Doug Hardy photo

In a newly remodeled office overlooking Asylum Street in Hartford, a group of young people were anxious Wednesday to hand out their business cards and to show off their creations during the grand opening of the Unique Boutique at NiRo Career Services.

Quanisha Cannon, a youth whose new fashion line is Diamond Princess, told a crowd of about 40 people that sometimes “what people feel is about how they look.” Cannon and Dorothy Patterson, who was handing out her new business cards for her own DLP Boutique, each received a new sewing machine for completing NiRo’s inaugural 18-week program this fall.

NiRo, which is short for Naimah and Rondelynn, was inspired by the experiences of Naimah Spann and Rondelynn Bell as they tried to fit their unconventional styles and creativity into conventional environments while they were teenagers. Spann and Bell, who operate their own fashion line – NiRo Couture – founded NiRo Career Services this year to help train young people interested in creative careers like fashion, graphic design, and interior decorating. The emphasis is on entrepreneurship – creating a profitable product.

Doug Hardy photo

According to Bell, each youth is allowed to keep the proceeds from any sale of products that he or she created.

Andre Rochester, NiRo’s graphic design instructor, said the idea is to get young people ready to work on their own.

“I’m teaching them what they need to know to start their own graphic design business,” said Rochester, a 23-year-old Hartford resident and University of Connecticut student. “I give them the tools. It’s up to them to use them. After this class they can pursue clients, or clients can pursue them.”

Rochester said his group meets three times a week for two hours in NiRo’s computer lab on the third floor of 241 Asylum St. in downtown Hartford. He shows them how to use Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop to make brochures, business cards, fliers, logos, and other products.

It’s his first job teaching and he appears to be enjoying the experience.

“It’s a good group of kids,” he says. “I teach from a basic standpoint; nothing too complex. It’s only an 18-week course.”

Along with Rochester, Dionne Welch is the fashion design instructor, and there also is an interior design class. All three groups are under the oversight of Spann and Bell, who each have several years experience in youth development.

This fall they helped instruct a group of almost two dozen youth, many of whom were referred to the program by the state Department of Children and Families. It’s a diverse group, many of whom travel quite a distance to participate after school. Aside from Hartford youth, others come from Bloomfield, Plainville, Manchester, East Hartford, Windsor, Vernon, Simsbury, Avon, Waterbury, West Hartford, and New Britain.

For more information about NiRo Career Services, contact Spann or Bell at (860) 724-NIRO (6476) or niro(at)