A small miracle is in the works in southern Queens.
Starbucks, the national coffee house chain, opened a store earlier this month in downtown Jamaica. But it’s in the business of doing far more than selling coffee and snacks to customers hovering over their laptops and other devices at tables around the store.
The Jamaica Starbucks is the first of at least 15 stores the company plans to open around the nation as training centers for idle youth in diverse urban neighborhoods. The beta site for the ambitious program is at 89-02 Sutphin Blvd. in the heart of Jamaica. What happens in Jamaica will shape the agenda for stores still on the drawing board in communities such as Ferguson, Mo., where the police shooting of an unarmed black teenager set off waves of protests.
Starbucks aims to hire 10,000 youths, who are not employed or in school, from the ages of 16 to 24.
In addition to acquiring skills as Starbucks employees, the Jamaica staff has their own classroom that nonprofits can use to provide job training for young people in the area.
The new store has gotten a rousing reception from patrons, who are delighted to have a high-end coffee house in their midst. And some of the young employees already are fulfilling roles as unofficial guidance counselors for the rootless youth who come in off the streets to check out the scene.
The store manager, an 18-year Starbucks veteran who was raised in Jamaica, hired 17 workers who hail from Queens, Brooklyn and the Caribbean. They range in age from 16 to 36.
The Jamaica experiment is not Starbucks’ first benevolent mission. In 2014 the Seattle-based chain teamed up with Arizona State University to help underwrite college educations for employees who worked at least 20 hours a week in stores across the country, the Atlantic Monthly reported. The company hopes to improve the dismal track record of Americans who fail to complete their degrees or even enter college.
The Starbucks “opportunity youth,” as the employees of the new Jamaica venture are called, represent the company’s effort to engage young people who have fallen by the wayside.
The company also is committed to hiring women and minority-owned vendors at its 15 new stores.
The Starbucks initiative dovetails perfectly with the Queens borough president’s Jamaica Now Action Plan to revitalize the downtown area as it snaps back from years of economic stagnation.
Queens is proud to be the prototype for Starbucks’ bold undertaking to rescue vulnerable youth.