Passion and Persistence: My New Orleans Story
As we approach the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s impact on the Gulf Coast, I wanted to share with you part of our journey. On the day the hurricane hit -- August 29, 2005 -- I was the district manager of Baton Rouge, Lafayette and Lake Charles, Louisiana. In those early days after the storm, I quickly realized that Starbucks partners would find their own unique ways to help each other, and their communities, rebuild.
While those outside the area worked hard to gather supplies, collect donations and work to reopen stores, a large local team was focused on finding every partner from the area. This was no small task and it was made more complex by the fact that the last partner to be found was a man who was hired just a few days before the storm. He did not think anyone from Starbucks would be looking for him since he had not even worked a shift yet. Little did he realize that once you sign those new hire papers, you are part of the family. The length of his tenure was not a concern, for he was a partner, and with great passion and persistence his fellow partners needed to know that he had been found before we could really move on.
And move on we did. The Starbucks Foundation committed $5 million to be spent in the area over five years. At first it was hard to envision what we would need in five months, let alone five years, but the long-term commitment really allowed us to better meet the needs of the community. One program that was developed, Creators of A Strong Tomorrow Fund (COAST Fund), gave local partners the ability to recommend gifts ($5,000-$10,000) to grass-roots, neighborhood-based non-profit organizations. Through this program we were able to help both existing groups that were no longer getting the funding they needed as well as newly created groups that were trying to help rebuild their neighborhoods. By impacting these smaller but very passionate groups, we created momentum every year to make new and creative changes in the community.
While local partners worked hard to rebuild their communities, the full force of Starbucks passion and persistence came to New Orleans in the fall of 2008 when we hosted the Leadership Conference. More than 9,000 partners came to not only attend seminars about the company but also to work on community projects across the city. We planted trees, built playgrounds, worked on houses and most importantly reminded ourselves why we loved working for Starbucks – the chance to be part of something bigger than ourselves. The rallying cry for partners at the conference was “Onward”, a phrase Howard has used for many years to guide the company. It is also a fitting phrase for the entire Gulf Coast region.
So as we move forward here in the Gulf Coast, the work continues with the same passion and persistence that this region has always been known for. If you have ever been to a festival or a football game in Southern Louisiana, then you have seen it and most likely felt it. Their passion for food, music and sports also applies to how they are rebuilding their communities. If you haven’t been here lately, I encourage you to come and see the progress, spend some time volunteering and get caught up in the passion of a community that has endless determination.
field implementation manager, South Division