In an effort to help lower-income neighborhoods, Starbucks debuted its first store in Ferguson, Missouri, today.
The Seattle-based coffee chain says it “plans to open similar stores in at least 15 low- to medium-income communities across the U.S. by 2018” as a part of a national outreach program to provide jobs to locals and create opportunities for the youth, reports ABC News.
More than 5.5 million young Americans do not attend school or have a job, Starbucks said in a statement, adding that the problem is compounded in the communities it’s targeting and particularly among people of color.
According to Eater, 83 percent of Starbucks’ U.S. stores serve areas where the population is mostly white, and are usually found in wealthy or middle-class areas. With more than 7,000 company-operated stores across America, 15 new locations in lower-income areas won’t do much to affect those statistics, but the company says its aim is to provide jobs and training opportunities for young people.
“Nationally, 1 in 7 young adults does not work or attend school, a challenge that is compounded in low- to medium-income communities like Ferguson, particularly among young people of color,” Starbucks said in a press release.
Starbucks Director of Community Investment for U.S. Retail Operations, Rodney Hines, said the company heard “loud and clear” that Ferguson was in need of new jobs and training opportunities. The new location even has a designated classroom space to provide a job skills training program for young people several times a week.
The initiative is a long-term project meant to provide meaningful jobs and a “tangible boost” to the local economy, Starbucks said.
“The number one thing we heard from young people in Ferguson is ‘we need jobs,'” said Michael McMillan, president and CEO of the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis. “So we need to engage these youths and we need to figure out how we can help them to get what they need to be productive citizens.”
Starbucks hired 30 people from Ferguson or the greater St. Louis area to work in the new location. Both part-time and full-time workers will receive benefits like full healthcare and equity in the form of stock, the company said, and the Starbucks College Achievement Plan will give employees the opportunity to earn a bachelor’s degree from Arizona State University with full tuition reimbursement.
Ferguson store manager Cordell Lewis, who grew up in a single-parent home, has already enrolled in online classes at ASU and says Starbucks “sees what Ferguson can become,” reports ABC News.
“[Ferguson] has its challenges… but we also have so many young men and women with a lot to offer,” Lewis said. “My goal is to be their coach, to listen, and to help drive their passions. That’s the type of leader I want to be.”
Starbucks also posted photos and a short description of each of the Ferguson employees online.
In 2014, violence erupted in Ferguson following the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown by an officer from the Ferguson Police Department.
According to ABC News, Starbucks is partnering with one of the local businesses that suffered extensive damage in the 2014 riots by selling treats from Natalie’s Cakes & More at more than 30 St. Louis-area locations.
Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III said the city is “grateful” to Starbucks for “recognizing the strength and resilience” of the community.
[Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]