Volunteering with Canucks Autism Network changed this Starbucks partner’s outlook

Store manager Ann-Marie Lee-Teahen began volunteering with the Canucks Autism Network, located across the street from her Starbucks, to help out. Along the way learned a lot about empathy and patience.

It was no coincidence when Ann-Marie Lee-Teahen got involved with Canucks Autism Network (CAN) nearly eight years ago. CAN’s headquarters at the time was located just across the street from the Starbucks store she managed in Vancouver, B.C., and many CAN employees were her regular customers. 

But after she became her district’s community lead, her relationship with the nonprofit went beyond knowing the office workers’ favorite go-to beverages to being much more personal.

“A store manager in our district has a son who has autism, and she was involved with CAN. We witnessed first-hand how much her son benefited from their programs,” Lee-Teahen explains. “There’s not a lot of funding for autism, so [my baristas and I] wanted to donate our time.” 

Store manager Ann-Marie Lee-Teahen

Lee-Teahen and other Starbucks partners started volunteering weekly at CAN’s office by helping organize program supplies. From there, volunteer opportunities quickly expanded to helping with event setups, ushering and, of course, serving coffee.

Over the last six years, Lee-Teahen and other Starbucks partners have volunteered at CAN Family Festival, CAN Relay 4 Autism, CAN Festival of Lights, CAN Pro-Am and more.

“I never knew how much of an impact this [volunteer] journey would have on my career and life,” says Lee-Teahen, who is now a 10-year Starbucks partner. “I only knew a little bit about autism when I started. But through being in the presence of people with autism, it’s taught me a lot about empathy and patience.”

Lee-Teahen tries to get Starbucks partners in different districts involved in supporting people with autism  because there’s so much the partners can learn from the experience, such as how to speak to people with autism or how to be patient, she says.

“It can be hard for some people to understand. I’ve learned you have to allow [people with autism] to do their routine,” she explains. “Through the training with CAN, I’m now able to pick that up with certain customers and I’ve been able to educate my team on why that customer’s order might be difficult and needs to be so precise. Maybe it’s autism. You have to assume positive intent for us to be able to deliver our Barista Promise to always make the moment right.”

Besides volunteering, Lee-Teahen and her district of South-Central Vancouver have also helped support CAN by nominating the organization for The Starbucks Foundation’s Neighborhood Grants. And despite COVID-19, partners have continued to volunteer by helping CAN fundraise virtually.

“We’re leaders in a way where we give back to our communities,” says Lee-Teahen. “A lot of nonprofits don’t get a lot of funding, and there’s still a lot of awareness that needs to happen. I want to be one of those people to help bring more light to [autism].”