Strong, Smart, Bold

What’s good for tea is good for girls

by Mary Wagner, svp Global R&D/ Quality, Food Safety & Regulatory,
Starbucks Coffee Company, Board Member, Girls Inc.

When Starbucks partnered with the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy Foundation and Teavana, my team worked closely with Ms. Winfrey to develop the flavor of the Teavana Oprah Cinnamon Chai Tea. Every cup sold supports development opportunities for young people. And it just so happens that one of the groups supported by the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy Foundation is one very close to my heart.

Girls Inc. is an organization created to help young women fulfill their potential. Through the Girls Inc. Experience, which consists of people, an environment, and programming, girls are empowered to succeed and overcome challenges.

The people are trained staff and volunteers who build lasting, mentoring relationships, and peers who share their drive and aspirations. The environment is girls-only, physically and emotionally safe; there is a sisterhood of support, high expectations, and respect. The research-based programming is hands-on, minds-on, and meets the needs of today’s girls to provide the age-appropriate information and knowledge so girls make decisions leading to healthy lives; succeed academically; and develop life skills to prepare for adulthood.

A great example of this is Belle LeGrand, a Girls Inc. member. She said, “After my father passed away I joined the Girls Inc basketball team as a way to cope with my loss. I was nervous because playing basketball was something that I enjoyed doing with my father. But the skills I learned there helped me become captain of my high school varsity basketball team. I got more involved with Girls Inc. and joined theater which helped me realize that I wanted to be an actress.” Girls Inc. has helped her build more than basketball skills. She now has a network of support as she moves through high school and into college. That’s a powerful thing.

The mission of Girls Inc. speaks to me. As a woman and a food scientist, I‘m in the minority for my field, and I’m passionate about changing that. I joined the Girls Inc. board with a focus on fundraising and initiatives like STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) — designed to encourage and expose young women to career opportunities in those fields.

Women make up 50% of the workforce, but only account for 26% of jobs in the tech industry. Many young women don’t even know these jobs exist, let alone believe they could be qualified for one. Girls Inc. STEM projects expose them to things like coding, agriculture and food science — and ensure they have the support and encouragement they need to pursue their passion.

There are more than 80 affiliates in the US and Canada where over 140,000 young women come and get help with issues they are facing in their daily lives. But that’s just a start. And that’s why I’m so excited that Girls Inc. is one of five beneficiaries of the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy Foundation.

That means we will get the exposure and fundraising we need to help more girls in more areas — help them find their passion, give them the confidence to pursue it, and work with them to ensure they are prepared to graduate from high school, complete post-secondary education and thrive academically and professionally.

I recently attended a luncheon for Girls Inc. to celebrate our annual scholarship winners. Many grew up with little or no support at home. They witnessed substance abuse, were bullied at school, and took on adult responsibilities at young ages.

One young woman, Adriana, had a father who suffered from PTSD. His unpredictability meant she never invited friends over. Girls Inc. became her safe space — where she could share thoughts and gain support from others, as well as open up and help others tackle their challenges. And now Adriana is at studying at Yale University, on full scholarship, pursuing a double major in Political Science and Ethnicity, Race & Migration.

It’s unbelievable what these girls have been through. And to get to where they are today… it’s so inspiring.

Girls Inc. helps them understand, “I’m not odd. I’m OK. And I’m not alone.”

As a company, Starbucks has the responsibility to use our size for good, and galvanize those around us to do as much as we can to influence and help those in need. Thank you to anyone who has ever purchased a Teavana Oprah Cinnamon Chai product and helped Starbucks contribute to our cause.

And thank you to Teavana, Ms. Winfrey, and all the people behind the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy Foundation for everything you’ve done to support these amazing young women.

To learn more and watch a video featuring girls from Girls Inc., please visit

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