Forbes – “I carried a key in my pocket when I was homeless because I believed that one day I’d have my own place. Then I found Starbucks, and they became my family. Through Starbucks I was able to get my first apartment, and now I think what’s next in my evolution is to help others get the home of their dreams.”
At age 19, Matthew Tejeda had no option other than to check himself in to a homeless shelter in New York—a small room with four bunk beds packed with seven other men.
Having to accept that he was, unequivocally, homeless was a devastating moment for Tejeda, who had long been without parental or family support but had always managed to rely on couches and floor space provided by friends. Checking into a homeless shelter meant coming face to face with the reality that he had nowhere to go and nobody to depend on but himself, a young man with no financial resources in one of the most expensive cities in the world.
A Starbucks manager takes a chance on him and changes his life
It was soon after this low point that the manager of one of the busiest Starbucks in New York came to his rescue.
But he remained homeless still
It’s no surprise, considering NYC’s stratospheric rents, that working as a barista at Starbucks wasn’t enough to raise Tejeda out of homelessness. Although Starbucks provides above-market wages and impressive benefits to even part-time workers (including full health insurance and full coverage of 4-year college tuition), the reality is that for a full twelve months after he started at Starbucks, Tejeda continued to have to navigate life as a resident of the homeless shelter. And anyone who thinks it’s easy to raise yourself out of homelessness by your own bootstraps is dreaming:
“One of the real challenges of this, while trying to hold down a job and better yourself, is that the shelter life–sleeping in a room with seven other guys and no enforced sleep schedule– means getting very little sleep. It’s hard opening a Starbucks store at 4:30am off no sleep, especially when I’d made it a personal commitment that my team at work wouldn’t be able to tell that I was dealing with those difficulties. Some nights that were really loud at the shelter, rather than lying sleepless in my bed, I’d lock myself in the bathroom for a couple of hours with my head against the wall to try and get a nap in before opening.”
Thieves were a constant problem at the homeless shelter. Personal belongings were sure to be stolen if you even momentarily let them out of your sight. (One time, Tejeda left his Starbucks work uniforms drying, only to find, when he went to check on them, that someone had stolen the uniforms right out of the dryer–before they had even fully dried.)
Home at last, thanks to the Starbucks partner CUP fund
Tejeda worked his way up to shift supervisor after six months and, after another six months, became an assistant store manager. “In the weeks leading up to this, I began looking for apartments because I knew once promoted I would be able to sustain myself. My manager told me about the Starbucks CUP (Caring Unites Partners) Fund, which is a benefit provided for partners by partners. Partners elect to donate every pay check and if you are a partner in need the fund will provide you with up to 1,000 dollars.” These factors combined to take him over the finish line: “With my new salary I was able to afford the monthly rent for an apartment, and with my savings plus the CUP fund, I was able to cover the move in cost.
“I do not know if it’s possible to convey how emotional a moment this was for me. I got promoted and moved into my apartment in the same week. The first night in my apartment I cried my eyes out. For the first time in my entire life I knew exactly where I would sleep that night and the next night after that, and that sense of security did not depend on anything in the world except myself. I found a home at Starbucks, and eventually Starbucks helped me find my home. A tangible place I could call my own.”
Tejeda’s rise at Starbucks wasn’t over yet. He ultimately became a store manager, opening a new location across the street from the store he had initially worked, and was later transferred to managing Penn Station, one of the highest-volume locations in the city (and, in fact, the country).
His entrepreneurial drive leads him to a real estate license and a position with Corcoran Group
“Developing and growing at Starbucks, I learned so many sides of myself–including an entrepreneurial fire that I had no idea existed. I learned how to commit, the discipline needed to have a result turn out, and the power in dreams. Ultimately, these discoveries led me to decide to pursue real estate because, no matter how much I love Starbucks, a career there will always face the constraints of a corporate ladder.
In real estate I see the ability to exercise great control of the scale of my career. I have a really strong entrepreneurial spirit and it really is like owning your own business, with the opportunity, as in any business, to have what I put into it be what I will get out.”
Tejeda passed his real estate license exam this past November, and was quickly able to land a position with the New York’s famous Corcoran group. He now works two demanding jobs–Corcoran 40-50 hours a week and Starbucks 20) and says Starbucks has been very supportive of his decision to pursue his real estate dream.