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Golden arches aid Ayer manager’s American dream

By Anne O’Connor

AYER — When Rafi Jerez left the Dominican Republic he was 15 years old and couldn’t speak English.

He’s come a long way.

This year, at age 28, he received the Ray Kroc Award. It is given to the top one percent of managers of McDonald’s restaurants across the world. This year, 340 employees were honored.

The local manager is in rare company. There are more than 36,000 restaurants in more than 100 countries, according to

Jerez worked his way up through the ranks. He started out as crew, working the grill in Methuen 11 years ago.

Within a year, he began training new crew members and then started seeing more responsibility, he said. The next step was becoming a swing manager.

He has been the manager in Ayer for almost a year and a half. “It’s good. I like it,” he said.

Along the way he attended McDonald’s Hamburger University.

After immigrating, Jerez attended Lawrence High School, learning English. At the same time, he attended classes at Northern Essex Community College.

When he graduated from high school, he continued to take classes at the college, but did not complete his degree. McDonald’s assists with college costs and he plans to return to school to get a business degree.

As soon as he could, Jerez said he took the exam and become a United States citizen.

One of his responsibilities at the Ayer store is hiring. For some of the employees, education is a big part of their lives.

“We’re always hiring,” he said. “We’re open 24/7.”

A lot of high school students work there. “We can give them short shifts and they’re happy working four hours, three times a week,” he said.

He learned when he was in high school that students need a lot of time off to do homework.

“I tell them school comes first,” he said. “We do what we need to do.”

McDonald’s offers non-English speaking employees “English Under the Arches,” classes held in different locations.

If an employee does not have a high school diploma, they can take classes through the company to earn a diploma, he said.

The education opportunities are part of McDonald’s “Archways to Opportunities,” said Eliot Marcus, a company spokesman, in an email. The program enables employees to get the education and training they need to succeed.

“McDonald’s believes that education is a true game-changer,” Marcus wrote.

Jerez also works for the local community. The restaurant is a venue for parties and gatherings and it provides local nonprofits a way to raise funds.

One Tuesday a month is kids’ night when family-friendly activities are planned. The store has an inside playground.

An organization can ask for fundraising evening, when 10 to 15 percent of the sales during specified hours are donated to them. “If I get approval, I can do it,” Jerez said.

His next step in the company is to become an operations consultant, a supervisor in charge of six restaurants, he said.

Jerez could not pick his favorite McDonald’s meal.

“Everything is good,” he said. “I like anything from the menu because I know how we do everything.”

Follow Anne O’Connor on Twitter and Tout @a1oconnor.

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