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Teens keen for green
By Jessica Yadegaran

Posted on Wed, Aug. 17, 2005

THEY SERVE YOU breakfast and teach your kids to swim. Some of them even fix your computers.

And whether it's a summer stint as a lifeguard or a year-round retail job, many teens seem to love their jobs.

They work for various reasons -- to stay out of trouble, boost college applications -- but the most common one for local teens is simple: They need the cash.

"The reason . . . teenagers work is still for necessities rather than niceties," says Renée Ward, founder of, an online career center much like

Clothes, movies, first cars and the gas to fuel them. Last year, the job site polled 3,000 teenagers about employment, and more than half said they work to help pay for college or other expenses. The most common teen jobs are in retail, casual dining and offices.

Thuy Nguyen, of Bay Point, conducts consumer surveys for Maritz Market Research in Concord. The 16-year-old interviews up to 300 people a day over the phone. Seventy-five percent of her co-workers are teenagers, Thuy says.

"Teenagers are good employees because they're looking for shorter hours and part-time jobs. And they don't have the demands that older employees have," says Douglas Beima, general manager of Walnut Creek's California Pizza Kitchen, which employees teenage hosts and food runners.

But just because they want to work doesn't mean the opportunities are always there. Only 42 percent of those ages 16 to 19 found paying jobs in 2004, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Why? An increase in immigrants and older retirees in the work force who are interested in busing tables and greeting customers at Wal-Mart, Ward says.
But this is an entrepreneurial generation. Some have skills teenagers of 20 or even 10 years ago didn't have, and they know how to market them. Look around: Computer geeks make house calls. Deejays spin at bar mitzvahs. Career-minded? Local heavyweights such as Lawrence Livermore Laboratory hand-select teens for paid internships.

Still, for those who find employment and work year-round, finding time to study can be a challenge. Most teens say it's just a matter of time management. Translation: staying up late to do homework.

Sara Layton, a sales associate at Macy's Concord, tries to be as flexible as she can during the summer months. That way, when she requests time off for theater rehearsals this fall, her manager will be happy to oblige.

If all else fails, Sara, 17, says: "I have to live with giving up my weekends to work."

Brian Rower, a Cal Poly sophomore who uses the money from his computer business to make student loan payments, has the luxury of making his own hours. For him, school will always come first.

After all, Rower says, "I'm paying for it, right?"

Macy's sales associate, Concord
Name: Sara Layton, of Richmond
Age: 17
Pay: $7.25 an hour
Hours: 20 per week

Duties: Sara works in the petites department, ringing up customers, cleaning out fitting rooms and returning clothes to racks. "We call it the dump," she says. "I never knew so many clothes existed."

Perks: A 20 percent employee discount. She's scored jeans for $8.

Why work? To pay for senior year events. Pinole Valley High School has no fewer than seven.

Maintenance man, Oakland
Name: Taylor Jensen, of Lafayette
Age: 18
Pay: $15 an hour
Hours: 40 per week

Duties: Whatever needs cleaning or fixing in a commercial art building, Taylor takes care of it.

Perks: Meeting artists, such as the late ceramist Peter Voulkos. And: "Learning skills that I won't have to hire somebody to do when I get my own house someday."

Why work? This fall at UC Santa Cruz, Taylor will pay for food and mountain-biking, which means road trips to Whistler and replacing broken parts.

Computer technician, Walnut Creek
Name: Brian Rower, of Walnut Creek
Age: 18
Pay: $15 an hour
Hours: 10 per week

Duties: Self-employed, Brian makes house calls fixing computers, installing Windows and removing Spyware.

Perks: Resume booster. Brian is a computer science major at Cal Poly, and hopes to land a programming job out of college. Or, if the business takes off ...
Why work? Saving up for a car. After that, student loan payments, which kick in next year. "It makes it a lot easier on them (my parents) if I help."

Rocco's Pizza hostess, Walnut Creek
Name: Kara Hearn, of Walnut Creek
Age: 16
Pay: $7 an hour, plus tips
Hours: 13 per week

Duties: Answer phones, seat guests, fill takeout orders, make salads and desserts, refill drinks, clear tables and assemble pizza boxes.

Perks: A constant stream of friends and family in the restaurant. The 50 percent discount is a plus, not to mention taking home "mistake" pizzas.

Why work? Gas money. Kara's getting her first car next month. "I might have to pay for part of the car, too," she says.

Peer educator, Health Initiatives for Youth, Oakland
Name: Steven Olivas, of Castro Valley
Age: 15
Pay: $8 an hour
Hours: 15 per week

Duties: Through this San Francisco-based nonprofit group, Steven talks to teens about sex, relationships and depression. In the fall, he will speak at high schools and conduct workshops.

Perks: The program incorporates a study hour, which has helped boost Steven's grades, and also counts as community service. Plus, it's helped him find his calling: psychology.

Why work? Two firsts -- pocket money and motivation. "I like talking about these subjects because I've seen them myself," Steven says. "Every teenager has stress. I just happen to know how to handle it, and want to help others."

Video Cinema clerk, Oakley
Name: Sean Castillo, of Oakley
Age: 17
Pay: $7.25 an hour
Hours: 20 per week

Duties: Runs cash register, cleans and repairs DVDs, restocks shelves and recommends movies. "I obviously wouldn't tell a retired Vietnam veteran to rent an art-house movie," Sean says.

Perks: Unlimited free movies. "The whole video store is my movie library," says Sean, who's considering a cinema studies minor at San Francisco State this fall.

Why work? To pay for clothes, gas, half of car insurance and his gym membership.

Lifeguard, Pleasanton
Name: Alicia Young, of Pleasanton
Age: 17
Pay: $10.50 an hour ($30 for a half-hour swim lesson)
Hours: 25 per week

Duties: Alicia watches the pool at the Castlewood Country Club, enforcing rules and performing light first aid. "I haven't had to hop in the pool and save someone yet," she says. She also gives swim lessons, which pays $30 per half-hour, or, as Alicia looks at it, a dollar a minute.

Perks: Free food from the club's grill. "It's rewarding because it combines my love of swimming with love of being with kids," she says.

Why work? To help pay her college tuition this fall at Pepperdine University. Her goal is to contribute $3,000.


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