First Person Singular

Sunday, July 15, 2007

I was raised in one of the worst areas of Prince George's County. My childhood experiences, outside of the family -- let's say the environment did not foster manners at all. A lot of crime, lots of drugs, a poverty-stricken area. We had a single-parent household with my two brothers. It was very, very difficult, but we were a strong family with strong values. It kept me on the right track.

About seven years ago, I was working at Nordstrom as a recruiter, coming in contact with teens -- for their first job, probably -- completely failing the process of interviewing. So many applicants were just not prepared and, as a result, not getting jobs. Their dress was inappropriate; their handshake was nonexistent or weak; there was lack of eye contact; slouching; they appeared not to be confident; they were unable to speak clearly and answer questions. It was my first eye-opening experience, my first memory of saying, Wow, this is scary. Seeing the lack of social skills in work and everyday living, riding public transportation, and just seeing the lack in the school system as well. There's such a focus in getting students academically prepared but a huge gap in getting them prepared socially. That pushed me to reflect. It gave me time to think about what I wanted to do with my life.

I focus on children and teens. It's a little easier to make changes when they're younger. Initially, they're like, "Hmm, do I really need to be here?" But after the first session, they relax. When a parent says, "I overhear my daughter playing with her dolls and introducing them to each other," or, "My child is teaching me all the things I'm doing wrong," it makes me feel like I'm doing my part for society. I'm trying to start an etiquette revolution.

Interview by Ellen Ryan

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