Good Things Happen: Senior pictures, storm troopers, sharing is caring, good signs in D.C.

Welcome to the first installment of Good Things Happen, a monthly roundup of heartwarming and funny moments from in and around Starbucks stores worldwide.

Sydney takes her senior photos by storm

By all accounts, July 15 should have been a disastrous day for Sydney Johansson, 17, and her mother, Laura. It was senior portrait day for Sydney, and the family was excited to hire the talented Jessica Vallia to take the photos. But the skies above Fountain, Colo., got all literal and it started dumping rain. The three piled into the car anyway, hoping they could somehow outrun the storm, but no luck.

Rescheduling wasn’t an option, so after circling the city, Laura Johansson suggested they try Starbucks. The worst they could say is no, right? She ran into the store to ask the barista behind the counter.

“It’s pouring, and my daughter was supposed to have her senior pictures taken outside. She is in a wheelchair,” she said. “Can we just come inside and take a few pictures?”

Photo credit: Jessica Vallia Photography

The barista was Chris Lopez, and photographer Jessica Vallia’s Facebook post of what happened next went viral. Lopez sprang into action. He followed Johansson out into the storm to help her get Sydney inside, holding his umbrella over them as his own hair and clothes became soaked. Inside, the store partners had hot chocolates waiting. Lopez helped the women move store furniture to make space for Sydney’s photo shoot, and mid-way through the shoot, he came by to ask if it would be OK for the store partners to make Sydney some congratulations signs.

“We were there a good hour at least, taking up the bathroom, as it's no easy feat to change Sydney, and we had several outfits,” Vallia wrote. “There were serious tears from all after taking in everything. I just wanted her to have the average senior session, like any other girl, and instead she got THE RED CARPET in a way I couldn't have been more proud to be a part of!”

News of Sydney’s senior portrait session at Starbucks garnered millions of views and a handful of news stories. Sydney’s mother said this week one of the most frequent questions she got was where Sydney got the rockin’ “Dirty Dancing” t-shirt she’s wearing in her photos. (“For anyone curious, it is from H&M and it was 12.99,” Johansson said, laughing.)

 Photo credit: Jessica Vallia Photography

“This whole experience has been so crazy. We just wanted to recognize this amazingly awesome Starbucks employee and it’s gone viral,” she said. “Chris was, and always will be, our hero.”

The outpouring of love from around the world was well-timed, as Sydney had surgery on her legs Thursday, and will be in double casts from hips to toes for the next six weeks. Since there’s probably not enough room for all of us to sign her casts, her mom says we can send Sydney good wishes on the original Facebook post.

Ellie Barnes, storm trooper

Our next dispatch takes us to another recent storm – and a store in Columbus, Ohio, where barista Ellie Barnes was working the drive-through during a short but wild summer tempest. 

“It isn’t usually this epic, but we do have a phrase here, ‘If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes,” said Jeffrey Hlad, store manager. Or, in the case of this sudden squall, about 15 minutes, which was long enough to knock out the power, and to capture some hair-raising and amusing footage of Barnes bravely facing down the weather through the drive-through window.


For UW coach, sharing is caring

Earlier this year, Mike Hopkins, men’s basketball coach at University of Washington, was voted Coach of the Year by his collegiate coaching peers in the Pacific-12 Conference – an honor that came with a $15,000 award.

Hopkins, affectionately called “Coach Hop” by UW players and fans, said he believes the award belongs just as much to the team and community. Rather than booking a trip to Hawaii or making a down payment on a speed boat, Coach Hop decided to find a way to share his bonus with everyone. He settled on buying 1,250 Starbucks cards in the amount of $12 each to give to fans. Get it -- $12 for the Pac-12?


One Thursday afternoon in June, Hopkins visited the University Village Starbucks in Seattle, just down the road from his home court, to pass the gift cards out himself (along with mascot, Harry the Husky). Hundreds of people lined up around the block for a chance to meet Hopkins and let him buy them some Starbucks.

“The turnout was awesome at the store,” Hopkins said this week. “It was so great to interact with our fan base and give back. I truly appreciate Starbucks for working with me during that process and I had a blast meeting so many Husky fans.”

All signs point to Washington, D.C.

It was happy news when Starbucks announced on July 19 it would be opening the first signing store in the United States this fall in Washington, D.C., just down the street from Gallaudet University, a university for the deaf. The store will be operated by nearly two dozen deaf, hard of hearing and hearing employees who are fluent in American Sign Language (ASL).

But also heartwarming was how the announcement was made – with the company’s first-ever ASL press release featuring deaf partners involved in the project. All signs point to awesome.

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Starbucks new colorful merch collaboration honors Women’s History Month