From ‘Lost’ to Leadership: How a Starbucks Community Store Inspires One Barista

The journey from Mexico City to a Starbucks store in Houston, Texas has been greater than the close to 1,000 miles that separate the two communities for a young barista.

“When I first moved to the United States, I couldn’t even say hello,” recalled Anita Kinchen. “My daughter was in school and the more comfortable she became with English, the more lost I felt. I couldn’t even help her do her homework. It was a very frustrating part of my life.”

It was in talking to a close friend that she heard about the Association for the Advancement of Mexican Americans (AAMA), a nonprofit organization that encourages young Latinos to finish their education and prepares them to be successful in the workplace. While some people come to AAMA to earn a high school diploma or complete a GED, Kinchen enrolled to learn English and become a stronger communicator.

“They helped take care of my kids while I was taking care of myself. It changed my life,” she said, appreciative of the childcare AAMA provided. “AAMA gave me the power of communication. Without that, I wouldn’t be here, sharing my story with you, let alone helping my kids with their homework, or talking to a customer about coffee.”

The Starbucks where Kinchen was first a customer, and later a partner (employee), has a special connection with AAMA. Located in Houston’s East End neighborhood, the location is a Starbucks Community Store.

Starbucks Community Stores around the world play a central role in supporting revitalization efforts to address education, employment, health, housing, and safety issues in neighborhoods. In addition to Houston, other locations include: San Antonio, Texas; Los Angeles, CA; New York City; Seattle and Lakewood, Washington; and Bangkok, Thailand.

Through a unique profit-sharing model, Community Stores help establish a reliable stream of resources for the nonprofit organizations they’ve teamed up with. The collaboration raises awareness of the organizations’ work and creates a space for community dialogue. There is also a deep commitment to community service.

In Houston, partners and customers will join AAMA on Saturday, April 19 to volunteer at Sanchez Charter School during Starbucks Global Month of Service. They’ll focus on painting and landscaping projects to beautify the campus grounds.

“The partnership with Starbucks has been so much more than we imagined,” said Beatrice Garza, president and CEO of AAMA. “They go way beyond; they roll up their sleeves and get the work done with us.”

Angela Lara, district manager for Starbucks in Houston, agrees that the community store’s value is about so much more than dollars.

“It’s about building a long-lasting relationship with the community. We get to know our customers, partners, and their families,” said Lara. “That kind of connection creates value for both our business and our community. And in the process, we’re able to find truly wonderful partners like Anita.”

Kinchen’s dedication to serving customers and natural leadership skills recently landed her a promotion to store manager at a nearby Starbucks location.

“I’m really excited. It’s a chance to reach another community, to lead a team, and to share my passion with many more people,” said. “It’s a new opportunity to give back.”

Like many Starbucks partners, Kinchen still fondly remembers her first day as a barista.

“AAMA didn’t prepare me to talk about the difference between a cappuccino and a latte. I quickly learned that Starbucks had its own language,” she said with a smile. “This was an opportunity to build a whole new vocabulary, a whole new perspective.”

She has a new view of her future as well. She hopes to inspire other young people in the community.

“I meet many young Latinos, and I always tell them to never give up," Kinchen said. "It doesn’t matter where you come from - whether you grow up with more or less - holding on to that dream is more important than anything else.”

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