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Starbucks Brings Job-Training Program to Phoenix to Re-Engage 'Disconnected Youth'

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Social scientists have a term for young people between the ages of 16 and 24 who aren't in school and don't have jobs: disconnected youth.

Starbucks has a plan for them.

Late last week, the Seattle-based caffeinater to the masses held a press conference to unveil a free job-training program for young people at its location on Camelback Road west of Seventh Avenue as part of a nationwide effort to put a dent in disconnection.

The goal is to prep trainees to be able to go to work at a business — any business. Starbucks employees will work alongside members of Arizona Call-a-Teen Youth Resources (ACYR), a nonprofit that offers education and workforce-development programs.

Training will take place in a newly designed classroom inside the Starbucks location.

"This place is going to be more than a coffee shop," ACYR executive director Sharlet Barnett said at the press conference. "It's going to be a re-engagement center for training opportunities that can help young people return to education and get their start in their first job."

The initiative is part of a nationwide effort on the part of Starbucks to support job training and social change in at least 15 diverse, low-to-medium-income communities. The company's stated goal is to hire 10,000 new trainees. To that end, similar on-site spaces are up and running in Starbucks stores in Ferguson, Missouri, and in the Jamaica neighborhood of Queens, New York.

Ben Thomases, executive director of the nonprofit Queens Community House, told New Times that so far the training center in Queens, which opened its doors in March, has been a success.

"They have demonstrated tremendous commitment to these efforts, and we're working well together," Thomases said.

Rodney Hines, director of community investments for Starbucks retail operations, said the Starbucks store in Phoenix was chosen because of the area's rate of youth disconnection.

One in five youth ages 16 to 24 in the Phoenix metro area are neither working nor in school, compared to the national average of one in seven. Hines was quick to note, however, that "huge strides" have been made over the past few years thanks to efforts by local leaders.

Those efforts include a new charter school designed specifically to serve disconnected youth. The school, Hope College and Career Readiness Academy, is scheduled to open next month on the campus of South Mountain Community College.

At last Thursday's press conference, Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton said Starbucks' job-training initiative was a welcome addition to ongoing local efforts to re-engage disconnected youth. "It's going to go such a long way to help our young people," the mayor said.

Stanton said that when he and other mayors learned that 183,200 youth in Arizona were neither working nor attending school, they had to make a decision: "Do we give up on that generation and focus on the next group coming up? Is it too late to try to get involved with people in that age group?

"We did some research," the mayor went on. "And we found that if we didn't help with this particular issue, it would cost us billions and billions of dollars to our local economy to have a generation of youth not on a positive path."

The current population of disconnected youth could leave the state with a lifetime social loss of more than $127 billion, according to a report by the Arizona Mayors Education Roundtable, which consists of Stanton and nine other mayors from around the state.

Riyahna Outlaw, a 26-year-old mother, said she used to be part of the disconnected-youth population. She didn't have a job, she was homeless, and her mother was an addict. Following the advice of a friend, she applied for a job at Starbucks.

Five years later, she has worked at three different Starbucks locations, and says that at each one, her co-workers welcomed her with open arms. She said she tries to give back by encouraging others who've experienced homelessness and tough family situations.

"I reach out to these young people more than any other group of people, because I relate to them," Outlaw said. "I let them know you can make it out. It is possible."

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