Best Foot Forward: NCC, Kicks USA Launch Partnership

A group of young people from Newark were selected this summer to intern at Kicks USA, an urban footwear and apparel retailer, to learn job skills.
A group of young people from Newark were selected this summer to intern at Kicks USA, an urban footwear and apparel retailer, to learn job skills.

An irate customer no longer fazes Jonathan Toro.

Early in his summer internship with Kicks USA, an urban footwear and apparel retailer, Toro recalled encountering a customer who was interested in shopping but less than friendly towards Toro.

Toro, 18, of Newark, admitted that his gut reaction—in any other scenario—would have been to dish back attitude. But this situation was different: Toro was sporting a Kicks USA employee shirt and had sales on the line. In the end, Toro said he refrained from making personal comments and assisted the customer, who purchased a pair of pricey sneakers as well as clothing (which meant commission).

It was a moment of personal growth for Toro and one that occurred for other interns during a six-week program called the Greater Opportunities Summer Program, a newly formed collaboration between New Community Workforce Development Center, Kicks USA and The Village of Arts and Humanities, which is based in Philadelphia.

The interns, all Newark residents between the ages of 16 and 21, participated in a paid internship funded by Kicks USA’s parent company, Jako Enterprises, Ltd., where the aspiring salespeople received hands-on experience in a fast-paced retail environment, with the prospect of landing a job at a local Kicks USA store at the end of the program. NCC Workforce Development staff led weekly career workshops that covered topics ranging from job readiness to financial literacy.

“This partnership is a continuation of the Workforce Development Center’s commitment to serving older youth, between the ages of 16 and 21, through quality life skills programming and employment,” said Rodney Brutton, director of NCC Workforce Development.

Ny’Asia Baptist, 17, of Newark, quickly gained confidence on the sales floor after making her first sales. “I felt good. I felt like I could take anybody who came through the door,” she said.

However, at times her work schedule put her in the store when there was less customer traffic. Thus, Baptist learned that she had to maximize each customer interaction. “You’ve got to make the best of it while you’re there,” she said.

Whether something good or bad happens, Toro said he now remains focused on the job at hand. “Just blow past it and continue what you’re doing,” said Toro, a recent graduate of Newark Leadership Academy.

“Your check is gonna look a lot bigger,” he said. “It’s all adding up at the end of the day.”

At the end of the summer program, interns competed in Philadelphia before a panel of judges who sized up the business pitches that each intern presented. The following eight interns were offered employment at the Newark store to open in 2015: Ny’Asia Baptist, Taleiah Gary, Tatyana Hall, Jason Jackson, Jason Layton, Jonathan Torro, Darrin Walker and Briannah Wilkins.

Intern Katherine Angulo contributed to this report.

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