‘My hope is to change lives’: Community is core of new Starbucks in White Center, Wash.

By Bonnie Rochman / Starbucks Newsroom

It’s the dream of every parent: Provide a better life for your child than the one you have had. It’s the desire that has propelled generations of Alejandra Ramirez’ family through struggle and sacrifice.

Now, the 17 year old, whose father was born in a remote area of Mexico without electricity or functioning toilets, will be the first in her family to go to college when she starts at the University of Washington in September. And this week she’s starting a job as a partner at a new Starbucks store emblematic of the hope her family has.

The store, opening Friday in White Center, an area about 10 miles south of Seattle, is part of the company’s initiative to invest in at least 15 underserved communities across the U.S. by 2018 by creating local jobs, partnering with area nonprofit organizations to provide in-store job-skills training for youth, and working with local women- and minority-owned contractors, suppliers and vendors.

It is the seventh such store to open in the country. The others are in Ferguson, Mo.; central Phoenix; the Jamaica neighborhood of Queens, N.Y.; Englewood in Chicago’s Southside; East Baltimore and Long Beach, Calif.

The premise is that long-term investment in underserved communities can simultaneously benefit Starbucks’ bottom line and the community. Retention rates are just as high or higher than in other stores, said Rodney Hines, director of U.S. social impact for Starbucks.

“We are giving young people access to opportunities,” said Hines. “When we look at where our stores are in the U.S., there is a gap in our presence in lower income, diverse communities. This is an opportunity for us and for these communities.”

Thursday morning, the partners met with Kevin Johnson, Starbucks’s chief executive officer, and other members of the leadership team shortly before they welcomed invited community members to a ceremony.

“I am excited about what you are going to do as you bring this store to life,” Johnson told the partners, as he stood next to a sign on the store wall that said: “This store stands for community. Local contractors. Local partners. Local love.”

During the forum, John Durr, the White Center store’s assistant store manager, told Johnson that his experiences as a two-time cancer survivor have caused him to get very clear on what he wanted to do in life. “This moment is a (culmination) of everything I want to work for and do. I’m here where I want to be to serve people and help.”

Several others shared their experiences too, including Ramirez. After her family moved to the United States when she was 3 years old, her father started a construction business; her mother cleans houses. They work hard but money remains tight, so Ramirez (whose name has been changed for privacy reasons) is excited to start her next chapter at the store.

Others talked about their hopes of being able to help their families, or of going to college through the Starbucks College Achievement program, a partnership with Arizona State University where qualified partners can earn an online degree with their tuition fully reimbursed by the company.

"My hope is to change lives – both in the community and with partners,” said store manager Tim Webb of his biggest wish for the store.

Two years ago, Starbucks pledged to hire 10,000 “Opportunity Youth” — young adults between the ages of 16 and 24 who are not in school or employed. The company surpassed that goal, quickly reaching 40,000, and announced last spring that it would bring 100,000 on board by 2020 in the U.S. alone. Some are now working at the White Center store.

Recent census data suggests that more than 32,000 Opportunity Youth live within King County, nearly 25,000 of them in south King County where White Center is located, where they may face barriers to finding jobs and educational opportunities.

A hallmark of the Starbucks stores located in underserved areas is the vision that they double as community hubs. To that end, each store houses a training space where a local nonprofit leads job skills training for community members. In White Center, the YWCA Greenbridge Youth Employment Program will facilitate the training programs. Two new White Center partners came from YWCA Greenbridge.

A gathering space

“Young people in South King County, especially youth of color, often face more barriers than opportunities to employment,” said YWCA CEO Maria Chavez Wilcox. “By creating a new career pathway for youth, this partnership takes an important step toward a healthier and more equitable community for everyone.”

When the classrooms are not in use, they’re available for community programming such as Coffee with Cops, live music, and other meetings/discussions requested by the local organizations and other community members

Victor Melendez, an artist who grew up in White Center and now works on Starbucks’ product design team painted a store mural, creating a vibrant scene that depicts different animals converging in a community mosaic that represents the prominent cultures that coexist in White Center.

And, as part of the store’s mission to invest in local women and/or minority-owned businesses, Saybr, a woman-owned business, developed and built out the White Center location.

“The new White Center Starbucks is partnering with local minority owned contractors and suppliers, and is going to provide important in-store work and training opportunities for members of the White Center community,” said King County Councilmember Joe McDermott. “Starbucks is committed to being a good neighbor and partner to our community, and I stand ready to help welcome them.”

Sen. Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, said she hopes it will inspire other businesses in their commitment to community as well.

“Strong communities are essential for a strong economy – you simply cannot have one without the other,” she said. “Creative projects like this play a valuable role in strengthening communities like White Center by generating more opportunities for young people who too often do not have the support they deserve. I hope this sets an example for other businesses in Washington to invest in similar, community-driven initiatives, that will change lives for the better.”

‘We are going to have open doors here’

The White Center store emphasizes its message of inclusion through the incorporation of a unique design feature.

“We have garage doors that open up to show the community that we are going to have open doors here,” said Tim Webb, the store’s manager. “We are welcoming people into the store rather than putting up walls to block ourselves off.”

Thursday morning, they were opened wide after the event.

When the customers arrive on Friday, Ramirez will be there to welcome them. She learned about the new White Center store at a local job fair where she met store manager Webb, who was on the lookout not just for baristas but for people with excellent people skills and leadership potential.

The stores are “about more than just trying to strategically check boxes: It’s about us trying to have that social impact on a community,” said Webb. “We are saying that as a company, we are responsible for providing opportunities for people in that community, for bringing talented young people into our Starbucks community and helping merge ourselves into their community.”

Customer service skills may be second nature to Ramirez, but an appreciation of coffee is a work in progress. Her parents are big coffee drinkers, and they’re looking forward to the complimentary pound of coffee that partners receive weekly. Ever the dutiful daughter, Ramirez plans to gift them the beans. But that arrangement may not be permanent. “Coffee is starting to grow on me,” she said.

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