For Extreme Starbucks Volunteers, Giving Back is a Gift

Pounding nails to construct homes for Habitat for Humanity. Stocking shelves and serving those in need at local foodbanks. Tutoring high school students and helping young adults with special needs. Those are some of the ways Starbucks partners (employees) spend their free time.

During 2015, Starbucks partners participated in nearly 5,000 service projects around the world. Three passionate partners, who are extreme volunteers devoting hundreds of hours to community service, discuss the benefits of giving back.

‘Community service gives you so much’

Cari Johnson, a store manager in Salt Lake City, had volunteered steadily before joining Starbucks two years ago. The company’s community involvement was a key factor in her decision to become a partner.

“It’s a bit of a personal thing for me,” said Johnson. “I really do want to change the world and Starbucks is the platform. I have a passion for helping people and that’s very much what Starbucks is about.”

Johnson has developed close ties with several nonprofit organizations including Habitat for Humanity, the Utah Zoo and Volunteers of America Utah, which focuses on the homeless youth population in Salt Lake City.

“I try to mix things up because different partners have different interests,” said Johnson. “I want to encourage the partners I work with to continue joining me for service activities.”

Johnson coordinates at least one service project each month. Managers from other stores in her district help with planning and recruiting partner volunteers.

“Community service gives you so much,” said Johnson. “I’m so proud to have demonstrated to my store and district all of the really awesome things we can do for our community through volunteering.”

‘I’m helping others, but I’m also helping myself’

Jenetia Hanna joined Starbucks after learning that the company’s values closely aligned with her beliefs.

“The passion I have for service and developing others is also a focus for Starbucks.” said Hanna, a store manager in Cleveland, Ohio. “It’s great that I can be in that type of work environment.”

Hanna was recently selected as the “community lead” for her district. In this role, she has coordinated multiple service projects with local food banks and the city’s veterans hospital. Most recently, she initiated a relationship with Connecting for Kids, an organization that works alongside families with special needs children.

“My son is autistic, so supporting people with disabilities or special needs is really close to my heart,” said Hanna.

Growing her team’s community involvement is of particular interest to Hanna. She helps to plan service activities several times per month with nonprofit organizations.

“We don’t just work with an organization one time, we support their ongoing needs,” said Hanna. “I’m so proud of my district and how we’ve grown and become leaders in our community.”

For Hanna, the benefits of service are twofold.

“I’m helping others, but I’m also helping myself,” said Hanna. “It’s so rewarding.”

‘For me, community service will never end’

Tim Dubenko has prioritized community service throughout the more than 17 years he has worked for Starbucks.

“As a store manager, I was exposed to volunteering, but when I became a district manager, I had the opportunity to influence more partners to participate in community service,” said Dubenko who manages 12 stores in the Sacramento area. “That is what galvanized my passion for service.”

Dubenko has coordinated countless park clean ups and visits to local food banks. His dedication landed him a role as a “community champion” in 2011. In this position, Dubenko joined an elite group of partners focused on leading regional service projects and encouraging partners to volunteer in their communities.

“Being relevant in the community that you live in is very important,” said Dubenko. “There are so many people who are less fortunate than us and I think sometimes we get caught up in ourselves and don’t realize the need that exists to help others.”

Dubenko is currently focused on maintaining a relationship with Junior Achievement (JA) that first took shape three years ago. In collaboration with JA, Dubenko and team volunteered at 10 local elementary schools and impacted more than 4,000 students earlier this year. Dubenko and partners throughout Sacramento are currently working on a pilot program with JA that teaches high school students how to improve their communication and critical thinking skills, develop job readiness abilities, improve resumes and build interview skills.

“When you get an opportunity to give back, there’s an immediate gratification from doing something good,” said Dubenko. “Once you do it the first few times, you develop a thirst for the work and gain compassion and understanding for the needs that many have in our communities.”

In less than two weeks, Dubenko will receive his Bachelor’s degree from ASU as a result of his participation in Starbucks College Achievement Plan. Despite a busy work, school and family schedule, service remains a significant part of Dubenko’s life.

“For me, community service will never end, because it’s something I enjoy doing,” said Dubenko. “I get a lot of pride and inspiration from it.”

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Coffee & Connection: Stories from Starbucks Origin Experience 2024 in Costa Rica