A partner with Down Syndrome finds an inclusive workplace at Starbucks

Woman with arm around man, both smiling and wearing green aprons

Tim Ryan walks a mile from his house to a Starbucks store where he works as a café attendant. One step at a time, three days a week, for the past 20 years adds up to more than 12 million steps on a journey that began with uncertainty.

As a young man with Down Syndrome, Ryan had a difficult time finding a job a couple of decades ago. In 1996 the unemployment rate for people with disabilities was 25 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The rate is closer to 10 percent today.

His sister-in-law met the store manager of Starbucks that was opening in New Rochelle, New York and asked if Ryan could work there. The manager gave him an opportunity that has worked out well for everyone. This week Ryan is celebrating his 20th anniversary with Starbucks and is proud to be one of the original partners (employees) at the Wykagyl store in New Rochelle.

Lori Belfiore manages the store today and has built a relationship with Ryan who continues to work at the same store where he started his Starbucks career. “I didn’t have experience working with a partner with Down Syndrome, so there was a learning curve for me in the beginning,” said Belfiore. “I used my instincts and learned how to communicate with him and explain work-related tasks in the best way.”

“Lori is very good to me and she understands that I need extra help,” Ryan added. 

As a café attendant, Ryan’s responsibilities include stocking the condiment bar and making sure the store is clean for customers. “My favorite thing is being on the floor helping people out,” he said.

Related: A Partner with Autism Hopes a Viral Video ‘Opens Minds’

Over the years, Belfiore has figured out how to best utilize Ryan’s skills, that includes teaching him methodical ways to do tasks like cleaning windows and greeting customers. "I always tell him that the store is like his house, so when people visit, he should say hello," she said.

The partners at the Wykagyl store will recognize Ryan during a store celebration on May 16. He will receive a 20-year plaque that all partners receive when they reach this milestone at Starbucks.

“Everybody deserves a chance,” said Belfiore. “Tim is one the most loyal and caring partners and makes our store feel inclusive and part of the community.”

Did You Know?

Seattle, Washington has been selected to host the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games, which will take place July 1-6. The games will include 3,500 Special Olympics athletes from all 50 states and Washington, D.C., 1,000 coaches, 10,000 family members, 10,000 volunteers and an estimated 50,000 spectators. Starbucks is honored to be part of the host committee for the games and will assist in creating the awareness necessary to increase acceptance, inclusion and employment of people with disabilities.

Starbucks Commitment to Access and Disability Inclusion

Creating a culture of belonging is a core value that makes Starbucks a unique place for our partners (employees) and customers around the globe. It is not only a business imperative, but it is our global social responsibility to create a coffeehouse experience where everyone is welcome, respected and valued in an environment that is accessible for all.

thumbnail for Artist Damon Brown celebrates Black culture and community in Starbucks latest drinkware collection

Artist Damon Brown celebrates Black culture and community in Starbucks latest drinkware collection