Summer Jobs, Especially Crucial for Low-income Teens, Need More Funding

By Kisha Bird (EXCERPT)

My first job was making cheesesteaks and hoagies at Grillworks, a fast food restaurant in a downtown tourist area of Philadelphia. I remember vividly the excitement of going with my best friend to get the working papers that allowed me to work part-time at age 15 during the school year and in the summer.

At Grillworks, I learned to multitask, communicate with many diverse people, manage my emotions when dealing with my fellow co-workers and supervisors, and yes, make BOMB sandwiches. I spent my first night cleaning the grill and the restaurant from top to bottom. Beyond food preparation and cooking, cleaning and washing dishes were my key responsibilities.

After a few short months, I was promoted to cashier and taking orders. This was intense! On Saturdays the lines would be long, customers demanding, and I had to compute change in my head. There were no “smart” registers back then.

The summer of my 16th year, I was fortunate to work at the University of Pennsylvania through a partnership with the School District of Philadelphia. It was an office job, where I also worked in the lab helping researchers studying addiction issues. My mom took me shopping for work-appropriate clothing — a green and red suit. That summer, I gained tremendous confidence. I was responsible for answering phones, filing important papers, keeping records and even using a computer.

While I had access to computers at school, I didn’t have one at home. I felt so empowered to have a badge and walk into buildings that seemed so far removed from me, even though I lived just 20 blocks away.

This was 1992. I grew up in a multigenerational household, with my mother, grandmother and brother. And while I never wanted for anything, had a stable roof over my head, food and a loving home, my mother was often stressed about finances, making just $19,000 a year with two jobs. My part-time and summer job helped give her peace of mind and enabled me to enjoy the experiences that middle- and upper-income teens have — going to the movies with friends, buying a cute outfit and opening a bank account — along with gaining an understanding of the world of work.


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