Teens in the Goodman Center

Teens' summer jobs do triple duty

A paycheck, an education, a glimpse of the future

I always assumed my oldest kid, recently turned 16 and heading into his junior year of high school, would spend his summers as I did. A child of the '80s and under the heavy influence of Fast Times at Ridgemont High, I worked in fast food or at the mall.

No parents, after all, want a Jeff Spicoli, the film's unemployed surfer dude, on their hands from June through August. So I've encouraged my son to fill out dozens of applications for sandwich-making, sweater-folding and ice-cream scooping. He's cruised the local shopping centers in search of help-wanted signs. He's stopped at most restaurants within biking distance of our house to see if they need a dishwasher.

To date, nothing's panned out. It's starting to look like he might just end up spending the summer washing dishes. But only those of his family.

Evidently, his experience isn't unique. According the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, teenagers nationally face a 24.5% unemployment rate, meaning a quarter of all kids ages 16-19 looking for a job, summer or otherwise, aren't landing one.

This doesn't come as a surprise to Stephanie Mather, the TEENWorks career coordinator at the Goodman Community Center on Madison's east side. TEENWorks is short for short for Teen Education & Employment Network.

"It seems to me as I look around the city that a lot of jobs that may have gone to teens in the past are going to adults. It's just so competitive, especially in the summer."

This city is fortunate, Mather says, that programs like the ones she manages at the Goodman Center can offer a limited number of young workers the chance to learn important job skills, as well as offering the possibility of employment. This summer, thanks in part to additional funding from the mayor's office, Goodman will be offering 20 hours a week of minimum-wage work ($7.25 in Wisconsin) to 20 high school kids in many of the community center's signature programs.

"These kids will have the chance to try out lots of career paths," says Mather. "They'll work in our commercial kitchen, get childcare experience in the elementary school program and gain administrative skills in our offices."

For the second summer in a row, Goodman will also host the six-week, six-hour-a-day Seed to Table credit recovery program, which allows 20 additional students the opportunity to earn a credit of science and up to $600 in lieu of going to summer school. According to Mather, those accepted, representing East, La Follette and Shabazz City high schools, will get hands-on experience in the kitchen, classroom, field and woodshop.

"The work," she says, "will focus on the three parts of the local sustainable food systems: urban agriculture, the culinary arts and food preservation. It's going to be hard work. They'll be weeding, harvesting and caring for chickens and bees. They'll help to prepare over 750 meals a day to be distributed to the community. Some of the work will be uncomfortable -- hot, rainy and filled with insects."

But it's a terrific chance for teens dealing with a lot of instability in their lives to learn that work involves expectations. "We set boundaries and try teach our employees that the real world won't coddle," Mather says. "If you show up late or don't wear the uniform, you might lose shifts, or worse, get fired. But we can teach it in a safe environment."

Brianna (she preferred her last name not be printed), 17 and an East senior-to-be, feels fortunate to have been accepted into Goodman's Seed to Table program for the school credit. But for her, the chance to make some cash is just as important.

"I have to make some money this summer," she says, "because I'm saving up for driver's ed, which is really expensive. This program will help, but I'll also keep working at Pierce's Northside Market at night, where I've been cashiering for the past year. I guess I'm lucky to have found two jobs when some kids don't have any."

Mills Botham, who turns 16 this summer, has beaten the odds on summer employment by putting a new twist on the concept of "living above the store." In his case, it's a vineyard. His parents own and operate Botham Vineyards in Barneveld, and Mills has worked there, part-time, for the past five years.

"A lot of my friends think working for your family's business might be kind of cushy," he says, "but believe me, I work hard for every dime I make."

Botham's responsibilities on the property run from groundskeeping, to working in the on-site store, to bottling wine. "There's always something that needs to be taken care of. I really think of my job as doing whatever I need to do in order to keep my dad focused on the grapes.

"I've met great people from all over the country while working here, and I've learned a lot about running a small business," says Botham. "I think it's really important for teenagers to get a summer job if they can to prepare them for life after high school or college. You need to learn to be professional; it's great to be able to learn it young."

Katrina Hetico, a West High junior, says an early start on the seasonal job hunt was helpful in getting hired at the Duck Pond this summer.

"The Mallards hosted two days of open interviews this past April in order to hire all their game-day staff," she says. "I just went online, downloaded an application and brought it with me to the ballpark. I interviewed that same day and got the call a few weeks later that I had a job in concessions."

Hetico says she's had fun meeting kids from other area high schools. More important, though, is the paycheck: "This was the year my parents and I decided I needed to start paying for some of my extracurricular activities. So the best part of my summer job so far has been how cool it is to get an official paycheck with my name, middle initial included, in the 'pay to the order of' line."

Summer employment isn't just the chance for teens to make some spending money.

"This is the one chance a lot of kids have not just to find out what they like to do," says the Goodman's Center's Mather, "but also to figure out what they don't want to do for the rest of their lives."

comments powered by Disqus

More to read

Loading More Articles
No More Articles

Mama Madison: Young love

Seeing Romeo and Juliet this past weekend was a definite reminder that I need to prepare for something that might resemble a (Near) West Side Story around our place pretty soon.

Mama Madison: What a mother fears most

All during childhood, we calmly tell our kids they don't need to be afraid of the dark, thunder or the monster under the bed. But it's pretty hard to keep your parental cool when your kid is about to embark on the one thing that terrifies you. I knew the problem wasn't really with him. It was with me.

Operation Fresh Start's Youth Conservation Corps helps kids, and kids help parks

Last January, when temperatures dipped below minus 30 and most people between the ages of 16 and 24 did anything to stay inside, a small yet sturdy group of at-risk teenage boys and young men stacked wood and managed controlled burns at Festge County Park near Cross Plains. Five months later, following a temperature swing of more than 100 degrees, Isthmus found some of those same guys removing invasive honeysuckle and buckthorn at Lake View Hill County Park on Madison's north side.

Mama Madison: Summer stress solved by yoga

The first week of summer break at our place usually comes and goes without incident. At times, one could argue, it even verges on pleasant. I have no school lunches to pack and the kids have no 7 a.m. buses to catch.

Mama Madison: The greatest fans of road repair

Have you tried getting anywhere on either Verona Road or East Johnson lately? I'm pretty sure a six-month old could crawl to Fitchburg, or across the isthmus, in less time that it takes me to drive there these days.

Mama Madison: The alarm sounds

As soon as the door closed behind him, I poured myself a cup of the coffee he had made and took a moment to let the enormity of what just happened sink in. My son was ready that morning despite my inability to properly set an alarm clock. My kid was ready that morning without nudging, cajoling, or reminding. He was ready, even when I wasn't.

Mama Madison: My summer book list

For the past 17 years or so (i.e., since I've had kids), I haven't made books the priority in my life I know they should be. It's not that I don't try. Just this past weekend I had the best of intentions of picking up, and even finishing, I am Malala, this year's UW-Madison's Go Big Read pick. But the copy still sits untouched on my nightstand.

Make Music Madison gives young artists a chance to perform

The longest day of the year is upon us. For those of you keeping track, the sun will rise at 5:18 a.m. and set at 8:41 p.m. on Saturday, June 21. All that daylight, courtesy of the annual summer solstice, will provide the perfect backdrop for Make Music Madison, a daylong event featuring hours and hours of free performances in nearly every corner of the city.

Mama Madison: Watching talent grow

Last week, for the first time, I made my way up to one of the open gallery nights during Madison West's Fine Arts Week, the school's annual showcase for all things creative. The scope of the event is huge, with nearly 1,600 students participating, and the quality of the presented works is phenomenal. It's almost as if the school had been lifted off its perch on Regent Street and traveled back in time to Belle Époque Paris.

Mama Madison: Writing time at Olbrich

If you have aspiring authors in your house, this summer offers a fabulous opportunity for them refine their writing skills. For its second summer, the Greater Madison Writing Project, in partnership with Olbrich Botanical Gardens, is sponsoring two week-long camps in August for young writers entering grades 3-8.

Mama Madison: When UW-Madison's semester is over, the kids want out too

There are lots of benefits to living in a college town. First and foremost, there is always something going on -- a lecture, a film series. Maybe even a protest, if you're lucky. And since becoming a Madisonian, I, for the first time in my life, find myself interested in college football.

Mama Madison: Another amazing talent show

My passion for the talent show clearly runs deep, but I'm more than just a fangirl. This year marked my second as one of the "Ziegfelds" of the Follies, Hamilton's annual showcase for singers, musicians, dancers and other varied forms of entertainment. Trust me, when you are part of the spectacle's "producing/directing" team you get a new-found appreciation for how hard the kids worked to get up on stage.

Mama Madison: Preserving children's stories

My daughter, who turned twelve just this past week, is not legally "of age" when it comes to social media. But I guess, in many respects, especially in those that involve screens, I am a permissive pushover. I've allowed her join some networks.

Tenting tonight? Not so fast -- take the time to prepare for the first family camping trip

What adults love about camping -- sleeping under the stars, getting away from it all, the sounds of nature -- can be scary for children. It's dark in a tent. Nothing is familiar. Of course, camping with kids is more work for adults, too. Stay cool, live in the moment. Forget about that lost fork. Making s'mores, spotting wildlife, that's what kids will remember.

Mama Madison: It's time for the college tour

I have just returned from a whirlwind, five-day, four-city college tour with my son. You know those "101 Things to Know Before Visiting Disney World" guidebooks that experienced theme park travelers have written to help the uninitiated? I think I am now officially seasoned enough in information sessions and campus tours to give some serious thought to penning a similar "insiders guide" for the junior-year parent.

Mama Madison: When mom gets a new roomie

This past week, against both my will and better judgement, I accompanied 50 or so middle school kids to the Future Problem Solvers Wisconsin State Bowl, a popular academic and skit-writing competition.

Mama Madison: Earth Day awareness

It may be a bigger waste of breath than electricity to ask my kids to turn off the lights when they leave a room. If I've nagged them once, I've nagged them a thousand times. No, I've never noticed anything amiss with their fingers. But it appears they are physically incapable of flipping a switch to the "off" position.

Mama Madison: Parents should know and understand school codes of conduct

I want to say thank you to the Board of Education for allowing Maia to return to class, unquestionably the place she belongs, as well as to thank them for adopting the new policies. But just as importantly, I also want to thank Maia and her family for their willingness to come forward with their story.

Helping your kids stick with music lessons

Some clever-clogs is playing Rachmaninoff on the piano at a party, and there it is again, that oft-heard adult lament of lost opportunity from a dejected onlooker: "I wish I could play. I wish my parents hadn't let me quit music lessons. I was just a kid -- how was I to know?" It's a reasonable complaint.

A summer camp quiz for parents

If you're checking out summer camps for your child, there are many issues -- some obvious, some less so -- to keep in mind. Here's a list to keep handy when you contact camps and camp directors, looking for the perfect spot for your kids to have fun, relax, and learn this summer.


Emails from Isthmus Parents feature event highlights, story links, site updates, and occasional special offers from trusted sources. Name and email address are required. Thanks!