Starbucks partners make deep, local impact with ‘innovative’ service program

Points of Light, the world’s largest organization dedicated to volunteer service, and The Starbucks Foundation last year tested a program that enabled Starbucks employees to work for a nonprofit in their community part-time, paid by Points of Light, while still working part-time at Starbucks.

It worked, and the program is now expanding to 20 U.S. cities. Organizers say it’s an inventive new model inspired by national programs like AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps that could strengthen the ecosystem of national service.

When she was in high school, Zoe Pace wanted to join the Peace Corps and her mom told her to go to college. In college, she wanted to join AmeriCorps and her boyfriend told her if she did they couldn’t be together.

“We broke up,” she said. “And I joined. I mentored at-risk youth in San Diego and I was like, ‘God, I want to do this forever.’ But it wasn’t a sustainable job.”

After finishing her stint in AmeriCorps, Pace returned home to Chicago and worked as a barista at Starbucks just as she had in college and while she was with AmeriCorps. She was even promoted to shift supervisor. While she loved it, she couldn’t stop thinking about nonprofit work and frequently searched the internet for opportunities.

Zoe Pace

“I absolutely love working at Starbucks, but I also wanted to do more in the community,” said Pace, now 26.

And then came something truly unexpected. Last spring, Pace heard that Starbucks, supported by a grant from The Starbucks Foundation, and Points of Light, the world’s largest organization dedicated to volunteer service, were experimenting with a new program to let Starbucks partners split their time between working in a store and working for a community non-profit. She immediately applied.

“It was just like, ‘Here it is, Zoe. Here’s the thing you’ve been looking for.’ Is serendipity the word? It was the right thing at the right time,” she said.

Last summer, Pace became a “Service Fellow,” joining 35 other Starbucks partners in 13 cities around the country for this service experience. The group contributed nearly 14,000 hours of service during the six-month pilot program. Pace worked for Chicago Cares, the local member of Points of Light’s Global Network, working to mobilize volunteers to build a stronger city.

“It’s wasn’t internesque, stuffing envelopes or anything like that. We were working to build capacity, trying to get a committed group of volunteers together in the Englewood neighborhood,” Pace said. “I couldn’t get enough.”

The pilot was such a “wild success,” the program will not only continue, but expand, said Virginia Tenpenny, vice president of Global Social Impact at Starbucks and executive director of The Starbucks Foundation.

‘The solution lies within people’

The Starbucks Foundation will award a grant of $3.5 million to fund two new groups of partners in the program, which is run by Points of Light. Starbucks partners can apply for the program, and Points of Light will select 100 based on their interest and involvement in community service. Those Starbucks Foundation Service Fellows will work in one of 20 U.S. cities for seven months, beginning in either September 2019 or April 2020.

“The ultimate goal, from the Starbucks lens, is that these partners are truly catalytic in their communities and that they inspire more partners to get engaged,” Tenpenny said. “This is a whole new way of tapping into the goodwill of employees who want to do something more, and we think it will inform their commitments around service for a lifetime. It also creates incredible opportunities and growth for our partners, creates capacity for nonprofits that otherwise wouldn’t have dollars for labor and strengthens their communities at the same time.”

Natalye Paquin, president and CEO of Points of Light, likes to imagine a world in which it is impossible for individuals to sit on the sidelines and not support, in some way, solutions to problems in their community. The white board in her office reads: “The Civic Century: An age where everyone is engaged in service.”

“We believe that historians will look back on this time and say this is the age that we’re in – a time when people used their voice, time and spending power to support causes they care about,” Paquin said. “Think about the impact of the U.S. population of 336 million people; if each of us supported one cause we cared about on a periodic basis in a thoughtful way, there are lots of problems we could solve.”

Retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal has campaigned to make a year of national service mandatory for young people as a way to strengthen the country and reinforce the basic responsibilities of being a citizen. But with ever-dwindling federal resources for service programs like the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps, the idea of compulsory national service seems far off. Paquin said the time has passed to rely on government to solve all of our problems.

“The solution lies within people, and if you were to go into any community and talk to any person, they are aware of the community’s problems and probably have the best ideas for how to solve them, they just might not be connected to the best resources,” she said. “Community service is important because you are leveraging the power of the best in people. It’s unparalleled to any other power. If we’re going to solve the world’s problems, it’s going to be through people.”

Starbucks in particular hires some phenomenal partners with great aspirations for doing good in the world, which is part of why the Service Fellows pilot program was a success, Paquin said.

“We think this is a revolutionary model that – if we get it right, make it sustainable, scale it out and bring in other collaborators – could create something entirely new in the ecosystem of national service,” she said. “We think this is the beginning of a great idea that has many opportunities to morph into something bigger. Much bigger indeed.”

Changing perceptions

Jenné Myers, ceo of Chicago Cares, an affiliate organization of Points of Light, said the nonprofit focuses on education, trying to give community members “context and information to change hearts, minds and perceptions” in the hopes it will change their actions and behaviors.

In her perfect world, people will not only commit to volunteering regularly, but once they learn more about the complex issues in their communities, they’ll step into the conversation at dinners and cocktail parties and say, “Actually, did you know this about hunger?” or “Did you know this about the Englewood neighborhood?” or “Yeah, I always used to think people needed to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, too, but you know what – some of them had no damn boots to begin with.”

“The end result is not always about hours of volunteerism,” Myers said. “It’s about what people have experienced and what they’ve learned. We give people knowledge, and then they’re able to make some decisions to actually move toward acting.”

Myers said her organization’s experience with two Service Fellows, Pace and Vanessa Higueros, was a smashing success. Chicago Cares will be taking on even more Service Fellows next time.

“Zoe and Vanessa, we felt that they were family. Neither one of them had worked fully at a non-profit, and this was not the thing they went to school for, but they jumped in feet first and embraced it all and they were fabulous,” she said. “This is the start of something. It’s an available model for privatizing national service, in a way. It’s now proven on a national scale. If other corporations can get behind this and use it to inspire their employees and be willing to add it to the mix of how they do social impact, it will be life changing.”

Vanessa Higueros and Zoe Pace

Tenpenny said the corporate service model takes traditional companies beyond one-time events or donation matching, which has a ripple effect. Service is contagious, she said – when people serve, they will continue to serve, and they will inspire others to do the same.

“When you nurture the service heart early on, it becomes something you can’t get enough of – just like coffee,” Tenpenny said.

Pace could not agree more.

“Growing up, my mom was a giver. And even when she didn’t have much to give, she gave it anyway,” Pace said. “I just have it in my blood, I guess, having had that example growing up.”

She also attributes her passion for service to a quote she saw when she was coming of age: “Do more than just exist.”

“I can’t just exist on this earth and live selfishly,” Pace said. “Ever since I saw that, I’ve been looking for ways to make an impact.”

To read Points of Light’s press release, visit their newsroom.

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5 things to know about first-ever Starbucks Promises Day