June 22, 2016 Opportunity

Coast Guard Veteran says, ‘Starbucks Saved My Life’

While most people like to unwind by getting away from their jobs, Jeremiah Reitz finds peace of mind when he goes to work at Starbucks. He enjoys his Port Hueneme, California coffeehouse the most when it's crowded with customers. 

“During the heat of the moment – when the pressure's on – that's where some of us find fulfillment,” Reitz said. “I’m one of those people who can say that’s true for me.”

Kevin Dockery, Starbucks district manager for the Greater Los Angeles area, crossed paths with Reitz about a year ago. He noticed Reitz was able to keep calm under stressful conditions and was a calming force on a staff that was undergoing a management transition.

“It’s a higher volume café,” Dockery said, describing the recently dedicated Military Family Store. “Jeremiah provides a sense of support and security to his team during times of ambiguity or high-pressure situations.”

Buoyed by the Coast Guard

Reitz, raised in West Los Angeles, was a self-described "privileged kid who partied a little too hard when he got out of high school," but had enough of a work ethic to find a forward path. After enlisting in the U.S. Coast Guard, Reitz was stationed in Astoria, Oregon. There he was “one of the grunts” on a Blackhaw buoy tender – a type of vessel used to maintain and replace navigational buoys. He encountered everything from drug smuggling to harrowing search-and-rescue missions.

“That was some of the most terrifying work I’ve ever done. I felt my life was in danger while I was saving other people,” he recalled.

Reitz remained in the Coast Guard for four years and finished his tour in New Jersey in the months after 9/11. Back in the Los Angeles area in 2002, he held a series of what he called "uninspiring jobs" and went back to school to get an associate’s degree. During this time, he connected with Starbucks for a job he enjoyed, but he still struggled in many ways. An apartment he’d lined up fell through and Reitz found himself living out of his car for half a year.

“I didn’t let anyone know what was going on,” Reitz said. “Starbucks saved my life at the time and didn’t even know it. I was grabbing every bit of time at Starbucks I could, because the only other place I could go, other than school, was my car.”

Eventually, a fellow Starbucks partner (employee) invited him to move in with her and her family. Reitz balanced work and study, and he even interned for a period with a local television station after making a positive impression with a news producer and weatherman who were Starbucks regulars. He went on to earn a B.A. in sociology at the University of California in Santa Barbara.

A Calling to Help Children with Autism 

Reitz is now putting his degree to use as a behavior therapist working up to 30 hours a week with families who have children with autism. His job consists of bonding with the children in their homes and helping them and their families cope with their challenges. He’s been holding down both jobs since last fall and, though the hours can be long, Reitz likes the way his days unfold.

“Some of my days are 15 or 16 hours long, but when I go to Starbucks it rejuvenates me,” he said, noting that a lot of his store's customers are military personnel he can relate to.

“With me, I can tell people I’m a behavioral therapist because of Starbucks. I can tell them I got my degree because of Starbucks. I can tell them I can pay my bills and I’m living on a beach in a beautiful condominium because of Starbucks,” he added. “My life is pretty sweet.”

For more information on this story, contact the Starbucks Newsroom