Tyler Cameron is using his post-Bachelorette fame for good.
The 26-year-old heart throb has been a busy man since getting passed over for the final rose in the most recent season of the hit ABC show — from being spotted hanging out with Gigi Hadid to apartment hunting in N.Y.C. But the pursuit that’s been taking up most of his time these days is ABC Food Tours, a charity organization he runs with his friend Matt James.
The program is designed to teach underprivileged New York City youth about how to lead healthy, active lifestyles while giving them a chance to try new restaurants in their local communities. Cameron and James both lead the tours and run the organization behind the scenes — a two-person team for an initiative that’s been growing at an astonishing rate ever since The Bachelorette aired.
The pair became fast friends while playing on the football team together at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, which they say is where the inspiration for ABC Food Tours all began.
“One of the cool things our athletic department did was invite students from the community on campus to eat with the athletes,” James, 27, tells PEOPLE in a sit down interview. “Winston-Salem has a very large wealth divide and a lot of those students are underserved and under-recognized, and it was just this organic interaction that wasn’t supervised like, ‘Alright, you’re going to meet with Johnny for 30 minutes and go over homework.’”
When their sports careers ended, the boys missed that sense of community building. One night, when Cameron was visiting James in N.Y.C., they came up with the idea for ABC Food Tours after leaving one of their favorite restaurants in the Lower East Side, Bobwhite Counter.
Cameron and James remember chatting with a group of elementary school kids when they left the restaurant late at night, who said had never heard of Bobwhite. “They lived right across the street and they hadn’t been to this place that we’re traveling all the way from the Upper West Side to come to,’ James recalls. “So we reached out to their principal and she was crazy enough to let us take a group of their students on board.”
One year later, they’re working with more than 50,000 kids across Manhattan and Brooklyn, with plans to expand into the Bronx by the end of 2019. Each tour now consists of stops at several different local restaurants, along with a physical activity component and discussion about how to eat and live healthy.
“I think we don’t realize the impact that we’re having with these kids,” Cameron says. “A lot of these kids suffer from homelessness, a lot of them live in the shelters. Lots of these kids just don’t ever get the opportunity to go eat at a restaurant.”
With that in mind, Cameron and James try to choose a wide variety of restaurants for the tours, aiming to show them a variety of different cuisines.
“We want these kids to see everything,” Cameron says. “We want them to see what the city has to offer and what different cultures are like.”
That means bringing them to eat foods they’ve never heard of before, or never had the opportunity to try. “This one kid, we had him on a tour and we took them to Blue Ribbon Sushi and he was literally crying because he was so scared to eat the sushi,” Cameron says. “I was trying to find ways to get him to eat it so I’d be like, ‘All right, we’re going to dip it in the soy sauce. We’re gonna cheers it. We’re going to eat it together,’ and he would just cry. So I took him aside and talked to him, and he ended up trying it and liking it. And that was a huge step for that kid, you know?”
Offering quality food does come with a cost, though, and Cameron and James are transparent about how they fund the organization.
“We love eating at these places and we know how difficult it is to stay afloat, so we never ask for anything,” James says. “For the most part we pay for everything, and a lot of it is funded by the donations that people give on our website and then independently by Tyler and myself. So we’ll put together events, like Tyler had an event at Soul Cycle where people sponsored tours and they got to ride with us at one of the studios.”
This is where Cameron is grateful for the platform The Bachelorette has given him. “It’s allowed us to impact more kids,” he says. “It’s really overwhelming, but we’re trying to do our best to navigate it and make the right steps. We want to make sure we’re doing this the right way and impacting the kids the right away. But it’s great. It’s a blessing.”
Cameron and James also urge people to make a change in their own communities.
“Use what you’re gifted at to just help service the greater cause,” James says. Cameron adds: “Go back to your community, go take kids that are less fortunate and show them what they don’t ever get to see normally. Just invest in the youth, because that’s who our world is going to rely on soon.”
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Giving back to the community has always been hugely important to Cameron, who says his parents were charitable and would take in his teammates and friends when they were in need.
“My world has opened up to so many things and ever since then I’ve been like, okay, I want to make sure these kids open their eyes and see what this world has to offer by going to college and doing these things,” Cameron says. “I think my parents have always been big into that too, so, it’s kinda something that’s always been important to me.”
Cameron shares one particular moment on a tour that continues to speak to him to this day: “We’re all eating and I’m sitting with this kid in the park watching guys skateboard. He just looks up to me and he goes, ‘This is the best day I’ve ever had.’”
“That’s kind of a common theme,” he adds. “We’re just trying to spark something in those kids that pushes them to want to be something more.”