Illinois father Pete Kadens retired from a thriving career at just 40 years old, but his work is hardly over.
As a dedicated philanthropist, Kadens has become devoted to transforming the lives of Chicago families stricken by poverty and, in February, awarded debt-free college scholarships to thousands of students at five public high schools in the city.
Within a matter of four days, Kadens' nonprofit, Hope Chicago, visited each school – Benito Juárez Community Academy, Al Raby School for Community and Environment, Morgan Park High School, Noble Johnson College Prep and Farragut Career Academy – to tell them the good news. But that’s not all.
Kadens, with the help of other donors, is also covering the cost of a secondary education for one of their parents or guardians too.
"The cost of college is out of control and puts postsecondary education out of reach for low-income and first-generation students, many of whom are saddled with debilitating debt whether they earn a degree or not," Hope Chicago's website reads. "We're here to change things."
The nonprofit is already impacting the lives of over 4,000 people in the Chicago area, and this is just the beginning.
Earlier in life, when Kadens was just 8 years old, he saw "an intense amount of poverty."
"I just kind of literally made the decision at that moment that I was going to do something about it," Kadens told Fox News. "I didn't know how that would manifest, of course, but it was a life ambition. "
By 30, Kadens was board chairman of StreetWise, one of the largest homeless aid agencies in Chicago. For 12 years, he was able to see "poverty in the city through a bunch of different lenses."
He started to realize that people who had an education "had a kind of off ramp out of poverty," he said.
"I kept saying to myself, why aren't we using that off ramp as a means to help people avoid poverty?" Kadens added.
After retiring in 2018, Kadens was determined to "figure out how to challenge the narrative that poverty is a fait accompli in many of these neighborhoods."
For the better part of six months, he traveled around the country studying scholarship programs and identifying which ones were able to produce meaningful outcomes.
By 2019, he had taken a part-time teaching job at one of the five schools his organization supports to this day: Noble Johnson College Prep in Englewood.
"I wanted to be someone who really understood the problem and understood it through the lens of the folks who were suffering through those problems and challenges," he said.
Every Friday for three hours, Kadens lectured in front of a class of 21 juniors and seniors, all of whom lived below the poverty line, about lessons on morality, business, entrepreneurship and life.
These very students – most of whom had to overcome unfathomable obstacles every day – became his inspiration, he said.
"These children are brilliant. They are compassionate. They're capable. They just don't have the same opportunities," he said. "That’s all they need is a shot."
At the end of December 2019, Kadens knew it was time to do more. To start, he pledged to pay for every student at Scott High School, an underperforming school in his hometown of Toledo, Ohio, to go to college. He also promised to pay for one of their parents to go to college as well.
It turns out, there were higher retention rates among the Scott High School students who went to college at the same time as one of their parents, according to Kadens. Once he learned that, he knew he was onto something.
"I don't believe that you can solve multidimensional problems with one-dimensional solutions," Kadens said. "Poverty is intergenerational. We can't solve poverty with one-generation solutions."
Since then, Kadens has shifted his focus to Chicago Public Schools, where his goal is to award 30,000 scholarships to college and vocational programs over the next 10 years for students and their parents.
There is no selection criteria for the scholarships, according to Kadens. He doesn't care what a student's GPA is or if their family has a criminal history.
"[There are] enough barriers and obstacles put up against these folks," Kadens said. "We put zero barriers up. If you are sitting in this school as a freshman though senior year, you are going to college."