Eric Holder and a young job seeker shake hands
credit: Linda Dahlstrom // Starbucks Newsroom

Stepping out of the Mount Vernon Square Metro station on Sept. 20, crowds of young people were greeted by a large sign: “This way to your future.” Volunteers in bright blue lined the hallways of the Walter E.. Washington Convention Center, their shirts emblazoned with the phrase, “How can I help?”

Beneath a huge welcome banner draped from the ceiling, block letters spelled out “#startsomewhere” – the brand associated with the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative. On the walls were projected various inspirational quotes from Maya Angelou and others.

Throughout the morning and early afternoon, the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative hosted its flagship Opportunity Fair & Forum to the District. Approximately 6,800 D.C. “Opportunity Youths” registered to attend the Fair.

The Initiative’s website defines Opportunity Youth as those young people aged 16-24 neither in school nor employed. The Fair sought to connect them with employers in need of labor.

The coalition partners provided the crowd of youth in attendance with access to over 30 employers, on-the-spot interviews, and numerous resources for help along the way.

The event of Sept. 20 was merely the latest iteration of the Opportunity Fair model. Previously, per the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative website, the organization has hosted fairs in cities across the country as far flung as Seattle, New Orleans, and Chicago.

Asked to comment on the experience of helping so many young people find work, Camille Hymes, a regional Starbucks Vice President, said of the fair, “It is the most inspirational day that I’ll never forget.”

Job seekers practice interviewing with volunteers in blue shirts

Job seekers meet with volunteers to prepare for interviews at the D.C. Opportunity Fair on Sept. 20. Photo Courtesy of Linda Dahlstrom // Starbucks Newsroom

Through hiring Opportunity Youth, Starbucks sought to use its national scope for good, Hymes said. But on its own, even Starbucks could only hire a limited number. That’s why, Hymes explained, the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative is run by a coalition, not just one company.

The coalition’s executive committee, which takes a more active role in learning from youth and community partners to continually improve the Fairs, includes Starbucks, the Schultz Family Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, HMSHost, and FedEx.

 

To help young people experiencing homelessness or other obstacles along the path to employment, the “Creating My Successful Future” section of the fair housed a valuable collection of outside resources. Among others,, Martha’s Table offered connections for food assistance, Metro provided options for transportation support, and Sasha Bruce Youthworks advertised its services to homeless or at-risk youth.

Those services include free STI tests, toiletries, and counseling for youth seeking help. Sasha Bruce also offers a drop-in professional closet for its clients.

For homeless youth to find employment, “what they need most is clothes,” said Diamond Miles, staffing the Sasha Bruce table at the fair. Professional clothes and grooming are hard to maintain because shelters are often so dirty that many people experiencing homelessness prefer the streets, according to Miles.

Fortunately, Opportunity Fair partners Nordstrom and Macy’s, as well as Goodwill, provided loaner clothes and professional styling tips right next to the “Networking Café.” There and elsewhere around the Fair, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and former Attorney General Eric Holder were just two of the many famous faces mingling with fair attendees and offering encouragement.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and Department of Employment Services Director Odie Donald were also there to offer support, per official press documents posted by Starbucks.

Job seekers use laptops provided to edit resumes and create LinkedIn profiles. Photo Courtesy of Linda Dahlstrom // Starbucks Newsroom

Organizers attempted to make the event a positive experience to inspire confidence in attendees. Comparing the fair to others, Joshua Beavers, a youth in attendance, said it was “more interactive, more jobs.” A DJ played upbeat, popular music throughout, while MCs, projected on a big screen, congratulated winners of giveaways and attendees who were recently hired. Of the atmosphere, Miles from Sasha Bruce said, “It’s fun, not scary, not making people uncomfortable.”

Volunteers floating around the floor cheered on the young people in attendance and offered support and advice. In the case of homeless youth, that simple effort of reaching out is a huge part of the battle. “I work with youth who just want to feel important, like they’re somebody – they want people to know they’re there,” Miles explained.

Multiple fair attendees interviewed pointed to the on-site job interviews as a highlight of the day. Often, job fairs send participants home with applications to complete and possible interviews to struggle through some time after the fair. The Opportunity Fair, by contrast, offered support ranging from a professional photo booth to resume writing help to mock interviews.

The efforts of the organizers and the confidence of attendees were reflected in the numbers. The 6,800 registered participants made up 10% of the target Opportunity Youth population in D.C., per Starbucks press materials. Those attendees received over 2,500 interviews, 1,000 job offers, and “thousands” of connections to community resources and educational organizations..

Asked if they could think of any changes that could improve their experience at the fair, job seekers Raven Mathis and Natasha, an attending minor, had a simple answer: “No.”