A Starbucks Volunteer Brings Smiles with Style

Jessica Reed’s ad hoc station has the basic feel of any neighborhood hair salon or barbershop. There’s plenty of banter and bustle around her as clipped locks collect around her feet. Reed, a 33-year-old with auburn waves of her own, is practiced at mixing casual conversation with practical queries as she goes about her business. Her patrons are at ease and chatty as they wait their turns.

“Did getting that tattoo hurt?” she asks a young woman with a close-cropped style who’s slipped into the chair in front of her. “Do you like it squared off in the back?”

The setting, however, isn’t a beauty salon with rows of hydraulic chairs and stainless steel sinks. Reed is spending an April afternoon cutting hair in what was once the lobby of a north Seattle bank. The tools of her trade are spread out on a foldout table surrounded by boxes of donated goods and stacks of lightweight cots. Her clients – members of homeless families – wait their turns to settle into a metal folding chair.

A California native who moved to the Northwest with her husband and two children two years ago, and became a store manager for Starbucks in Bellevue, Wash., in May 2015, Reed is one of thousands of Starbucks partners (employees) participating in the company’s seventh annual Global Month of Service. In 2016, 26,000 Starbucks partners completed volunteer projects that address the needs of children, veterans and others. This year, Starbucks launched a year-round community service goal to have 100 percent of its stores across the globe participate in service annually by 2020.

For Reed, this day is about serving the residents of a four-story facility that will eventually house the Seattle Police Department’s north precinct. In the meantime, it’s a 100-bed emergency family night shelter operated by Mary’s Place. The Starbucks Foundation and the Schultz Family Foundation contributed more than $3 million to the nonprofit’s No Child Sleeps Outside campaign, to increase the amount of safe emergency shelter for homeless families in King County.

Finding a new outlet for an old skill

Reed earned her cosmetology license when she was 18, and worked in the industry for 11 years. She wasn’t looking to change careers, but a casual inquiry to Starbucks prompted a quick response from a recruiter and eventually a job offer. After she settled in at her store, she began looking for volunteer opportunities.

“That was a big part of my reasoning for switching over to Starbucks,” Reed said. “I wanted to work for a company that really pushes volunteering, and also gives you all these places and things to do.”

Reed discovered Mary’s Place through Starbucks participation in No Child Sleeps Outside. She volunteered there for the first time last Martin Luther King Jr. Day and has been coming back since.

“She’s actually the first haircutting volunteer who said specifically she’s really good with kids,” said Ryan Kennedy, Mary’s Place volunteer coordinator. “Not a lot of haircutters say that. She’s kind of become our kids’ haircutter.”

Reed also volunteers at the facility’s Kids Club, which provides a place for children to hang out while their parents are engaged, often in the hunt for a new home. The average length of stay at Mary’s Place is 83 days; the organization emphasizes getting families into their own places as quickly as possible.

“I have my own kids and every night I get to go home and sleep in my bed, and my kids get to have their beds,” Reed said. “I can’t imagine what that would be like – to be a mother and not have that security.”

One less thing to worry about

“This feels good,” remarks 50-year-old Jessica Ewing as she gets her trim. “I don’t have much money right now, so it’s hard to get haircuts. It makes you feel good about yourself when you’ve got a good hairdo.”

Ewing and her 14-year-old son arrived in Seattle from Denver last year “on a prayer and hope” and have been living at Mary’s Place since September. When an infant’s cries echo through the lobby, she calls out the open door to her son, who’s playing one-on-one basketball outside, summoning him to come in and do some babysitting.

“The little kids just love him,” she says, adding, “He needs a haircut now. That makes a difference because I don’t have to worry about that.”

After five years without a haircut, Hannah Voyles says she feels “abnormal” after getting a trim. The mother of the crying child, she’s been homeless for four and a half years.

“One of the things about being homeless is people don’t think about getting into routines of doing things that people who have houses do every day,” she says. “It’s hard for me to take a shower even, because I’m so used to not having that available for me. So it’s a goal for me to brush my hair and take a shower and clean my clothes every day.”

Reed is glad she can do her part to help. “I know when I get a haircut I walk out and feel a little better about myself,” she says. “I look at it like that: Maybe I can make somebody smile or feel better about themselves, because I can’t even begin to imagine what that would be like.”

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New Starbucks merch collaboration celebrates togetherness and joy in the everyday