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Epicurean Charitable Foundation - Las Vegas

Dear Friends, Supporters and Students,

I am excited to send you our first newsletter of the New Year. We start 2016 adding new members to our executive committee along with an exciting golf tournament in May. I’d like to welcome Travis Lunn, vice president of hotel operations of MGM Grand Las Vegas as ECF vice president and Jim Laughlin, general manager of Las Vegas Limousines and Airport Shuttles as ECF treasurer.

The new year has already provided the foundation with another great event. Our Mentorship Matters VIP Appreciation dinner was held on Friday, January 8th, at Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino. The evening was a wonderful way for us to show our appreciation to the donors, sponsors, supporters and students who made M.E.N.U.S. 2015 a huge success and paid homage to the well deserving Chuck Bowling, President and COO of Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino and Delano Las Vegas. Highlights included an award presentation to 2015’s top sponsors who were in attendance including, MGM Resorts International, Southern Wine and Spirits, Wirtz Beverage of Nevada, Anheuser-Busch, E&J Gallo, FIJI Water, Johnson Brothers, Land Rover Las Vegas, and Nevada Beverage.

Speeches were given by our most recent graduate Kim Zhou, and our honoree for the evening, Mr. Chuck Bowling. Mr. Bowling is a true representative of what we hope for our students: to be filled with drive, determination, compassion and inspiration. Kim’s story or drive and passion touched us all and moved some in the audience to tears and ended with us all on our feet in a standing ovation. In case you missed our graduate speaker, Kim’s touching speech, you can read it below.

Scholarship season is now upon us and we encourage everyone to help spread the word to deserving local high school students. Our application and all corresponding information may be found at with a deadline of Thursday, March 16th. We are looking for the next group of talented, motivated students to take the first step in becoming a future leader of the Las Vegas hospitality industry.

The ECF continues to grow and evolve. ECF graduate, Vildan Buric is now assistant manager-in room dining at MGM Grand. ECF senior, Karen Nava has accepted an exciting position as student assistant and events intern at the UNLV Foundation. First graduating ECF class '08 alum, Sabrina Karic, welcomed her second daughter, Ayla. Freshman, Ben Sison has accepted a position as a host at Primary Prime Rib at South Point Hotel, Casino & Spa. We are also thrilled to welcome Dawn Rawles, vice president of special events and promotions of Caesars Entertainment, to the ECF board to join us in offering our students a wealth of hospitality experience.

As always, the success of our students and graduates would not be possible without your continued support. Through donations, participation in M.E.N.U.S. and other fundraising events we are able to change the lives of young people in our community and positively impact one of the city’s most prominent industries. More information, news and updates may be found at or following on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @EpicureanLV.

All the best,

Michael Kennedy

Michael Kennedy
Chairman of the Board for ECF
Director of Food Operations for South Point Hotel, Casino & Spa

Michael Kennedy  
Travis Lunn  

Travis Lunn
ECF Vice President
Vice President of Hotel Operations for MGM Grand Las Vegas

Travis Lunn  

Jim Laughlin
ECF Treasurer
General Manager for Las Vegas Limousines and Airport Shuttles

Kim Zhou  

Kim Zhou- Graduate Speaker Spotlight
Kim graduated in just 2.5 years from UNLV in 2015 with a major in Hospitality Management and a 3.75 GPA. Kim has a passion for the casino industry and embarks on the first steps her career as a table games dealer for Golden Nugget.

Kim Zhou Mentorship Matters Speech

I’m so honored and grateful to be one of the Epicurean Charitable Foundation’s 2013 scholarship recipients. About 2 weeks ago, I graduated from University of Nevada, Las Vegas with a hospitality management degree. Yes, from 2013 to the end of 2015, I finished my degree in two and half years. I remember I was almost 20 years old when I graduated from high school. People looked at me and shook their heads because I was too old for high school. Now I can proudly say that being 22 years old, I’m very young to be a college graduate!

I was born in a small village in Southwest China. I spent the majority of my childhood in this town with my father. My father was a farmer and a construction worker. Every day he went to work for over 12 hours and brought home just four dollars. On his off days, he always bought me a pancake with pork meat, which cost him 30 cents. That was something I enjoyed the most every week. Life in this town was simple: people worked on the farm during the daytime and went to bed when the sun went down, young couples got married when they were just 17 or 18 years old, and most students dropped out of school after middle school or high school and continued being farmers. It was a cycle that almost no one ever got out.

I thought I would be one of them and continue living in the simple life, until one day, I saw the views of Bellagio Las Vegas on my TV. I was amazed how gorgeous this building was and how beautiful the dancing fountain looked. I dreamed that if someday I can get out of this little village and work in a beautiful place like Bellagio, I would be the luckiest person!

In 2010, my mother’s remarriage brought me to the United States. When I landed in this country, I looked at people around me. Wow, I thought…I don't look like them! They look and talk differently! And, I don't know what they are talking about! Without the abilities to listen and speak English, I had a seriously hard time surviving in this country. Back then, my favorite restaurant was Subway because every time I order my sandwich, I only needed to say “this”, “that”, “yeah”, “okay”, and “thank you”.

When I went to high school, it took me 6 months to understand my teachers and how this education system works. Every day I was learning new words, new sentences, and correct pronunciations. The second year was in Las Vegas; I became very interested in history and decided to take Advancement Placement history classes. There were many long words and jargons on the book, I just looked up every single word I didn’t know and it took me two hours just to read one page. Hour by hour, day by day, as those words became more familiar, my reading speed went up, until I only took 20 minutes to read one page.

On weekends, I was a food server in a Chinese restaurant. The restaurant was busy, but I was very sure that I had a great passion in hospitality field because I loved it when I took the dishes out to the customers and saw their enjoyment to the smell and the taste of the food. I still think this is what hospitality is about: to create an exceptional and unforgettable experience for the guests.

On March 13, 2013, I did one thing that completely changed my life. I submitted my scholarship application to the Epicurean Charitable Foundation. I was called for the interviews, and I had the opportunity to tell about my stories. It was the very first time that I had the opportunities to meet our food and beverage board members and bright students in the organization. It was the first time I realized that the “American Dream” does exist!

Thank you to all the donors and sponsors, I was awarded with this amazing scholarship that provided me full-ride scholarship to University of Nevada, Las Vegas. During my last 2 years at UNLV, I didn't suffer from financial stress. I was able to concentrate on school and finished it quickly.

Along with the scholarship, there is something else that is very meaningful to me. I was paired up with industry leaders every year. My first mentor, Ana Marie Mormando, General Manager of the Mansion at MGM, is the most respectful lady and a role model that I look up to. She used to be the Vice President of Hotel Operations at Bellagio. She took me around the Bellagio and showed me the beautiful conservatory, the dancing fountain, the elegant art saloon, and the gorgeous swimming pool. This was something I was dreaming about when I was in my little village! She also taught me about leadership and charisma. When I need help, she is always there.

My second mentor was Lloyd Wentzell, Director of Food and Beverage at JW Marriot. He is a very experienced food and beverage professional. He provided me many meaningful advices. There were times that I was stressed when all my work, school, and school clubs came together. I sent him an email to ask for advice. He replied with two full pages of advice on how to balance my time between school and work. I can’t image how long he took and how much effort he took to write those pages after his long day of work. I was so blessed to have such a person who tries to help me from bottom of his heart.

To our donors, I would like to thank your kindness and generosity to support such an incredible organization and help students like me who will never stop pursuing our hospitality passion and dreams. My life is changed completely because of this scholarship. I reduced my parents and my financial stress to receive my college education and to become the first generation college student graduate in my whole family. I learned so many valuable career and life lessons from my mentors that I would have never learned from school. I’m growing up to be a better child, a better woman, a better mentee, a better worker, and a better citizen because all of you. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.



A complete collection of Mentorship Matters photos may be found here!


Check out Chairman Michael Kennedy and his mentee Ben Sison on Channel 5!

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Upcoming ECF Events  We hope you'll join us at MENUS on Friday, Sept. 30 at M Resort.  The evening will culminate in a private concert by Lifehouse.  For sponsorship and event information please contact Elizabeth Muto at 702.932.5098 or via email at
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