Dancing Toronto Starbucks barista one of many with disabilities
Company’s café attendant program employs nearly 140 people who have 'tons of potential'
One Toronto Starbucks barista may have made headlines around the world when videos of him dancing went viral, but the program that helped him and others with disabilities get jobs often means more to them than the possibility of a moment in the international spotlight.
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Sam Forbes, who appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show last month, is just one of 39 Starbucks café attendants across the Greater Toronto area who are part of the program.
Anthony Ng, an attendant at a location at King and Brant Streets in downtown Toronto, has autism but is high-functioning. He also has OCD and an anxiety disorder.
"It made me come out of my shell," Ng told CBC News of his job. He began working at Starbucks in October 2011, and at his current location last September.
"Before, I was very shy. Now my goal is to talk to 10 customers a day."
Ng was referred to Starbucks from a program called Community Living Toronto, an agency that provides a wide range of services for people with intellectual disabilities and their families. He benefits from repetitive routines, and his responsibilities include busing tables, garbage runs and helping with samples.
"I like talking to all different kinds of personalities, and making new friends," Ng said.
Ng's manager, Janee D'Alfonso, described him as a key member of her staff.
"We borrowed him from another store and he was so friendly and helpful we decide to take him on," she told CBC News.
"He's super-friendly. He loves to talk to people."
Starbucks employs nearly 140 attendants, 53 in Ontario, in a program that the company's had brewing for 14 years.
The program gives the opportunity for employees, or "partners," as the company calls them, with disabilities to work "in a modified capacity in Starbucks stores."
"Depending on a café attendant's desire and ability, there are opportunities for advancement and promotion to other roles including barista," company spokesperson Mary Saunoris told CBC News.
Anyone interested in a café attendant position can speak with a store manager, she said. In some cases, would-be attendants are referred to the company from community programs.
Luisa Girotto, vice president of public affairs for Starbucks, called the program "a moral obligation.
"There are thousands of Canadians with disabilities who have tons of potential and they need companies to go long on them," she told CBC.
Café attendant Julie Green works at a location at Wellington and John Streets. She was also referred to Starbucks through Toronto Community Living.
"I love it, I love working here," Green said. "My manager and my co-workers treat me very well, like family."
Her manager, Tony Yip, says Julie's presence helps bring a "community" feel to the store by greeting regulars and proactively helping her co-workers during busy times.
"She loves high-fiving us at the end of her shift to share her passion."