South Carolina Vocational Rehabilitation Department

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Starbucks Inclusion Academy

Back row (left to right): Stephen Marshall, VR Business Services Coordinator; Jacob Chorey, VR Program Planning and Evaluation Coordinator; Jerry Brown, Operations Supervisor, Starbucks; Mike Bell, Job Coach, The Arc of the Midlands. Front row: Sandi Batten, Director of Employment Services, The Arc of the Midlands; interns Mark Lowell, Taylor Duckworth, Orenthal Keith; Mike Bihl, Facilities Manager, Starbucks.

Taylor Duckworth, Orenthal Keith and Mark Lowell are the first graduates of the Starbucks Inclusion Academy. The three interns spent six weeks at Starbuck’s Sandy Run Roasting Plant in Gaston learning a variety of skills that are transferable across job settings.

“I've worked hard for this,” says Orenthal. “I learned I'm capable, and can do a lot more than I knew. It feels really good.”

“This experience provided the interns with a unique opportunity to learn valuable skills in a job setting, but without the pressure involved in a traditional hire,” says Jacob Chorey, VR Program Planning and Evaluation Coordinator. Chorey was also one of the job coaches for the interns.

The Inclusion Academy is a partnership between Starbucks, VR and The Arc of the Midlands. VR provided a job coach and classroom instructors; The Arc of the Midlands provided a job coach; and Starbucks provided hard hats, ear plugs, hair and beard nets, safety vests, goggles, and gloves for the interns. Starbucks also provided orientation and safety training.

The interns received four weeks of classroom instruction provided by Carol Teal from VR's Evaluation Center in West Columbia. She was assisted by Ali Cato, Comprehensive Program Supervisor, and Stephen Marshall, VR Business Services Coordinator.

Chorey and Mike Bell, the job coach from The Arc, learned tasks in the Green Coffee Bean Loading and Facilities Maintenance departments at the roasting plant and then spent two weeks training the interns on those tasks.

“The goal of the program was for them to learn transferable, marketable skills that they can use in a variety of industries, not necessarily to get hired by the host business, but to get hired in the community and use the skills they learned,” says Sandi Batten, Director of Employment Services for The Arc of the Midlands. “One could not do it without the other partner. It's exciting to see these teams of people come together.”

Jerry Brown, Operations Supervisor at Starbucks, was involved from the interview process through the training. “I took them under my wing and did a lot of training on soft skills, safety, harassment—different things they may encounter on the job or in life.”

Brown enjoyed working with the interns and appreciates the effort that each intern put into the Inclusion Academy. He adds that they all got tired and sweaty and occasionally covered in dirt. He especially enjoyed watching the interns grow and interact with the other employees at the roasting plant.

Starbucks calls their employees partners, and Chorey says that “it was really cool to see the interns being called partners and that everyone at the facility treated them as if they were full time employees.”

“I've really grown by learning different skills, and improving the skills I was weak on,” says Taylor. “I love challenges, so it was a fun challenge for me. I really enjoyed it.”

All three interns have jobs lined up following the Inclusion Academy, with employers ranging from Zoës Kitchen to the Hampton Inn in Northeast Columbia to CW Resources at Fort Jackson.

Summing up his experience, Mark says, “I'm open for anything you can throw at me.”