Partners give Starbucks alum an unexpected gift

Last month, Jay McNair received a surprise gift that brought back fond memories of his Starbucks journey.

Cara Castellow, a barista in Winterville, N.C., had nominated NC CIVIL (Community & Industry Value Interactionist League), a nonprofit organization in Greenville, N.C., for a Neighborhood Grant earlier this year. When she heard back that NC CIVIL was awarded a $2,500 grant from The Starbucks Foundation, she waited a couple of weeks before calling Jay, as she wanted the nominator to be anonymous and a surprise at first.

Jay founded NC CIVIL to strengthen the local community by focusing on outreach and partnership development with other organizations, businesses and community members for community-based initiatives that activate young people and residents as change-makers in underserved neighborhoods. The partnerships also aim to improve access to training, mentoring and community resources for job seekers, including at-risk youth, as well as remove barriers within hiring processes to promote equity and create a pathway to employment opportunities.

Jay happens to be a Starbucks alum who worked as a barista at Cara's store before she joined Starbucks and is now their regular customer.

"Jay is a good person, and NC CIVIL focuses on finding community-based solutions that create effective change. A community-centered organization like NC CIVIL knows their community and always has the community at the forefront of their minds," Cara said. "I was so excited and thought it was super cool to see the grant happening on a personal level."

When Cara finally called Jay to let him know that she had nominated NC CIVIL, he had already been notified of the grant and deeply appreciated her support.

Jay McNair and Cara Castellow standing in front of Starbucks store
Jay McNair and Cara Castellow

"I'm really honored and encouraged that someone thought enough of our work to put time and energy into filling out an application on our behalf," Jay said. "It came from an unexpected place, which means so much. I'm truly grateful."

When Jay began his Starbucks journey as a barista in 2010, his store manager was aware of his passion for doing community work and created opportunities for Jay to lead the store's community service efforts to support him. In this role, Jay gained experience in spearheading service projects and built relationships in the community, which boosted his confidence and drive to launch NC CIVIL in 2013.

"I grew up in an underserved neighborhood in Greenville and wanted to create an organization that supports and strengthens the local community that I came from," Jay said. "Starbucks ended up being my launch pad that provided opportunities to get involved in the community, develop connections, and step out on my own."

As Jay's work with NC CIVIL expanded and grew busier, requiring more of his time, he decided it was the right moment to leave Starbucks in 2015 to focus on his passion and love for doing community work.

"Working at Starbucks was an awesome experience and I really valued my time as a partner in so many ways," Jay says. "Starbucks has been a huge part of my journey, and I'm thankful for that time and the connections, and especially my Starbucks family who I'm still connected with and is so much a part of my life story."