James Cammilleri is a Burger King franchisee with more than ten stores around the Rochester and Buffalo, New York area. A successful businessman for over thirty years, James has been able to expand his franchises through hard work and determination, but it is his compassion for others that led him to his most satisfying endeavor.
Over the last three years, James and his wife, Sarah, have co-founded and run Elevated Christian Ministries. The ministry focuses on providing infrastructure and food to communities in Haiti. What began as a single trip to help build a school became a new purpose for James Cammilleri. Through his organization, more than 10,000 children now have access to food daily.
James has a belief that people should come before profit and that when you are blessed, those blessings should be shared with those less fortunate. It is through this foundation of belief that he sought to bring a continual source of food to an area that is known as the most impoverished nation. James didn’t send money; he got his hands dirty building bread ovens and teaching community members how to make food that can sustain many.
How did you get started in Elevated Christian Ministry and what inspired you to start this organization?
The inspiration came from our belief that serving people is how you share your blessings. My wife and I have been fortunate in the business world and we asked God for guidance on how to share our blessings with others. Within less than a week, an old high school friend that I hadn’t spoken to in thirty years happened to call me. As we were catching up, I mentioned that Sarah and I were looking for something else we could do that would leave a real impact. My friend asked if we would consider going to Haiti to help with their infrastructure problems. There wasn’t anything for us to consider, we immediately agreed.
The first trip we made was to help build a school. We were able to provide that community with a school that could hold up to 500 children. Prior to that, the children would use a church that only fit 100 of them. We continued to help to build schools and churches, but I also asked what else was needed. A lot of the funding sent to Haiti never reaches the local communities, and certainly not the children. I was told by locals they needed help feeding the children. We held a fundraiser with Elevation Worship and collected money that went into Elevated Christian Ministry. That was the start of our journey.
Tell me something about yourself a lot of people don’t know about you?
I think most people don’t realize the level of passion I put behind everything I do. They can see that I am driven, but I don’t know that it is seen as true passion as opposed to just being driven. I think that I may come across as intimidating, but I am really just trying to share my passion and I love to do things the right way. If I am involved in something, I want to be my best at it. I love people and I love to share the blessings that I have had. I want to be sure that I am doing it the right way and the most efficient way that produces the best outcome. We could have simply sent money to feed children and forgotten about it, but how does that help the local community if the money doesn’t reach them? We wanted to not just provide food, but also educate the people on how to make that food reach the entire community.
What are your strengths?
I am a good leader and know how to get things done. I believe that I am an overachiever. I pride myself on being a good husband and father. Most importantly, I believe in doing things the right way. I research things to find the best methods that will have the farthest reaching results and then find a way to implement those methods in such a way that everyone can benefit.
What is your proudest achievement?
Elevated Christian Ministries is my proudest achievement. We started out as a small contributor to a very in-need community. We built four bread ovens and taught the local people how to grind wheat to make bread. We included cornbread also because that is available locally. By teaching the people there how to make the bread themselves, we have given them the tools to provide for a much larger group of people. Initially, we had just four schools and now we have grown to over 35 in our network. We help feed over 10,000 children. It’s not a hand-out. The people have learned and are teaching others how to make the food. That is why we are able to reach so many, because our passion is to share our knowledge in a way that helps the most people. It’s not about money, it’s about giving back to those who are less fortunate.
When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted your organization would work? If so, how did you handle that?
There was definitely doubt in the beginning. I am not a minister and hadn’t done ministry work. As much as I love Christ and God, I just believe I am a flawed human being and wasn’t sure of the exact path to get to where we wanted to be. I am a businessman; I am used to creating money. I needed someone who was used to asking for money. I hired a minister to bring balance to our organization, someone with a theology degree and a minor in missions. As I handled the business side of things, he handled the ministry side of it. He was able to speak with the local pastors in a way they understood. I feel having him as part of our ministry really solidified us as an organization.
What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?
I enjoy facing challenges. I’m sure I’ve made several decisions in the last few months that some would consider tough, but I am just following my passion. When something comes up, I take the time to consider what options there are and go with what I feel will have the best outcome. What will help the most people? How can we make a situation better? Those are things I think about when a situation is brought to my attention that needs my attention. I just follow what I feel God is showing me as the right path.
What do you think it is that makes you successful?
Putting others first has been a huge part of our success. My wife has taught me this very well. I was successful, but she really showed me how putting people over profit can really bring joy to your heart. As a generalization, I think many people tend to be selfish and don’t realize that just a little compassion and a little effort can make such a big impact on others. I am also a good leader; I am good at making decisions. I’m not afraid to ruffle feathers if I feel something is right.
What does the future hold for your organization and what are you most excited about?
We are excited about any opportunity that God presents to us. We went from helping 1,000 kids to 10,000 kids a little over 2 years. I feel that God has helped us in our journey, showing us the right path with the most rewarding outcomes. We want to continue to be in a position to say yes when we are approached with an idea of how we can help, and I believe that God will continue to bless us because we are following his path of compassion for others.
What do you like to do for fun?
I love to go fishing. I love to play golf with my wife. That is pretty much all we do in our spare time, really.
What books have inspired you?
The Bible is my greatest inspiration. I have also read John Maxwell’s Intentional Living, something I feel everyone should read. Another I recommend is The Blessed Life by Robert Morris.
What is a recent purchase you have made that has helped your organization?
We were able to get NGO status in Haiti that will help reduce our custom seeds. We have also purchased commercial grinders in Haiti that allows us to save money by doing our own grinding.