowler, has competed in Special Olympics and even wrestled in high school.

He may not win, he said, but he will follow the Special Olympics oath, nonetheless: “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

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