What was your first job? What summer jobs did you have? How did this impact your life?

Shelley Irwin, host of WGVU Radio Morning Show as well as WGVU-TV programs, has had me on every month on her radio show in a segment known as “Perspectives in Philanthropy” for a number of years.  It is a great way to delve into topics of interest in our community as well as highlight key aspects of the Grand Rapids Community Foundation.

This past Monday on Shelley’s show, I talked about the key accomplishments of the Community Foundation in 2011 and provided a glimpse into what I thought would be happening in 2012 overall in terms of charitable giving and the local economy.  We got to talking about an important  effort that was funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation last May focusing on summer youth employment opportunities focusing particularly on youth of color.  That sparked a quick conversation on air about our summer jobs back in the day!

Shelley is younger than I am and frankly these days it seems like everyone is younger than me!  A testament to my age is that my first job was that as a want-ad checker at The Detroit News.  The ad copy would be on sheets of paper that looked like Western Union telegrams that would be filed alphabetically by classification of the ads by a group of high school students, mostly children of News employees.  This was so long ago that there were separate categories for jobs for women and jobs for men!  Frankly when you think about it – it wasn’t THAT long ago.  No wonder women still are trying to climb the ladder of equality!  But that’s a blog entry for another time.

The radio program conversation made me curious so I went on Facebook and posed the question - what were the first jobs or summer jobs of the friends I follow on that social media site.  Very interesting results!  Is there a correlation between those first employment forays and the careers or jobs that people hold today?  AND most importantly, how this does relates to young people who are eager to enter the job market and their future success? Here’s a wonderful journal written by our Public Relations Intern Molly Murray last summer who interviewed some young people who participated in the summer program.  This is well worth reading!  

In case you are curious, here are only some of the results of my Facebook inquiry regarding first jobs or summer jobs: 

  • Worked in food service in a nursing home.  I was an expert in pureed veggies!
  • Ice cream scooper at a small joint on Grand Rapids’ NE side
  • Gas attendant at a gas station at Breton Village.
  • Babysitting was my first paying job.  I worked at Dunkin’ Donuts and Sally’s Beauty Supply.  I also started my own cupcake business with a good friend.
  • Mowed lawns for $1 a yard. Started when I was 14 in the neighborhood.  Had a nice little business and made $12 a week!
  • Pruned trees and worked on watersheds for the Youth Conservation Corps.
  • “Tool Crib Girl” at Lear Siegler!
  • Salad Girl at the Pen Club
  • And many more! 

The point of all this is that we all had opportunities to develop our skills, learned how to “go to work”, and developed an appreciation for what it takes to be employed!  I know from reading the journal compiled by Molly Murray that the young people employed last summer through the efforts of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Grand Rapids Community Foundation and many wonderful nonprofit partners in our community that they also had the good experiences to help catapult them into future occupations and careers -  and key to this was that they were given the opportunity !

Kind of makes you wonder  . . . how did a want-ad checker become a Foundation President?  Hard work, perseverance and knowing how to relate to many different people in many different situations!  Onward we go!