Kumar arrived in the United States in 1986 from his native country of Sri Lanka. He was fortunate to meet George and Jean Alton, both teachers in the Fort Madison Community School District. The couple invited Kumar to share their home and gave him an opportunity to pursue higher education. Due to their passion for education and helping others, Kumar was able to fulfill his American dream of becoming the owner of a well-known local restaurant and later a leader in a successful statewide healthcare organization.
Inspired by the Alton's kindness and compassion, Kumar had a strong desire to "pay it forward" to the young people in his community. He envisioned an after-school academic program, which made learning fun by incorporating life skills and a passion for cooking. The idea for the Test Kitchen Education Foundation was born!
Kumar shared his vision with local educators, Andrew Troxel and Brent Zirkel, to team up and start the Test Kitchen Education Foundation in downtown Fort Madison, Iowa. The Test Kitchen Education Foundation, a non-profit organization, was conceived with Kumar as the founder and executive director in 2015. It was created to provide students with a comfortable place to participate in academic activities while enjoying a nutritious meal prepared by area chefs and students.
After-school and summer programming began with homework tutoring, ACT preparation, math assistance, and other specialty courses all paired with culinary experiences for young people. Learning how to create tasty, healthy, affordable meals while engaging in academic sessions led to increased attendance and improved the life experiences of students.
The Test Kitchen concept was designed with two modern kitchen areas for students and teachers to gather and dedicate their time to academic tasks in a family-style atmosphere that feels like home. In 2020, with the overwhelming growth of the program, the Test Kitchen Education Foundation added a second location and called it the Test Kitchen STEM Lounge, which is dedicated to studies in science, technology, engineering, and math. The Test Kitchen STEM Lounge, equipped with a modern kitchen, was the very first place in southeast Iowa to provide a dedicated location for area students to engage in STEM-related activities in a relaxing, comfortable, and safe environment with great food.