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OprahChai
West Orange Times & Observer Thursday, Mar. 19, 2015 7 years ago

Ocoee Starbucks, Orlando CARES connect children to Oprah

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by: Zak Kerr Staff Writer/Reporter

OprahChai

OCOEE — With the approach of April comes Starbucks’ Global Month of Service and a special celebration at the Ocoee Starbucks.

In a partnership with Greater Orlando CARES Mentoring Movement co-chair Nouchelle Hastings, Ocoee Starbucks Manager Randy Wyatt introduced the Teavana Oprah Winfrey Chai to the area April 29, 2014. Next month, they will gather again to celebrate its first anniversary.

For each sale of this beverage, Starbucks will donate to The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy Foundation, nationally benefitting groups such as CARES. The announcement became official at the annual meeting of Starbucks, March 19 in Seattle, which was supposed to be in this area, Hastings said.

“When Starbucks — anyone — launches a new product, it’s great that we … invest all this money and all that, but until you have a marriage of something that’s going to be helpful, people don’t pay much attention,” Wyatt said. “You introduce the Oprah Chai; people come out just to try it. But if you introduce them to something else, they walk away and their heart is filled with a great beverage and also information on something that is happening right in their backyard. It’s the essence of what we do at Starbucks and when we mentor children.”

This is why Wyatt arranged a unique launch with Orlando CARES, a not-for-profit tutoring young people, instead of a mere announcement like other chains unveiling Oprah Chai that day, he said.

“Basically, in the end results of attention we got for that, Orlando CARES got a $50,000 grant each from the Oprah foundation and Starbucks, so $100,000,” Wyatt said. “I was set to be interviewed via Skype with Oprah. My boss’s mouth dropped — he was impressed it was happening. Any time you have a connection like that and anything you can do for the community is great. We’re happy to help that way here.”

FALLING BACK

But Hastings and Wyatt had a different idea and passed on the show.

“One of the things they found, even at our corporate level, is that we are so real at what we do,” Hastings said of CARES. “Every time Oprah’s team would call us saying, ‘We need a quote; we need a picture,’ we would jump right on it. When the time came that week for that interview, I said, ‘No, we got to do it together.’ I knew that Randy was traveling, and they said, ‘We want to focus on the kids.’ I said, ‘If the kids are going to be the focus, let the kids (go), and when it’s our time, we’ll be the focus.’”

In Lake Mary, Hastings presented what mentoring means to children. As a result, Winfrey’s staff invited 18 CARES children in place of Wyatt and Hastings, and the children met Winfrey Oct. 23 to 24 in Miami, the third-to-last stop on her tour.

“She said that weekend was everything for her, but it was what happened behind the scenes that touched her,” Hastings said. “The kids got a chance to ask her questions. She was in jeans and just real with them.”

Winfrey advised them on handling rough days, getting through life, bullying and peer pressure, Hastings said.

“There was one young lady, and she felt like she wasn’t pretty, like she wasn’t loved,” Hastings said. “Oprah went through that, feeling that she was less than. She was able to touch these kids where they were. It wasn’t the Oprah on top of the world. It was the everyday Oprah. I gained a bigger respect.”

Orlando CARES was the only such group Winfrey met, because Wyatt and Hastings fell back, Hastings said.

“When we said we’re going to fall back, they were like, ‘What? Nobody does that,’” Hastings said. “Well, we do. They would ask what we were saying that was motivating that day, that there was something really genuine about what we do. I told them that I learned about having an organic environment.”

SPRINGING FORWARD

The partnership between Wyatt and Hastings predated the genesis of Oprah Chai, a talk between Winfrey and Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz at a wedding.

For a few years, Ocoee Starbucks has hosted CARES for mentoring sessions, enhancing the program, Hastings said.

“It was weird when the (national) partnership came, because that’s what we’ve been doing the past couple years,” Hastings said. “What Randy and I started a year ago has swept the nation, with markets wanting to have partnerships with their local Starbucks. It started from us and led to a rollout.”

Two Orlando CARES graduates have ascended to managerial positions in their companies thanks to the program and Starbucks’ support, Hastings said, with similar successes likely around the country.

“When one of our mentees was shot in the head, Danielle Sampson, he left some samples one morning,” she said. “Information would be given out with a sample of the refreshers.”

While Wyatt and Hastings discussed their partnership, a boy approached Wyatt with fliers to distribute for his birthday party, which will raise money for charity. Wyatt promised to distribute them and started with an Ocoee police officer who entered many minutes later.

“It’s about giving back and allowing this venue to be a place for people to come together to not only brainstorm, partner and fellowship but to really start fresh,” Wyatt said. 

Although their philanthropy and community service might be on a smaller scale, Hastings and Wyatt liken their friendship to that of Winfrey and Schultz.

“To serve coffee to 150 people or to give that away for free first thing in the morning is not a big deal,” Wyatt said. “Making sure that the brand is intact, the message is clear and that we’re supporting something that’s bigger than us — that matters most.”

Contact Zak Kerr at [email protected].

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