In 2014, my husband and I adopted a year-and-a-half-old rescue named Simba, but I felt guilty leaving this little bundle of poodle cuteness by himself for hours while I was at work. Then one day I recognized a teenager mowing a neighbor’s lawn, so I asked him if he wanted to make some more cash.
Jackson fed and walked Simba every day after school for a couple of years until he left for college. Since then, we’ve hired other neighborhood kids, like Mercy Guirnalda, who started working for us when she was in 8th grade. Now she’s a junior in high school.
With Mercy, we get a triple win. Our dog adores her. He gets food, water, a walk, and a poo. And we benefit from this truly genuine connection with Mercy and her family.
How to find kids interested in work
I simply asked neighborhood kids if they wanted a job. But, another way to find help is to answer ads posted by young people. I’ve passed handmade signs posted around the block and seen advertisements on Nextdoor, a social networking service for neighborhoods, where neighbors ages 13 and older can let neighbors know they are available for work.
That’s what Ada Braxton and Niko Rodriguez, both 14, did.
After Ada got her CPR license last year, she started babysitting for family friends, then branched out to other families using Nextdoor. Niko, who uses they/their pronouns, offers house cleaning, yard work, dog walking, and dog and cat sitting and visits.
Gaining confidence with a real job
Working for someone else builds confidence, and my husband is a great mentor. He treats the kids we hire like adults, complete with a probation period, a training plan, and a contract.
In the contract, we all agree on the days and hours. Mercy uses the calendar posted on our refrigerator to track her time. There’s the payment schedule — every two weeks — and the wage. Mercy started off at $10, with an option to earn an extra $5 for longer walks, and this year she got a $2 raise.
The contract also spells out expectations. For example, if Mercy can’t come because of a conflict, she notifies us as soon as possible. In case of an emergency, she calls us and the veterinary clinic. And we’re on the hook to pay her regular wage, regardless of her walking Simba or not, if we don’t give her adequate notice of a schedule change.
Getting savvy with savings
We pay Mercy by check, and she uses her bank’s mobile app to deposit the money. Ada and Niko opt for cash or use their parent’s Venmo or PayPal, mobile payment services that require users to be 18 years or older. Their parents transfer the funds to the kids’ bank accounts.
When the three Irvine siblings took care of Simba, their parents helped them open bank accounts because minors younger than 18 can’t typically open accounts by themselves. Through the bank’s app, they could keep track of their spending and saving.
The sibs, Sophia, Elliott, and Preston Irvine, saved some of their hard-earned money for a trampoline. Ada is saving 20 percent of her earnings for a high school graduation trip to Europe, while Niko is saving for a car. Mercy doesn’t want to have to rely on her parents to buy the things she wants, and she is also saving up for college.
Building references and community
It may sound like these jobs are just about the money. But that’s only part of it. A responsible reputation pays off in other gigs, another line on the resume, and a professional reference. We referred Mercy to a couple next door who needed a cat-sitter. She also lists her work on her resume. And Sophia Irvine used my husband as a reference for a job she took in a restaurant.
And here’s the even bigger thing. I believe the best part of hiring neighborhood kids has been strengthening the community where we live.
We’re more than just a friendly face on the street. Our families know each other, we trust each other, and we’re supporting each other. Mercy’s taking care of Simba, and that means she’s taking care of us, too. In turn, we can give her some money and a little more confidence so she’s one step closer to what she wants. For our neck of the Emerald City woods, I’d call that pretty near creating a perfect world, one neighborhood kid and a side job at a time.
More at Seattle’s Child: