This story is a first-person account of a partner on the Youth Leadership Council, which you can read more about here.
By Bonnie Rochman/Starbucks Newsroom
SOKAH MARRERO, 23, South Hadley, Mass.:
I grew up in foster care since I was 5. I’ve attended seven different schools and worked in a total of nine different jobs. I never really knew what career to pursue because I grew up not really knowing who I was or what my passions were. I was trying to survive.
My parents came from Cambodia and had just survived the Vietnam War. Both have severe post-traumatic stress. They lost 90 percent of their relatives. They didn’t know how to deal with their trauma. Their way of coping was to resort to being intoxicated. They were not in a position to have children, but I was born shortly after they arrived in the U.S.
My parents had eight kids. I am the third oldest. I grew up with three siblings. I found out I had other siblings when I turned 11. I discovered my younger brother was actually attending the same school as me. I saw him in the hallway and knew he was my brother, but I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to shock him. I walked past trying to pretend I didn’t notice him, but he turned around and was like, ‘Sokah, you’re my sister.’ He said it so casually and nonchalantly in front of a hallway of kids.
My older brother and sister were adopted by a therapist. Me and my younger brother traveled in foster homes together for a while. Then he got adopted by a family who wanted a boy.
My longest time with one family was four years. Having so much change in my life, I focused on school and work. I landed a job at Starbucks when I was 19. I worked there almost three years. I had never worked a job for more than a couple months because I would quit or get fired because I wasn’t motivated enough.
My store manager noticed I didn’t know how to socialize. She wanted to help me grow. But it was exhausting for me to have to go in every day and talk to people. My store manager was planning on firing me. She was being really stern and saying I wasn’t friendly and my performance wasn’t good. I had no motivation. If someone’s drink was messed up, I would get annoyed. It was hard for me to work in customer service. I said, ‘I can’t do this. I’m not normal. I don’t know how to talk to anyone.’ So I quit and left for a year.
After my arrest, Starbucks was my last resort. I went back to my store manager and said I really need my job back. She said, ‘I hold my baristas to a high standard and you don’t want to try.’ I told her that I feel safe at Starbucks. I said, ‘You are the only person I know who is actually putting effort into me. You are only person who cares about me.’
She hired me back. She told me, ‘We’re a family.’ I knew she was watching me so I made sure to do everything I was told to do. At first I did it out of obligation, then it became who I was. It was really hard. I often felt frustrated.
I have become a coffeemaster [a Starbucks designation for a coffee connoisseur] and a shift manager, and I just enrolled at ASU through the SCAP program. The district manager in Nevada where I became a coffeemaster grew up in foster care. When it was time for me to get my black apron, he gave it to me and said, ‘Llet this be a step into your future.’ My apron represented my coffeemaster journey but it also represented my journey through life. It was about believing in myself. That’s why I wear my apron all the time.
—As told to Bonnie Rochman