The decision had been made, but there were obstacles ahead.
In 2011, Starbucks partner (employee) Cyndee Vanderford learned through her church of a boy in Kampala, Uganda. He had been abandoned at birth. After reflecting, the family decided to pursue adoption. Five months passed before they boarded a flight to meet the 4-year-old and escort him back to their home in Bradenton, Florida.
The Vanderford family – Cyndee’s husband Scott, twin daughters Melanie and Michelle, and son Michael – recognized the challenges they’d face. There was no shared language between the Vanderfords and Matthew, the newest member of their family. A toddler can be a handful in the best of circumstances and here was a boy who’d spent most of his young life in an orphanage and would be encountering a confusing culture.
The family was committed to making the situation work for Matthew and themselves, but travel costs, fees and other related expenses added up. Once they were back in Florida, Cyndee wanted be to with her son as much as possible as he settled into a new environment.
Through her district manager, Jeff Fernandez, she learned of Starbucks U.S. Adoption Assistance Program.
Although Starbucks is known for being one of the first companies to offer health care benefits to part-time employees and its recently expanded Starbucks College Achievement Plan benefit, there are several other benefits that change partners' lives including the Adoption Assistance Program.
It provides reimbursement of eligible adoption expenses with a maximum lifetime benefit of $12,000. The $4,000 Vanderford received from Starbucks was only one part of the company’s adoption benefit.
“Starbucks gave me two weeks of paid leave so I could spend some time with Matthew and not have to worry about going directly back to work,” the eight-year Starbucks partner recalled. “When I went back to my store, they allowed me to work a much-reduced schedule, so that I didn’t have to put him in childcare. I was able to spend as much time with him as possible.”
Four years later, Matthew is a talkative first grader who loves to play sports, hang out with neighborhood playmates and help in the kitchen. In August, he’ll join his parents on a one-year mission back in Uganda. There, he and his parents will participate in the Ayinza Project - a children’s village being erected on 25 acres in central Uganda. Ayinza aims to provide a variety of support services to foster and adoptive families, including an orphan home, early-learning center, medical center and primary school. Coffee will be among the crops grown at the site.
Matthew’s three siblings will remain behind to attend college. Like their mother, Melanie and Michelle are Starbucks partners and will continue to work as baristas after they’re enrolled at Bayside College and the University of Central Florida, respectively.
As for Matthew, he can’t wait to see his homeland again. “He is so extremely excited to go back and be a part of where he’s from,” said Cyndee. “He gives to us here. Now we can go and give back to his country.”
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