Elliot Test Kitchen To Merge With Fort Madison YMCA


Via Press Release:

Test Kitchen Education Foundation (TKEF) and YMCA are excited to announce the merger of their programs. TKEF was founded in 2015 by Kumar Wickramasingha and the goal was to provide a safe environment for students who needed extra help with academics. Many students needed assistance beyond the school day. Regionally, there was no organization able to fill that void. In addition to providing certified educators to assist with academics, Kumar’s extensive experience and passion in the culinary arts added an entirely unique element to the Test Kitchen experience. Not only do students get help with schoolwork, but they learn how to plan and prepare a nutritious meal which they share with fellow students and volunteers in a family-like atmosphere. This unique concept has grown significantly and the second location “Test Kitchen STEM Lounge” was added to meet the demand for additional programs.
Today the TKEF serves over 500 students per month with its wide variety of programs. TKEF’s goal has become to sustain the growth and expand inclusion by connecting with diverse students. The Fort Madison YMCA has been serving diverse groups of young people for decades. Thus, a merger seems like a natural collaboration which will allow both entities to strive toward the common goal of serving and meeting the needs of our youth. This will open additional opportunities for youth who have been unable to participate and make it easier for parents to manage their hectic lifestyles.
Beginning on January 1st, Test Kitchen Education Foundation is honored to have the YMCA manage the Elliot Test Kitchen and Test Kitchen STEM Lounge under its umbrella. It will be called YMCA Test Kitchen, “YTK”. Kumar Wickramasingha, TKEF founder and Executive Director and Ryan Wilson, YMCA Executive Director will collaborate with a committee to expand existing and future programs.
Wilson has been with the YMCA since 2008 and the Y has continued to grow under his leadership. The program offerings, additional locations, and partnerships has seen the Y budget go from $400,000 in 2008 to eclipse the $1,000,000 mark in 2023. The YMCA continues to offer childcare, youth sports, and with the merger, it will allow the Y to increase the diverse programming with their members. Future plans are to start new programs such as adult cooking classes, family cooking events, and offering additional physical activities such as walking/running club for students and families.
This merger makes the Fort Madison YMCA unique among the 25 YMCAs across Iowa and offers a vision for expanding the Test Kitchen concept statewide in the future. There will be a committee of volunteers and staff coming together from both organizations to oversee operations going forward. During the planning stages it was important to both TKEF and YTK to find someone who is passionate for students and the community to lead the new merger. YTK is excited to announce that Karen Siefken will be the Director of the YMCA Test Kitchen, beginning January 1, 2023. Karen will be coming to YTK from the United Way of the Great River Region after leading their organization since December of 2017. While at United Way of the Great River Region (UWGRR) Karen has increased the annual fall giving campaign by 80%. In August UWGRR completed a long-range plan that will help guide the agency into the future. The first milestone will be met this December when two offices consolidate to one central location to better serve their service area. UWGRR continues to provide funding to area non-profit agencies through a grant system.
Before coming to UWGRR, Karen had over 25 years of experience working with the Muscatine Community Y and the Burlington Area Community Y. During most of that time the YMCA network, Karen served as Aquatics Director at both facilities. Karen is passionate about helping young people have access to the tools and support they need to help them have a successful life journey. “I am thrilled to continue all the amazing work that Kumar has done and move YTK forward. This feels like a natural fit for me. I’m excited to be a part of this new and growing relationship,” said Siefken. With the new endeavor, there has been a big response from the community to support the YTK idea. Local businesses and community members have pledged to support YTK’s kick off on January 1. Many parents, teachers and volunteers are excited for the new venture.

Written by: Leah Jones

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