By Brian SodomaOriginal article found here
Growing up in San Francisco public housing, Cal Montejano saw his immigrant parents work long hours at fast-food jobs and struggle to make ends meet. Montejano knew he wanted to pursue a college degree and professional career path, but was aware his environment might limit his prospects.
In 2011, his high school history teacher introduced him to Gap Inc.’s This Way Ahead (TWA) program. In partnership with local nonprofits, TWA gives teens and young adults the opportunity to attend workshops in resume writing, interviewing, customer service and self-presentation — skills that they can use to land paid internships and then first jobs at Gap, Old Navy or Banana Republic stores.
“I showed my dad my first paycheck and said it was for him,” remembered Montejano, who had his internship at a Gap store. “He refused and said, ‘Just give me a dollar.’ When I cashed the check and gave him the dollar, he folded it into an origami heart and said, ‘I will remember this as the first dollar you ever earned.’ My dad still carries that heart in his wallet today.”
Montejano used the interviewing and presentation skills he learned not only to find his first job, but also to earn a pair of scholarships that are paying for his education at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Now 20, he is studying sociology, urban studies and food ecology, with an eye toward a career in human resources.
“You don’t find that in high school or college,” he said of the training and internship opportunities TWA gave him.
Growing up in West Harlem, Darius Case was an only child raised by a single mother who was legally blind. Seeing his mother struggle to make ends meet and often taking on the role of caregiver himself, Case experienced plenty of negative pressures.
By the time he turned 16, he wasn’t doing especially well in high school. “There was always something in me that held me back. It was a lack of focus — I prioritized the wrong things,” he said.
However, Case knew one thing: He loved fashion. So when the opportunity to apply for TWA came up he seized it, hungry to learn about life in the fashion world’s retail trenches.
He brought with him an easygoing nature and much patience, thanks in part to helping his mother over the years. In addition to training in communication, teamwork and responsibility, he learned some hard lessons about time management.
“I came late one time [to the job training workshops] and was told to walk out [of the room] to explain myself. I was used to going to places a little late and getting away with it. That’s when I realized how serious this was,” he said.
With his hard-earned time management skills, he landed an internship and then a job offer. Since October, he has been an associate at a Banana Republic Factory store in New York City, amassing valuable hands-on experience in a retail environment.
He has become so proficient at serving customers that, he adds, they sometimes seek him out from among the staffers.
Now a high school senior, Case, 17, hopes to enroll in the State University of New York at Buffalo’s fashion merchandising program.
“Without TWA, I would’ve still been struggling financially, along with my mom, and maybe making the same [wrong] decisions kids around me are making,” he said. As it is, he’s a role model, by example encouraging other kids in his community to choose a better path.
First In The Family
Nineteen-year-old Kumari Adams attends Virginia’s Marymount University, where she is studying visual merchandising. She hopes to be the first in her family to graduate from college.
Adams grew up with a single mother and three siblings in a housing project in Brooklyn. Crime and drug dealing were parts of everyday life, and she has already lost a cousin to gang violence.
At 17, Adams heard about TWA through a teacher. Interested in fashion, Adams felt the experience would boost her resume. Acquiring customer service skills was one of her greatest learning lessons in the program. She found she was better served by listening a little more than she had in the past, then confidently offering customers suggestions.
“I jumped in thinking I knew exactly what to expect,” she said. “You need to know how to approach the situation and be humble — don’t judge, but be confident in yourself.”
The program’s interviewing workshops helped her land a position at Gap’s Bensonhurst, Brooklyn location. She still works at the store during holiday and summer breaks from school and hopes to move into interior design after graduating college.
TWA has also proven beneficial to the store leadership team. Annette Batres, general manager of business and operations at the Old Navy flagship store in San Francisco, got involved with TWA as a facilitator in 2012. Always reserved when it came to public speaking and presentations, she overcame these challenges by teaching classes to TWA’s participants.
“I think it was [the] informal presentations [class], actually. That’s where I see the youth grow the most. You watch them really struggle, and you can share, ‘I’m a hair twirler when I get nervous,’ and you talk about all of those things,” she said. “So it was interesting to watch myself grow over the course of eight weeks to get to a point where, nowadays, I can facilitate anything on the fly.”
Now a TWA city leader for the San Francisco market, Batres says her experiences with up-and-coming employees also help her relate better to her store staff.
“What is really great about This Way Ahead is how it brings community into the store,” she said, making for better team building and a great store environment.
Brian Sodoma is a journalist who covers business and health. He lives in Southern Nevada.