Carrie KirkCarrie Kirk
ENR 8/22-29/15 p. 18
Kirk expanded design-based anti-hunger nonprofit from its North American base to a global presence.

Inspired by design competitions that use canned food as structural elements, Cheri Melillo and her Society for Design Administration colleagues founded Canstruction in 1992. The charity, which showcases talent and creativity from the engineering and construction spheres, benefits food banks.

By the time Melillo succumbed to brain cancer in 2009, her volunteer efforts as president and executive director had grown the nonprofit organization’s presence to cities across the U.S. and Canada. Her extended family wanted to make sure her good works continued, so her husband’s nephew, Nick Telesca, stepped in as the organization’s executive director. Telesca, a real estate developer, quickly realized that the job required full-time commitment, so he handed the reins to his wife, Carrie Kirk.

Kirk had sold her telecom-tower business “about a month before the stock market began to slide. I was basically just taking care of my investments,” she says. She soon discovered that Canstruction was an admirable, high-visibility endeavor that, unfortunately, was not sustainable. “Cheri basically ran it out of her home, almost as a one-woman show. She ran a tight ship, but Canstruction was a labor of love, not cash flow-positive.”

Kirk, who earned a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Tulsa before working for Nalco and Carrier,  developed her entrpreneurial skills building a recycling company and two telecom firms. Canstruction was well positioned for rebranding and restructuring, she believes.

The organization moved from New York City to Atlanta, hired a staff, commissioned a new logo, overhauled the participation structure and implemented new competition guidelines. “We were cash flow-positive within a year,” Kirk says.

Extending Canstruction’s reach meant more people in more countries. The organization boasts some 10,000 volunteers across some 30 countries since 2010. “In 2015, food banks hosted 51% of our efforts,” she says.

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