When Tami Ford looks back at her childhood, she sees chaos. Four different trailer parks in different crime-ridden areas outside Flint, Mich. Domestic violence. Substance abuse. Loneliness and nowhere to turn.
“As the child of an addict, I watched how easily a life can be destroyed by bad choices,” said Ford, a district manager for Starbucks who now lives in a suburb of Detroit. “What I learned as a kid is that you have to rely on others sometimes to get through the day. I saw a lot of bad things growing up and as I got older, I wanted to be the opposite of that, to be a source for good.”
Ford (pictured above, center) applies that goal broadly. From painting the stairways of Detroit’s Central High School to making more than 1,000 bologna and cheese sandwiches during a shift at Crossroads Soup Kitchen, Ford has given countless hours to her state and the residents who need help the most. She has joined other Starbucks partners (employees) and customers throughout April to celebrate the company’s annual Global Month of Service, which has mobilized more than 300,000 volunteers and contributed nearly 1.5 million service hours since the event began six years ago.
Like many Starbucks partners around the world, Ford is committed to service not only in April, but – with the company’s support – year-round. The nonprofits who benefit from this support find it invaluable.
“The need for volunteers continues to grow and we have seen in the past few years that people drive change and that service bridges differences,” said Alison Doerfler, executive director, HandsOn Network for Points of Light, the world’s largest organization dedicated to volunteer service. “There certainly are a lot of exciting conversations taking place in the sector right now, as nonprofits face the need to embrace technology and innovation to enable civic engagement in addition to the extremely valuable and proven ways to engage and connect to community service.”
“Starbucks is so well respected as a brand and company,” said Wendy Shepherd, executive director for Mittens for Detroit, which has received more than 10,000 pairs of mittens donated by Starbucks and its customers since 2013 – and where Ford also volunteers. “Seven times out of 10, a new donor learned about us at a Starbucks and exposure from the company is priceless.”
Starbucks relationship with Points of Light dates back 10 years, and has evolved as the company focuses on being more of a thought leader around community service.
“As past chair and part of our Corporate Service Council, Starbucks plays a pivotal role in conversations with corporate peers around the importance of this work and the role that the private sector plays in promoting volunteerism,” Doerfler said. “Points of Light and our Global Network are proud to be thought partners with Starbucks who we see as one of the leaders in the movement. It is corporate and community changemakers that we celebrate in this very moment through National Volunteer Week and that we honor and appreciate year-round.”
Serving in Seoul
When Jun Kim (pictured above, third from left) joined Starbucks as a barista in 2005, he was skeptical about volunteering.
“At my old company, we were required to volunteer, which was more stressful than motivating,” he said.
Hearing fellow Starbucks partners talk about how much fun they had volunteering encouraged him to give it another try. Today, Kim coordinates more than 30 service projects each year, including an annual campaign to encourage customers to recycle coffee grounds and help maintain the gardens at Seoul Forest Park. He also landed a new position as corporate social responsibility manager for Starbucks in Seoul, Korea.
“Being involved in community service is so inspiring,” he said. “I try to plan activities that partners will be motivated to join. A willingness to participate and their genuine support make the activities even more meaningful.”
Last April, in alignment with Starbucks commitment to diversity and inclusion, Kim and 50 partners volunteered a total of 300 hours at a café in Gwangju City that caters to those who are deaf. In addition to cleaning the café, the partners helped the staff with their barista skills, giving them tips on making coffee and beverages.
“Since we didn’t have enough budget to support management, skills training, we had to restructure our program and eliminate jobs,” said Kim Y.M., manager of 6th Neighborhood Café. “After partnering with Jun and Starbucks Korea, everything changed. Their support has contributed to a 30 percent increase in visitors to the café.”
Taking care of Amsterdam
Keeping Amsterdam clean motivates district manager Babette van den Berge (pictured above, left) to volunteer. This month, she helped coordinate a service project with the local government and nonprofit NederlandSchoon to remove trash from city streets and Vondelpark, one of the city’s most famous parks.
“I’m very glad that I can be of assistance to others and to my community,” said van den Berge. “I am proud to work for a company that serves, not for publicity, but because it is necessary. We do it from the heart and that’s a very positive feeling.”
“Volunteers like those from Starbucks who organize clean-up activities are very important,” said NederlandSchoon Program Manager Dorien Bosselaar. “We depend on them to reach our goals.”
Nearly every quarter, van den Berge coordinates a service project. There’s never a shortage of volunteers from the stores in her district.
“I try to lead by example and share the kind words from the nonprofits and other people that we support. This encourages partners to help too,” she said. “There’s always something you can do and it’s such rewarding work. We’re all a part of this environment, so we should all help out.”
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