If Karen Skinner had a dime for every time a customer at her fast-food restaurants wondered what kind of future lay in store for the person serving them a burger, she would be a millionaire many times over.

Skinner, the owner of three McDonald’s restaurants, began her career frying burgers and working behind the counter of a McDonald’s in Holiday, Fla., in 1975. Last year, she received the East Dallas Chamber of Commerce’s community contribution award for service to our neighborhood.

Skinner was an unemployed mother of six children frantically-seeking an opportunity for a better life for her family, before joining McDonald’s.

Hard work and determination helped propel her from an entry-level position at McDonald’s to director of operations for a Florida franchise over the course of 14 years. In 1989, after applying to become a McDonald’s franchise owner, she was offered the restaurant on Ross near Greenville.

“It was a terrible neighborhood at that time,” Skinner says. “I couldn’t believe I was coming there, but it was a new store that I thought had a lot of potential.”

Skinner brought with her the McDonald’s corporate commitment to community involvement, which she has tailored to causes that are important to her and to our neighborhood.

Feeling homesick and lonely for relatives during her first year in Dallas, Skinner prepared a Thanksgiving dinner and opened the restaurant to employees and neighborhood residents who needed companionship and a holiday meal. She and her two youngest children also joined in the feast.

A few weeks later, she decided to make Christmas just as festive and decorated the store to such an extent that families dressed up and asked to take their portraits amid the twinkling lights, she says.

Since then, she has bought two more restaurants – on Gaston near Baylor University Medical Center and on Lemmon near Prescott – and has found many more ways to work with community organizations.

Schools and children’s programs frequently receive her attention. She has helped provide meeting space for Girl Scout troops and after-school tutoring. She has donated coupons and treats to reward children for school attendance and improved grades. She has helped provide supplies for PTA meetings, and she has supported youth sports activities in various ways.

Among other projects, she helped bring Ronald McDonald to visit young patients at Baylor during Christmas and has provided favors for the children. She has given free meals to Americorp volunteers to thank them for removing neighborhood graffiti, and she has supported drug awareness activities by the police department and has sponsored car washes and other fundraisers for drug treatment and drug rehabilitation.

One of her current projects is helping to organize a community-wide effort to clean up Garrett Park so the play areas will be safe for children and families.

“I like people. I enjoy seeing success and I love seeing an area cleaning up,” Skinner says.

Skinner plans to open a fourth McDonald’s restaurant in early 1997. The administrative side of her business has grown so much that three other family members now work in the office or the restaurants.

But several days each week, customers still find Skinner behind the counter in one of her restaurants working side-by-side with front-line employees.

“East Dallas is a challenging area, and it has so many needs, but I’m grateful for the success I’ve had here, and I want to share it,” Skinner says.

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