A culture of community inspires veterans to volunteer

By Bonnie Rochman / Starbucks Newsroom

Sarah McCaffrey is used to creating order from chaos. For nine years as an active-duty Marine, McCaffrey juggled aviation logistics, building flight schedules and analyzing aircraft maintenance needs. Operations hinged on her ability to establish routine, a skill she’s now applying to an even more sensitive task — creating a sense of stability for the foster child who her family is raising.

The bathroom can be a trigger. When McCaffrey disappears for a few minutes of privacy, her foster child — who has lived with her family for a year — grows uneasy. “He stands outside the door and asks, ‘Are you coming back?’”

The exchange is heartbreaking, but McCaffrey sees it as a privilege to teach the boy, who is 4, that he is safe and loved.

When she was young, McCaffrey lived for years with a relative. At other times, she moved homes annually as her mom, a single mother, bounced around from place to place. Craving routine, she joined the Marine Corps. The first time she put on a uniform, she felt a sense of purpose and a responsibility to those with whom she served. Now that she’s left that world, she sees how the philosophy of “No Marine left behind” plays out in her role as a foster mother. “It’s that aspect of the military where you are joined together — one team, one fight,” said McCaffrey, a Starbucks brand manager since September. McCaffrey and her husband, also a veteran, are licensed to take in foster children for long-term placements and for shorter “respites” that give other foster parents a break.

“A lesson you learn early on in the Marine Corps is you can do more than you think you can. Intervening with a traumatized, lost child sounds like more than any person could handle, but that’s not true. We take it one day at a time and get to know them as individuals.”

Like McCaffrey, many veterans find fulfillment in trading one type of service for another. Veterans Day offers an opportunity to reflect on the ways in which the military revolves around the importance of community. Once veterans rejoin civilian life, they often look for a new way to feel purposeful and necessary, said Mary Beth Bruggeman of The Mission Continues, a national nonprofit that encourages veterans to serve their communities. The organization started in 2007 after Eric Greitens, a former Navy SEAL and current Missouri governor, returned from Iraq and Afghanistan. As he visited wounded soldiers at Walter Reed, he heard a recurring theme: They needed to feel needed again.

“When veterans leave the service, many come out and say, ‘I’ve served my time.’ But we find that over time, if they’re not back in a service environment, they miss it,” Bruggeman said. “They tend to find that it’s missing from their lives, so they start looking for ways to get involved.”

For some veterans, that may mean getting a job at a for-profit, mission-driven company like Starbucks. Others may seek out volunteer opportunities within their families or communities.

Veterans have the ideal volunteer profile. Clustered in the military into small, tight units that eat, sleep and work together, they learn how to break down barriers and pull together as a team, drawing on one another’s strengths and offsetting individual weaknesses. It doesn’t hurt that they’re trained to overcome obstacles. “Put them on a project where they don’t have all the materials and you will still end up with a project that works,” said Bruggeman. “Being purpose-driven is so central to who they are that it’s part of their DNA.”

That’s exactly what happened with R.J. Lugo, who spent 22 years in the military.

Preventing sexual assault by training women — and the trainers

For many years, Lugo oversaw dining facilities and food workers in the U.S., Hawaii and S. Korea. After a stint at U.S. Army Combatives School, where he learned strategies to persevere in battle, Lugo began training other soldiers. He took his skills to Fort Lewis, Wash., in 2007, where he became the founding instructor of its Combatives School. At the same time, Lugo was serving as an equal opportunity representative, a volunteer position that ensures that people of all races and genders are treated fairly. In that role, Lugo would review the military police blotter. He noticed what he thought was an unacceptable number of sexual assault cases. Skilled in instructing soldiers how to react when attacked, Lugo wondered how to translate his knowledge to help prevent sexual assault.

He looked outside the military for inspiration, connecting with RAD (Rape, Aggression, Defense), a civilian group based in Baton Rouge, La., that teaches self-defense. Lugo learned about situational awareness and the importance of risk reduction — walking confidently to a destination, for example, and not parking in a dimly lit corner in a garage — as well as how to react if you’re attacked. He was so impressed with the curriculum that he became an instructor, and has shared self-defense strategies with more than 10,000 women in the past 10 years. He also travels around the U.S. training military service members, campus and local police officers and sheriff’s deputies to train others.

Lugo retired from the military in 2016, the same year he became a store manager at a Starbucks in Auburn, Calif. His district manager has been supportive of his RAD teaching schedule. In August, he flew to Fort Huachuca, Ariz., to train a military intelligence battalion; in February, he trained several Texas police departments. “I love teaching women individually. But one on one is where it stops,” Lugo said. “There’s a ripple effect in being able to teach trainers. They are going to teach somebody and that somebody is going to teach somebody else.” Lugo also volunteers with fatherless boys, and is starting a foundation with his wife to promote “mental toughness” coaching for veterans.

Teaching yoga poses to ease soldiers’ transition from the military

The theme of paying it forward and doing good for its own sake resonates deeply with Joseph Moehrholt, a volunteer yoga instructor and military spouse.

Moehrholt didn’t know a Sun Salutation from a Downward Dog when he decided to try out a class aimed at the military community several years ago. Some Starbucks partners in Georgia, where his husband was stationed at the time, persuaded him to go. The class was full of people with PTSD and others with war-related injuries, and Moehrholt listened incredulously as they told the instructor after class how much yoga was helping them cope, physically and emotionally. One man missing a leg said he’d become more mobile. Others said that yoga helped them channel calm.

On the spot, Moehrholt decided he wanted to be a part of that. He became a committed yogi and started his instructor certification. He is now a volunteer yoga teacher with the Army Community Service Corps at Ft. Bragg, N.C., where his husband is stationed, and will soon become lead instructor for the Warrior Transition Battalion, teaching yoga as therapeutic recovery for wounded soldiers entering the civilian world. Moehrholt is continuing to learn which poses are beneficial for people with PTSD, but all his classes emphasize restorative yoga, which encourages practitioners to hold postures for a long time. “It’s a mental barrier to stay there in the position for so long,” said Moehrholt, a two-year partner and shift supervisor at a Starbucks in Fayetteville, N.C. “It works because it’s the opposite of fight versus flight.”

Kelly Shaddix has been attending Moehrholt’s yoga classes since July. Shaddix, whose husband is in the Army, finds that they help her cope with the anxiety that comes along with having a spouse in the military. “It’s an extra layer of stress that most people don’t have to deal with,” said Shaddix. “If I’ve had a rough week, going to class with Joey is like a reset button that gets me out of my negative head space.”

A few times, Shaddix’s husband has reluctantly accompanied her. “He makes a whole lot of fun when we go in and when we leave, he says, ‘I’m really glad we did that.’”

Core military values translate to a focus on service

What yoga does for some people, music achieves for others. Sean Greenlee helps underserved children get access to private music lessons, expanding their horizons and view of what’s possible.

Greenlee, manager of Starbucks global social responsibility, got interested in the nonprofit Key to Change because his son, a freshman in high school, plays violin. “A lot of diverse kids don’t necessarily see being in an orchestra as a possibility for them,” said Greenlee, a three-year partner. The cost of renting an instrument and affording private lessons can be daunting, which is why professional violinist Quinton Morris launched Key to Change, with the goal of making violin lessons accessible to any interested child.

Greenlee served in the Navy for 10 years, where he internalized the importance of service to others, which he now translates to his position as president of Key to Change. “A lot of core values that we learn and the character that we build in the military carries over to our outside work,” said Greenlee. “I was drawn to Starbucks because of our focus on service. I serve in the company and I want to be able to continue to do that in my outside life as well.”

That’s a common sentiment, says Bill Rausch, executive director of Got Your Six, which is military slang for “I’ve got your back.” Got Your Six empowers veterans to lead a resurgence of community in the U.S. by encouraging them to volunteer, get to know their neighbors and vote.

“A lot of veterans miss the camaraderie and the shared purpose of the military,” said Rausch. “When they volunteer, they think, ‘Hey, we have a second service.’”

Got Your Six has crunched census data and discovered that veterans volunteer at higher rates than their civilian counterparts. The findings were hardly surprising to Rausch. “The idea is simple: By joining the military and serving your country, you leave the military more inclined to stay civically engaged.”

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How Starbucks partners help create change, one community at a time, with Neighborhood Grants