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Milwaukee Jeweler Launches Diversity Internship Program

Store owner was inspired by mentoring program for underprivileged teen girls.

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Nia Haley, second from left, with Tom Dixon, center, was the first intern in the program at Schwanke-Kastan Jewelers in Milwaukee. She is a music major at Arizona State and a graduate of PEARLS for Teen Girls. “Everyone is super excited about having an intern. My staff loved having a little sister around to show her what they do every day,” Dixon says.

TOM DIXON, owner of Schwanke-Kasten Jewelers in Milwaukee, like many a jewelry storeowner, is frequently asked for donations to community causes. Often, he’d respond by donating a piece of jewelry. But the whole process lacked a cohesive goal and sometimes fell short of expectations.

“It seems sometimes like we’re spinning our wheels, giving things to people who maybe need it, but in general it tends to be more affluent groups asking for donations. I thought, let’s re-evaluate it and do something that’s meaningful with underfunded projects in Milwaukee where we can really make a difference.”

Dixon devised a framework for donations with the acronym EACH to benefit initiatives in the areas of education, arts, community and health. “Instead of giving everyone who asks $100 or $1,000, we can start a foundation and contribute some meaningful time and value and sweat equity.”

Dixon also believes there’s a racial divide in the city and a lack of diversity in the jewelry industry. The racial divide hit home when his store made national news in 2015. Milwaukee Bucks forward John Henson told the media he’d been racially profiled when he visited the store to look at a Rolex. Due to what Dixon describes as a misunderstanding with police about Henson’s dealer license plate and a series of suspicious calls around the same time of the pro basketball player’s visit, employees decided not to use the buzzer system to open the door and instead called the police.

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Dixon says everything possible went wrong leading up to that fateful moment, and other jewelry storeowners have told him it could easily happen to them, too.

“It was a circumstantial situation,” Dixon says. “We apologized. That was never in our hearts. But it made us want to say, ‘Here are the things we’re doing to try to make a change.’”

He wants to make a difference not only in the community but also in the jewelry industry by cultivating potential local talent. So he launched a paid internship program to reach out to young people of diverse backgrounds, who wouldn’t normally apply for jobs in his store. The focus is on young college women looking for summer jobs.

He teamed up with Milwaukee-based PEARLS for Teen Girls, which he describes as the most inspiring, remarkable organization he’s encountered. Last year, the group mentored 1,618 underprivileged girls across all racial and ethnic groups. Of the young women in the program, 100 percent graduated high school and were on track for college. PEARLS stands for Personal Responsibility, Empathy, Awareness, Respect, Leadership and Support. One of the important goals of the organization is to prevent teen pregnancy.

Dixon is working with Danita Bush, college and career readiness manager for PEARLS, who supports girls and young women as they navigate job, college and scholarship applications.
Dixon offered two paid internships this past summer to graduates of the PEARLS program.

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PEARLS will help him reach out to young women who wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to the jewelry industry. Dixon can offer sophisticated training in cooperation with high-end brand partners that include Roberto Coin and Rolex. He’d also be interested in sending interns to the GIA for education if they express a serious interest in pursuing jewelry as a career.

“Maybe we’ll get someone who really sticks and becomes part of our staff,” he says. “I’m open to finding artistic people to learn watchmaking or goldsmithing.”

“When I go to trade shows, I notice the lack of diversity. It’s an issue that we have got to deal with. I’m going to try to deal with it in my own world, here.”

Schwanke-Kastan Jewelers in Milwaukee.

Eileen McClelland is the Managing Editor of INSTORE. She believes that every jewelry store has the power of cool within them.

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