Starbucks Barista on Overcoming Challenges: ‘I was a lost little girl”

Leading U.S. companies, including Starbucks, are joining together this month for the Opportunity Fair and Forum in Chicago with a goal of offering jobs - on the spot - to hundreds of young adults.

The August 13 event will be the first of several hiring fairs presented by the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative – a coalition of top employers committed to creating pathways to meaningful employment. Those pathways include apprenticeships, internships, training programs, and both part-time and full-time jobs.

The people who will benefit from these hiring events are often referred to as Opportunity Youth – those between the ages of 16-24 who face systemic barriers to employment and education.

Although these young people are often defined by what they are not – not working and not in school – many Opportunity Youth are trying to change that definition and their futures. They're showing how they are not the biggest challenge facing our economy; they're the biggest opportunity.

The following is a personal essay from a Starbucks barista in Philadelphia who shares how she’s overcoming the challenges of her childhood. In her own words, here's Angie's story.

Life as an adult started long before it was supposed to.

My childhood was taken away at the age of three through physical and sexual abuse in my home. I believe my mother knew I was being hurt, my innocence taken away. But she didn't stop my abuser.

At the age of eight, my older brother and I found the strength to speak up. For a moment I thought it would help. It didn’t. My mother claimed we were liars. My brother was taken away to a group home. As for me, I was a lost little girl.

My grandmother took partial custody of me when I was 10 years old. The instability continued as I bounced from my mother’s home to my grandmother’s place. My brother tried to help a couple of years later by telling authorities about the abuse. When confronted and given a choice between telling police where they could find my abuser or losing me forever, she didn’t choose me. The last thing I saw was my mother being taken away from me in handcuffs. My father wasn't in my life when I was a child, and now my mother was gone too. It was like losing another piece of my heart.

By the time my grandmother gained full custody of me I had already been through 10 different homes and almost the same number of schools. I didn’t let it break me down though. I was an honor student who started freshman year in advanced classes with juniors and seniors. I started making friends – well, I thought they were friends. I later realized they were just people who introduced me to drinking and smoking.

The perfect score I had in advanced biology slipped to barely passing. I didn’t even know a grade could be that low. My attendance was poor. My grandmother completely gave up; I gave up. I just wanted to hang out on the streets, drink, and party with my friends.

I dropped out of school at 16. A year later, my grandmother kicked me out of the house. I lived with my boyfriend at the time in an apartment with no food, no clothing and only a small bag of belongings. That relationship was over in about a month. I was then homeless, hungry, alone and desperate. I contacted my father and was surprised to hear he wanted me to come live with him. He wanted to give me a better life. The last time I saw my younger brothers they were babies. They cried when they saw me. I couldn’t believe they remembered who I was. Seeing those tears I knew it was time for a change. I had three siblings who looked up to me.

I didn’t want to go back to high school, but I did want to complete a degree. My uncle told me about YouthBuild Philadelphia. He had graduated from the nonprofit’s program and went on to college. Now he’s a photographer with a good job. In order to get into the program, I needed to interview with a leader from YouthBuild who asked me a simple question, “What makes you want to change your life and come to YouthBuild?”

I immediately broke down.

Then, I told him: I’ve grown up alone – broken and torn apart. At one point I gave up on myself. Although I was physically alive I was mentally and emotionally gone. I needed to start somewhere and I wanted to begin with my education.

I was accepted as a YouthBuild student. I woke up every day on time, determined to succeed. As I began my journey with YouthBuild, I soon realized this was not just a school. This was the family I never had.

All the staff believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself and thought nobody could. I had a minor setback in the beginning and was suspended for poor behavior. At that moment I thought it was over. I cried and cried. How could I ruin what I worked so hard for?

Eventually, I came back strong and I made it to graduation.

The voices of my mother and grandmother in my head, telling me I would always mess up in life and that I would never get anywhere, were finally going away. Those thoughts, replaced by the sound of my siblings telling me how proud they are of me, and how they want to be just like me when they grow up.

That same night of graduation I had another special moment. The man of my life proposed to me. I couldn’t believe after all the pain and heartaches, my troubles might be over as I moved in with my fiancé and began to look for a job.

I applied everywhere. I had no experience and being fresh out of school, my options were limited. A mentor at YouthBuild told me about Starbucks. I immediately applied and waited by my phone for a week until I received a call for my interview. I was nervous, but confident and days later I was hired.

When I became a Starbucks partner (employee) almost a year ago, I was determined to build on my success. My manager helped me develop as a barista and as a person. She helped me control the anger I had inside me and the negative attitude I couldn’t help but give off. She helped me build relationships, instead of holding everything inside. I wasn’t the angry little girl I grew up as. I began to evolve into a woman. Starbucks wasn’t just a job for me anymore; it was a home and a career. It’s become the family I can laugh with – the family who also listens and counsels me when I need guidance.

On Valentine’s Day this year, I found out I was carrying a blessing inside of me which gave me more of a reason to strive and work harder. I’ll have a baby to protect and show the good things in life. I can’t let what happened to me happen to my child. Although the pain in my past is what tore me down, it also pushed me to get where I’m at today. It showed me what it means to never give up and to be resilient.

I’m grateful for YouthBuild which gave me hope and strength. And I’m thankful for Starbucks, which gave me the chance to put everything in place and practice what I’ve worked so hard for. Starbucks didn’t judge me. Instead, Starbucks helped me become the person I am today.

Starbucks has committed to hiring 10,000 Opportunity Youth by the year 2018.

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