Training sessions aimed at developing new employees for East End market

Ronald E. Carrington | 1/4/2019, 6 a.m.
A new East End market promises to bring employment and opportunity to a longtime food desert in the city. The …
Micah White with CARITAS Works leads a recent training session on customer service and personal development at Cedar Street Baptist Church of God. Photo by Ronald E. Carrington Richmond Free Press

A new East End market promises to bring employment and opportunity to a longtime food desert in the city.

The Market @ 25th, scheduled to open in March at 25th Street and Nine Mile Road, will fill many voids in the neighborhood, including the need for long-term, large-scale employment.

Attached to the store will be a VCU Health Hub providing health screenings and information for people who live in the community.

Since November, CARITAS Works has been providing a special eight-week training for 50 low-income and/or formerly incarcerated people recruited to work at The Market @ 25th. The training is held at the nearby Cedar Street Baptist Church of God, where two classes each with 25 applicants participate in customer training and personal development sessions five hours a day, five days a week.

Spensean Singletary, center, a trainee with the program, gets feedback from the group during the daily opening session to build confidence and comfort.

Richmond Free Press

Spensean Singletary, center, a trainee with the program, gets feedback from the group during the daily opening session to build confidence and comfort.

The program is led by Marilyn Milio, CARITAS Works program manager; Shaaron Atkins-Comfort, customer service store director; and Micah White, facilitating consultant.

“The course provides everything from customer service to conflict resolution,” Ms. Milio said.

Nearly 500 people applied to work at the grocery store, with most having many barriers to employment, Ms. Atkins-Comfort said, including a lack of formal education and a history of violence, both as victims and perpetrators. Most live in low-income communities, include area public housing communities and are the specific client base CARITAS Works is designed to engage, Ms. Atkins-Comfort said.

“The key to The Market @ 25th’s positive economic impact on the community is not only to provide fresh and affordable food, but also to provide jobs,” said Kristen Rabourdin, the store’s marketing director.

All of the trainees must finish the sessions to qualify for employment. However, some may not be ready and will not get hired, the three training leaders said.

Janice Hives, a 67-year-old retired VCU food service worker, lives in Gilpin Court and is excited about the opportunity the program may provide her to move into a supervisory role.

The program, she said, is helping her learn how to control her anger. “Because of my age and the way I speak when explaining something, sometimes younger people take my explanations the wrong way.”

She understands that many in the group have gone through spirit-killing hard times that may make them feel marginalized or angry at the world for not having the opportunities they feel they desire.

Because of emotional intelligence workshops and exercises in mature, thoughtful responses taught by Mr. White, Ms. Hives said, “All of us have started to open up and talk about feelings. In the past, I didn’t do that very easily. We have learned each other’s ways as we follow our hearts to become a big happy family.”

Exercises at the beginning of each class help students to open up, with the entire class sitting in a circle and participating in a call-and-response activity. Each person took a turn standing in the circle’s center, saying hello to their fellow trainees followed by their name.

The group responded with, “You are awesome. Motivate me friend.”

Then the person in the center answers a question of the day, such as how they would like to grow personally and professionally. Once they answer, they name a song that helps to illustrate their motivating idea. They sing it as the group joins in.

This kickoff to the daily sessions sets the mood for instructors to get into an array of concepts, including self and social awareness and personal and relationship management as it perpetuates excellent customer service.

Mr. White leads the group in exercises on confidence building and accountability. He sees his job not only as a facilitator, but also as a resource, teacher and motivator with an eye on the personal improvement of each person in the class.

With this first group of trainees, Mr. White said he has seen a lot of self-recognition, growing belief in one’s self and values and dedication to the greater good.

“The group is receiving better and different information than they have historically been taught and acted on,” Mr. White said. “They know it is better for them, and they agree with the personal and professional principles and behaviors the program presents. They are taking accountability for themselves, as well as the people around them.”

Ms. Atkins-Comfort said she has seen the group members’ growth in personality, awareness and stability, as well as the growing dependability and connections among them.

As the store’s opening draws closer, she is excited because the potential future employees will deliver The Market @ 25th message as a place for fresh food and support services.

At the end of their training, new employees will have access to the CARITAS’ two-year After Works program of ongoing professional training and employment resources.