The impact of Starbucks community investments: mobile clinic brings care to kids

Starbucks has committed to investing $100 million in local nonprofits and small businesses in communities with historically limited access to capital.  

Dr. Noël Mensah-Bonsu could not be more proud of who her son is now: 15 years old, 6 feet 1 inch tall, straight As his first semester of high school, tuba player in the marching band, easy going and kind.  

It’s where he started though, that’s given her perspective.  

“When my son was born (at 23 weeks, four months premature), we had to confront the idea that he had a 50-50 chance of living, and he had a 95 percent chance of having a significant difficulty,” she remembers. “He was on oxygen until he was 12 months old, and had a feeding tube, and all of those things. 

“It was kind of a reevaluation of what’s important.”  

Inspired by how far he’s come, and the lessons she learned while raising him, Mensah-Bonsu recently pivoted off her path as a long-time hospital-based doctor onto a more unconventional route.  

In January, Mensah-Bonsu launched The Developmental Journey, a mobile-care clinic and small business based in Missouri City, Texas, run out of her 24-foot RV, a Coachman Freelander named Georgia Jo. She travels to see and evaluate children in the greater Houston area with learning, developmental or behavioral differences.  

“Everybody has a different developmental trajectory,” Mensah-Bonsu says, “and our passion in developmental behavioral pediatrics is to see kids and families succeed and meet their developmental maximum, whatever that is.”  

Mensah-Bonsu started her business with help from PeopleFund, a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) in Houston. PeopleFund is supported in part by the Starbucks Community Resilience Fund, a commitment to invest $100 million by 2025 in small businesses and local nonprofits in communities with historically limited access to capital.  

Since the initiative launched in 2021, Starbucks has allocated $37 million towards that goal.   

CDFIs are mission-driven financial institutions that in general, offer coaching, connections and credit to borrowers in communities underserved by traditional financing. The severe impacts of COVID-19 on communities of color have highlighted the critical role that CDFIs play in supporting neighborhoods. In turn, Starbucks is investing in CDFIs to support equity and economic growth in the communities it serves.  

PeopleFund helped Mensah-Bonsu turn her vision into reality with a $50,000 loan, a $5,000 grant and entry into a small-business accelerator program that provided three months of training in business development, access to a mentor and a network of support.  

“I had 20 years of medical jargon in my head, but absolutely no idea about small business,” says Mensah-Bonsu, also an assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine. “I had looked up all this information and spoken to people but I didn’t have a plan in place for the steps to take. So I really liked the educational approach.”  

But why an RV?  

“I thought the best way I could serve the community would be to show up at their house,” she says. “It’s a nice space inside, people come in and feel comfortable, I have developmentally appropriate everything. It’s a fun adventure.” 

The advantages to being mobile are many, Mensah-Bonsu says. She’s visited children as far as 90 miles away. Parents don’t have to waste time fighting traffic. And families benefit from being in a more comfortable environment, whether it’s their own home or even a nearby park.  

Mensah-Bonsu also knows that for many families, finding the right information is hard and navigating big medical systems can be scary. She remembers seeking a behavioral health evaluation for her son when he was in kindergarten. But the wait list was 18-months long. That frustrated her so much she decided to undergo three additional years of training and become a behavioral-development pediatrician herself.   

“So many parents have the same difficulties I had,” Mensah-Bonsu says. “Having been there and done that, I am now in a position to share wisdom, hope and encouragement to other parents of exceptional children. 

“I’m on the other end of it, because my son is successful. And I love encouraging other parents. This gets better. Be patient. Your child is going to be okay. You’re doing a great job.” 

Starbucks Community Resilience Fund investments are focused on 12 U.S. metro areas and their surrounding regions: Atlanta, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, New Orleans, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle and Washington D.C. To learn more about Starbucks continued commitment to our purpose-driven mission and making substantial change in the communities we serve, visit here. 

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Photo essay: Caps off to the class of 2024