When Jennifer Graham moved to Pensacola, Florida, she was virtually alone. She had arrived at the Gulf Coast in March 2005, where her then-fiancé John, a Navy pilot, was reporting for Aviation Preflight Indoctrination Naval Air Station Pensacola. Due to the unpredictable assignments of flight school, Jennifer had given up her career as a teacher, and she felt unmoored in a strange new city despite the vibrant community that orbited NAS Pensacola.
Isolated and with few job options, Jennifer decided to apply to her old college employer: Starbucks. And more than a decade later, it was one of the best decisions she ever made: Every time she and John had to pack up and move across the country, Starbucks was there to support them and their young family along the way.
“The only people I knew were people at Starbucks,” Jennifer said of her initial arrival on Pensacola. “It was my lifeline, my sense of community.”
The American coffee company’s commitment to U.S. service members and veterans is no secret. At the beginning of the year, Starbucks announced that it had hired 10,000 veterans and military spouses since 2013, with a commitment to hiring some 15,000 more by 2025. But it’s not just its military hiring initiatives that have supported military families. The company’s daily community and flexibility have been a godsend for military spouses like Jennifer.
The unusual scheduling of unpredictable relocations that accompany military life can create major obstacles for spouses finding meaningful employment: A 2016 report from Blue Star Families indicated that 43% of the country’s 564,000 female military spouses were unemployed compared to 25% of civilian spouses, with most citing their active-duty spouse’s service as negatively shaping their career prospects. That’s an unemployment rate of 18.8% (more than four times the national rate of 4.3%).
But in Jennifer’s experience, Starbucks provided her not just with a steady financial safety net, but an essential source of support and comfort amid the chaos of PCSing. “The Starbucks community was a support system, wherever I’d go,” Jennifer said. “It’s how I met other people, even in places where I didn’t always feel super welcomed, and I always had managers who were so, so flexible to my husband’s schedule.”
A year after arriving in Pensacola, John reported to advanced flight training in Corpus Christi, Texas. For financial reasons, Jennifer initially decided to remain behind for a few months before following John, to hold on to the stability and benefits of her Starbucks job a little longer. (“He initially had to go to Oklahoma,” she said. “It was the middle of nowhere and there’s no Starbucks in that town!”). But eventually, Jennifer landed employment at the Corpus Christi store, working with her manager to open a new one in nearby Portland.
“The only people I knew were people at Starbucks. … It was my lifeline, my sense of community.”
“Every time I’d move, even if I had to take a break when I was pregnant, Starbucks was always there to welcome me back,” Jennifer said. “It was far easier to transfer through Starbucks while PCSing at odd times than, say, get a foot in the door at the local school district.”
Everywhere John went, Jennifer followed — and everywhere they went, Starbucks was there to lend a hand. When John was deployed to Jacksonville, Florida, Jennifer transferred to a Starbucks store in the nearby suburb; when he reported to Whidbey Island, Washington, in August 2007, Jennifer followed in March 2008, landing a job at the Oak Harbor store. And when John returned from a deployment in the Middle East to Corpus Christi in early 2011, Jennifer was welcomed back to her old Starbucks by the same manager whom she’d opened a store with five years earlier.
Like her fellow military spouses, Jennifer was given opportunities to work their way up the chain of command despite frequent moves. Though Jennifer had risen to the level of shift supervisor when she first transferred from Pensacola to Corpus Christi, her managers accommodated her in John’s absence, allowing unparalleled flexibility as a barista after they became pregnant with the first of her and John’s three children.
Starbucks proved a consistent source of support for Jennifer not just as a job, but as a community and an entry point into the broader military family ecosystem. While John was stationed at Whidbey Island, her manager and assistant manager at the Starbucks were both active-duty spouses, as were her many of her coworkers when she returned to Corpus Christi for the second time. At her Jacksonville store, a major staple for the community bustling around Naval Air Station Jacksonville, she met the spouses and family members of the active-duty personnel in John’s squadrons not at some canned meet-and-greet, but standing in line to grab their coffee. And when she became pregnant with her first child, it was the Jacksonville Starbucks that threw her a baby shower.
“The military has organizations set up to welcome people during new deployments, but for us personally the late timing of when I arrived versus John’s deployments didn’t always make me feel super welcomed,” Jennifer said. “But with Starbucks, if I needed something, I had coworkers to ask for help.”
Jennifer left the Starbucks family in 2013, almost 13 years after she first took a job as a barista in college. With a third baby on the way and John assigned to the USS Eisenhower in Norfolk, Virginia, wrangling shifts at the local store seemed too much to handle. But looking back on her eight-year run with the company, she misses the community that greeted her in every town after every move, year after year.
“I don’t know if many people are aware of how much the company does to support the military,” Jennifer said. “They don’t just make a point of trying to hire more veterans, but actually supporting active-duty military and their families. And I think more people are starting to realize that.”
Jennifer and John currently live Mandeville, Louisiana, where John flies C-130s with the VR-54 out of Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base New Orleans and Jennifer focuses on raising their three kids. But occasionally, Jennifer will catch a glimpse of something that reminds her of how, when John was serving the country, Starbucks was serving her.
“I saw a thing on Facebook with employee’s aprons that have new tags that say ‘Navy veteran,’ which is just so awesome,” she laughs. “And I’m jealous … I wouldn’t mind going back to get one myself.”
Veterans and military spouses are changing U.S. perceptions for the better every day. Learn more about Starbucks’ hiring commitment to veterans and military spouses, and the programs that support them.