Kavaliro Means Knight: How UCF Alumni-Led Company is Tackling Childhood Hunger

​By Camille Dolan ’98

Above, members of Kick Off For Kids’  leadership team gather at one of their member schools for a quarterly food drop off. At left, Greg Pearlman ’08, chairman of the board, Traci Smith ’01, secretary, and Jennifer Miller ’00, board member.

When a group of Knights founded Kavaliro, a national professional services company in 2010, they already had a solid base of experience in doing the right thing.  John Mahony ’96, Bill Peppler ’96 and Mark Moore ’99 had met at UCF, and after their respective graduations, began working in financial, engineering, administrative and technology recruitment firms across the country. The friends never lost touch.

In 2003,  John Mahony and Mark Moore started a franchise providing government services and staffing out of Mahony’s guest bedroom and conducting client interviews at a nearby Burger King. Diane Mahony ’96, John’s wife, handled all accounting and finance operations, while also working as an educator in Orange County Public Schools. In 2009, Peppler joined the team and focused on building sales and operations in the Southeast Region. The next year, as their company reached its pinnacle, the Knights sold their business.

A huge accomplishment for the quartet barely ten years out of school.

In 2010, they then threw their collective business acumen into the world of IT and finance consulting, and decided to call their company, Kavaliro, which means, of course, “Knight” in Esperanto.

Black and Gold Forever

For anyone who doesn’t know the Kavaliro team, that sort of devotion to one’s alma mater may seem over the top. But, as Mark Moore explains, “We are each other’s best friends, and that had its genesis from our involvement with Lambda Chi Alpha’s UCF chapter. We are also die-hard UCF football fans, and some of our most memorable times are spent enjoying tailgating and watching our children grow up together. Why wouldn’t we want to include the Knights name in our company?”

In addition to the regular, day-to-day business of running their fledgling company, Kavaliro executive leadership – which had grown to include Diane Mahony ’96 and Lisa Moore (Mark’s wife and “Knight By Marriage”) – began examining ways to become more involved in the community they loved, and to throw their considerable experience into a cause where they felt they could have the largest impact.

They got an unmistakable sign about how to direct their mission of corporate responsibility.

Knights on a Mission

In 2011, Bill Peppler ’96 was settling down to watch some Sunday night football, an image on the television caught his eye. It was someone he knew.

“It was an episode of 60 Minutes, and they showed a single dad with his two kids that I passed every morning on my way to work,” Peppler recalls.

As he continued to watch, he realized it was one of those moments in life that required his immediate action.

He learned that the CBS news magazine program had shed light on one of Central Florida’s “hidden” problems – homeless and hungry schoolchildren. He had previously been unaware of this “invisible” problem in Orlando; now, it was all he could think about. He discussed what he had seen with other members of the Kavaliro team.

Diane and Lisa are former teachers who were already painfully aware of the effects of homelessness in the community and the growing number of children with food insecurity. They immediately started planning, and their enthusiasm spread to the rest of the team.

“Bill knew he had found our mission,” Moore says.

The Kavaliro team quickly decided to go all-in on “Kavaliro, Fueling the Community,” an endeavor in which its Orlando team would drop off bins to its customers with a request for non-perishable food. Their employees would fill the bins which would then be picked up by Kavaliro and delivered to area schools that had great, documented need.

Moore said it soon became clear that Kavaliro’s community efforts needed more structure to meet its growing number of schools requesting their donations.

Kavaliro’s Strong Offense

Even though Kavaliro was collecting and distributing large quantities of food to local schools, Lisa Moore, now Kavaliro’s community director, was driven by concern that Kavaliro should be doing more. The idea of any child going hungry was devastating to her.

One of Kavaliro’s customers suggested that it might be a good idea to form a 501(c)(3) or registered nonprofit. The designation offers benefits like exemption of sales tax, as well as the ability to accept charitable donations.

Both benefits would ultimately mean that there would be more funds available to purchase more peanut butter, and other shelf-stable foods for the children. The Kavaliro team concurred that establishing a charitable nonprofit was an excellent idea, and also decided that 100 percent of the proceeds would go to the charity, with Kavaliro, sponsors and volunteers absorbing any administrative costs.

The new nonprofit, “Kick Off For Kids,” was established in 2013. The name referred to Kavaliro’s love for all things football, and Lisa Moore, president of Kick Off For Kids, suggested having one major event each year at the start of the NFL’s season in the fall.

The leadership team of Kick Off for Kids also includes Greg Pearlman ’08, chairman of the board, Traci Smith ’01, secretary, and Board Members Jennifer Miller ’00, Crystal Adams and Taylor Pancake.

Lisa Moore says that in addition to its all-volunteer board, Kick Off For Kids is also blessed to have the complete backing of Kavaliro, its employees, and Kavaliro’s committed customers.

“We are all so busy these days,” says Lisa Moore. “But Kick Off For Kids is one of those causes that just draws people in.”

The nonprofit focuses on non-perishable food and they ask the community to donate to local public school food pantries and their Backpack Programs – a fuss-free system that sends children in K-12 home each week with a backpack filled with nutritious food.

Knights Needed

Kick Off For Kids now serves 40 schools in Seminole and Orange counties, with new requests coming in all the time. Lisa Moore says the number of children serve varies depending on the number of children that each school serves through the USDA free- and reduced school lunch program, which is anywhere from 50 to 100 percent of its students.

Kick Off For Kids is an enormous undertaking. It takes all hands on deck to deploy volunteers who will make sure that the hungry children at their assigned school are fed.

If you would like to help hungry children in Orange and Seminole counties, follow the link below. Help Hungry Children now

It also costs a lot of money. Earlier this year, Pearlman applied for a community grant from his company, Northwestern Financial, on behalf of Kick Off For Kids. Pearlman was notified that Kick Off For Kids would receive a $15,000 grant, allowing Kick Off For Kids to add two more schools to its list.

​Each year, Kavaliro partners with Rock & Brews in Oviedo for its annual fundraiser. Everyone is welcome to attend and raise money to help support the mission of Kick Off for Kids.

And even though it’s summer, a traditionally slower time for public schools, Lisa Moore is still busy. Many of the schools still offer breakfast and lunch during the week, and children still get a backpack for the weekend. But now, Lisa Moore, Greg Pearlman and their board are working behind the scenes for their big event, to be held Thursday, September 7, at Rock & Brews in Oviedo. Last year, the event netted over $75,000.

“We are so grateful for the tremendous support that we have received from Kavaliro, its employees, and those in the community who share our mission of feeding hungry kids,” Lisa Moore says. “Go Knights!”

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