It’s common to see people discussing the issues of the day around warm cups of coffee at Starbucks. However, on Tuesday (October 21, 2014), amidst the sound of grinding beans and steaming milk, a small Starbucks in Baltimore, Maryland’s Southside Marketplace became the stage for a new series of town hall meetings Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is hosting to address youth unemployment in the city.
The community discussion is part of Solutions City℠—a new initiative Starbucks launched with the mayors of five U.S. cities - Baltimore, MD; Sacramento, CA; Phoenix, AZ; Columbus, OH; and Orlando, FL. The program brings residents and local leaders together at neighborhood Starbucks stores to address three key issues: providing access to education, supporting veterans, and empowering opportunity youth.
In Baltimore, Mayor Rawlings-Blake is hosting Solutions City town halls with community leaders to explore ways that Baltimore area employers can prepare the city’s future workforce through its Hire One Youth initiative and YouthWorks summer jobs program. The program connects unemployed 16-24 year olds from disadvantaged backgrounds – an estimated 15,931 in Baltimore alone – with six-week work experiences with the private sector, nonprofit and city and state government employers.
“We’ve heard young people share how they didn’t even know about a particular career path,” said Mayor Rawlings-Blake, addressing the town hall on Tuesday. “So many young people are limited by what they see in their home and their neighborhoods. These types of workplace opportunities are such a great way to open people’s eyes to that experience and help these young men and women find their full potential.”
Rashaud Dubose recently benefitted from the mayor’s Hire One Youth initiative and returned to share his story with Solutions City town hall participants. He remarked how the program helped him discover self-confidence and a passion for customer service and sales. Today, Dubose is a customer service sales representative at a Baltimore branch of a major US banking company.
“The Hire One Youth program helped me fill applications, practice my interview skills, and prepare me for the work environment. They checked in on me even after I got the job to make sure I was still on track,” Dubose added.
"If we are serious about preparing our young people for the world of employment, we must ensure that we are doing our part to offer them opportunities that will allow them to grow," said Mayor Rawlings-Blake. "In order to bridge the gap between our unemployed young adults and employer demand, we need to give our youth opportunities to develop and enhance marketable skills in real-life work environments."
Alan Fink, another panelist at Tuesday’s discussion, shared his experience hiring from the mayor’s YouthWorks program. Fink, who runs ABC Box Company, a family-owned packaging and shipping company located in Baltimore’s Leadenhall Street, had benefitted from a summer internship through a similar program in his youth, then called the Mayor’s Fellowship Program.
“I jumped at the chance to pay it forward,” Fink said, when he learned of an opportunity to hire a summer intern through Baltimore’s Hire One Youth initiative. Once his company signed up, the mayor’s office took a hands on approach, selecting and forwarding the best resumes, scheduling interview appointments for young candidates, and helping find candidates who were ready to contribute to a new workplace.
“We eventually found an incredible candidate,” said Fink. “Not only did he excel at the work, he displayed self-confidence and built a strong bond with our team.”
His story is one of the many that are giving civic leaders and businesses reasons to more closely consider the untapped opportunity these young men and women represent for the workforce.
At a recent Solutions City town hall event in Phoenix on September 26, 2014, 23-year-old Aletha Pearson shared her story from high-school dropout to a culinary arts apprentice, thanks to a housing and support services program in Phoenix. In Seattle, Vernita Page, 20, went from an unstable home environment to graduating from Starbucks new Retail Excellence Training Program for opportunity youth. Today, Page works fulltime at a Starbucks kiosk inside a Seattle-based grocery chain.
Under the leadership of mayors like Rawlings-Blake, Starbucks believes Solutions City will help galvanize action and scale programs that are already successfully addressing youth unemployment.
"Mayors are problem solvers, rising to meet the challenges facing our communities every single day," said Blair Taylor, executive vice president and chief community officer for Starbucks. He previously joined mayors in Sacramento, Columbus and Phoenix to host similar community discussions. "Solutions City helps put a formal framework and tangible goals around what's already occurring and uses Starbucks stores as gathering places for mayors and citizens to deliberately discuss issues and drive toward the best local solutions."
Mayor Rawlings-Blake and the other participating mayors will evaluate the impact of the town hall series, share best practices, and help Solutions City potentially expand to more select Starbucks stores around the country.
Photos courtesy Mark Dennis, Office of the Mayor of Baltimore