Paying it Forward: Essence’s Juma Journey

Essence was always driven to succeed. At age fourteen she found her first summer job through a youth program run by the City of Seattle. When at sixteen she heard about Juma from a counselor at school, she knew it was an opportunity she couldn’t pass up.

“When I found out about Juma I was already motivated,” recalled Essence. “The stadiums sounded like a really exciting way to learn new skills and meet new people.” Essence applied and was hired. She walked into a professional sports stadium for the very first time soon thereafter. 

At Juma, Essence found a place to grow and challenge herself. While her first role–in-seat vending–wasn’t the best fit, she knew that her Juma manager was there to troubleshoot. Together, they found a role for her which fit like a glove–vendor manager. As a vendor manager, Essence prepped food for in-seat vendors, managed cash, and helped organize in-seat vending operations.

“Juma motivated me. When in-seat vending didn’t work out for me, I could have just quit, but instead I stepped out of my comfort zone and communicated with my managers and that got me into a better position. That has been the best gift,” recalled Essence.

After completing the Juma program, Essence found her way to a position as a full-time store manager for Starbucks–a role she would not have been prepared for without Juma.

“At that age I didn’t know what I wanted to do,”  Essence recalled. “Juma was working with coffee stands back then as well so that gave me the experience to make coffee drinks and realize I enjoy it. I also realized I enjoy talking to people. It helped me figure out what I want to do in life.”

After a few successful years at Starbucks, Essence was pleasantly surprised when her former Juma Manager reached out to her about a job. With stadiums beginning to welcome fans again, Juma Seattle needed a reliable manager to help run stadium operations and mentor Juma youth. Essence was excited for the opportunity to pay it forward. She quickly worked out a schedule to accommodate her role at Starbucks and a part-time position on Juma Seattle’s all female team of leaders.

“It was an honor to know Juma wanted me back in that environment,” said Essence. “The youth managers are all women right now and that motivates me even more because I can see myself in them. I see where I started and I know what they can become and I’m so excited to be a part of that. I’m motivated to push them the way I was pushed back then.”

But as always, Essence is looking forward to her bright future. In addition to her jobs at Starbucks and Juma, she is taking online classes through the University of Arizona to earn her Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice with a goal of becoming a counselor. 

“I’ve been in school trying to be the best person I can be,” says Essence. And with her leadership, many Juma youth will be reaching for their personal bests, too.