It was sparkling maroon, had shag carpeting on the ceiling and floor, was 18 feet in length and held 12 teen-agers easily. With air conditioning, electric locks, AM/FM stereo, whitewall tires and a huge engine, I was set at age 16. My first car, a 1976 Chrysler Cordoba, was bought from a pig farmer outside of Omaha. I paid my dad back every bit of the $400 he loaned me to buy it. Because I made only $3.45 an hour working at the local Dairy Queen, it took me a few months. But that $3.45 was money I took pride in and earned by making shakes, cones and burgers. I would come home at night smelling like a tub of lard covered in chocolate syrup.
I was learning a lot more than how to serve ice cream. I was getting a formal education in borrowing money, paying back debts, balancing a checkbook, bargaining for goods, and I had the self-esteem of the personal ownership of a job well done.
I can honestly say I learned a lot more than those friends of mine whose parents bought them convertible Volkswagen Rabbits for their first cars and who spent the summer of '88 lying out at the lake.
With the labor market as tight as it is in Steamboat, I have been pleased to find the Colorado Workforce Center is encouraging local business owners to hire high school students for the summer season. Moreover, there are students like Dustin Lindahl who ventured out on his own at age 13 and started a successful lawn care business. I applaud Dustin's parents for fronting him the money to buy his first truck and trailer. He told me the same thing I have known since I bought that Cordoba. He said he appreciates the fact that he paid his parents back for it on his own with money he earned through hard work.
Encouraging teens to work during the summer, and throughout the year, has benefits beyond earning a paycheck.
The responsibility that comes from holding a job and the skills acquired at an early age are elements that stay with the child throughout life. Although I spent every penny I made back then, my folks were adamant about me working a few hours each week to teach me lessons about simple things like being on time, providing customer service, saving money, having a bank account, doing manual labor, punching a clock, dealing with a boss and co-workers, giving 100 percent and respecting others. Little did I know at the time, all of these elements would come in handy in the years following those high school days.
I encourage parents to require their children to work a few hours this summer. There are numerous programs for those age 9 to 18 that offer life skills and a paycheck. The Youth Corps, parks and rec, local shops, restaurants, lawn care services, offices and the local movie theater all hire teens. There is an abundance of opportunities just waiting for the motivated applicant.
From my first paper route, working for my brother who was quite the entrepreneur and paid me nothing but convinced me of the joy of working for free, to running a concession stand at the age of 10 with my brothers and sister, slinging ice cream at 16 and scrubbing hotel toilets at 17, I did it all, and truly enjoyed every minute, including the cash.