An Extra Shot of Good

Starbucks Employee, Rebecca Chitwood, Shares How She Felt Repurposed After Serving with Team Rubicon.

I am a Marine Corps veteran, but more importantly, I’m a mom (a single mom). I was active duty in the eighties, but did not deploy. I hadn’t seen Team Rubicon’s type of camaraderie since bootcamp.

Recently, I found myself with two adult children. My youngest is finishing high school, and was feeling like I didn’t have a purpose because my kids don’t need me like they used to. I was trying to figure out what’s next, and more or less, what my purpose is now that my children are living their own lives.

I first heard about Team Rubicon at work from Starbucks Corporation at the Seattle Support Center. Starbucks Corporation encourages us as employees to participate in community service. We call it an “extra shot of good!”
In September, the Starbucks Support Center hosted Team Rubicon during lunch. I toured the site trailer and talked with some Greyshirts about their experiences. For a moment, I wondered if that was something I could even do. That afternoon, I received an email from a co-worker with our Starbucks Armed Forces Network sharing that we as an organization were sending employees to Houston and thought it would be a good experience for me. I felt an obligation to say yes. After all, I did not have a family or even a pet at home relying on me, so who better to go than me? It just made sense. So I immediately signed up. I was told a list was being gathered and they would be in touch as to whether or not I was chosen. Then it all happened so quickly. Within a matter of days, I was headed to Houston with 20 other Starbucks corporate employees.

We were scheduled to be transported on a charter flight leaving from Seattle. So we met at a nearby hotel. When everyone had arrived, we received our grey shirts, and started introducing ourselves to each other. Our Region X membership manager got up to address us upon our departure. The first thing he said was, “Everyone here has a purpose.” I hadn’t even left yet, and I was already in tears (and I don’t cry)! I had a huge sense of being exactly where I should be, even though I had no idea what I was going to be doing.

I was placed at the Magnolia FOB (forward operating base) with only 5 other Starbucks employees. Of those five, I only knew one of them personally. Most everyone that arrived was on his or her first deployment, and we were all learning quickly. We didn’t waste any time and were immediately sent out on strike teams to River Oaks Drive. This street had become an island. During the storm at one end of the street was an overflowing river, and on the other side, was a lake with a dam that had to release water to avoid being damaged. The residents were given 15 minutes to get their loved ones and get out.

I will never forget my first home and the hours spent mucking out a trailer that was no longer livable for a young family after three feet of water inhabited it for days. Or forget then visiting with the couple, their desperation for keeping their home, and their gratefulness for all of the work we were doing. The Starbucks employees were supposed to return on Wednesday. I had taken Thursday and Friday off work. I knew, based on the work that still needed to be accomplished, I couldn’t go home yet. I requested an extension and stayed.

River Oaks Drive was where I first met David from Team Rubicon. He filled us in as our strike teams prepared to leave, “You can’t change the world, but you can change somebody’s world.” He knew this personally because he lived locally. He knew each and every person on this street. He knew which families were related to one another and where they were staying on the street with other families. He knew about the home where the husband needed to access his tools that were in the shed, under a buried trailer. He needed his tools so he could return to work and provide for his family. David knew which mom on the street was the point of contact for everyone in order to get donations, supplies and toys distributed. David has a big heart, and he lead us all down River Oaks Drive and showed us where we could help.

I believe the entire crew of Greyshirts those 8 days at Magnolia are some of the most genuine, caring, and incredible people with not only great physical strength, but huge hearts! I was not looking forward to leaving.

As everyone boarded transportation to the airport, we sadly said our goodbyes. I immediately missing everyone and couldn’t believe the post-op blues falling over me after just 8 days.

Once home, I woke up a day later to messages from friends and family about the fires in California. So as soon as I got back to work, I asked my supervisor if I could go back to Houston. For my first deployment, Starbucks didn’t require me to use PTO. However this time, I would use my vacation time. That Tuesday when I received great support from my supervisor, I updated my availability. I received deployment information on Wednesday and had confirmed flight info on Thursday. The next day I was back on a plane to Houston.

I was grateful to be placed back at Magnolia FOB and back to work on River Oaks Drive. Many of my team from my first deployment checked on me daily. This second time around, I met even more amazing Greyshirts. I worked even harder than the first deployment, which I didn’t think was possible.

I am back to work, grateful for my experience in Houston and for my new TR family. I have a bag packed and ready to go again when the need arises. I’m going to give some time before updating my availability to deploy again because I have a few sore muscles, a big smile…and a purpose again.

Rebecca Chitwood is a Marine Corps veteran who works for Starbucks Corporation. She is never one to shy from striving for numerous goals at once and currently serves Team Rubicon in Region 10.

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Team Rubicon unites the skills and experiences of military veterans with first responders to rapidly deploy emergency response teams.