A Step 2 Success - Taco Bell Owners Give Back

Last Updated on Mar 16, 2015 at 3:14pm | Garrett County Economic Development

In The Spotlight! is a regular feature of The Lake-Front magazine and is being reprinted here in its entirety with permission. This article originally appeared in the March 2015 issue.
 
 
For the past decade, A Step 2 Success, founded by the Aarsand Family, owners of the Oakland Taco Bell, has helped young people throughout the region by offering a "step up" through education and skill development.
 
In 1983, the late Knut J. Aarsand, founder of the family-operated franchise, opened his first quick service restaurant, a Kentucky Fried Chicken in Havre de Grace, Maryland. Under the leadership of his son Kurt and daughter Krista Aarsand Bedford, currently the company owns 61 KFC and Taco Bell restaurants in five states throughout the Mid-Atlantic, including the local Taco Bell, which opened in Oakland in 1998.
 
Knut passed away in 2002, but before his death he had spoken of his desire to give back to the local communities which had made him so successful. In 2004, his family founded the Aarsand Family Foundation, aka, A Step 2 Success, operating as a public charity.
 
Knut's brother Torben, Executive Director of A Step 2 Success explains, "Looking back, we realized that if it hadn't been for the people helping my brother over the years and believing in him, he wouldn't have been successful. Our family members each worked hard, but people believed in us and gave us opportunities. Therefore, we wanted a foundation that would do the same for others."
 
The mission of A Step 2 Success is simple: "to directly help young people committed to improving themselves through education and skill development, as well as helping organizations that assist young men and women achieve individualized self-improvement. The emphasis is to lift up, mentor, train, educate, and monitor individuals with support that would otherwise be unavailable to them."
 
A Step 2 Success has supported approximately 140 students since it began and is currently working with 39 grantees this academic year.
 
Any student living within one of the thirty-one counties in five states where the Aarsand family operates a store can apply.
 
Locally the foundation has assisted three young people from Garrett County with college and graduate school support. One student is at Valparaiso University studying music. Another is at WVU studing electrical engineering. A third just completed his graduate degree as a chiropractor. The foundation continues to welcome potential grantees who want to gain a skill or further their education, are willing to work hard and receive guidance, and need financial and personal support in order to pursue their educational goals.
 
"The students we help don't have to be academic successes to be eligible for our scholarships," explains Torben. "Instead we are looking for the 'ordinary kids,' ones that won't qualify for traditional athletic or academic scholarships, but are willing to work hard to give themselves a better opportunity than maybe their parents had."
 
The emphasis of the foundation's work is not simply to write checks. Torben explains that his goal is to try to support the grantee financially, emotionally, and spiritually. "I mentor these kids. I talk to each and every one of them on a regular basis just to see how everything is progressing. And once we start to help a young person, our goal is to try to support them throughout their education."
 
Donations to the program come from corporate gifts and individual donations. Each year the company's Taco Bell and KFC restaurants hold a fund drive, which raises a significant amount of the grant money. The foundation's promise is that 100% of every dollar given to the foundation will be given directly to the grantee for educational support. This is due to the fact that the family business underwrites all of the foundation costs. The public is invited to share in this charitable work and can count that all donations will be used for this purpose.
 
For more information about the program, including application and donation information, visit www.astep2success.org.