In the photo, a 12-year old boy is holding up a nice-looking cucumber for his father to admire. They’re standing in front of Wilson’s Dollar Stores in Winthrop, where his dad worked. The boy (who, I admit, is me) sold vegetables from his 4-H garden at a table in front of Wilson’s on Saturday mornings, before getting on his bike to make deliveries all over town in the afternoon.
I was a budding entrepreneur, for sure.
Within a couple of years, other businesses, including lawn mowing, were added to my summer routine, and still later, in high school, I started working in the store. I loved waiting on customers, but my favorite job was roasting the peanuts and cashews — a job I lost when they discovered I was eating the profits!
I learned a lot about business, customer service, sales and marketing — all of which were important to every job I’ve had since then — and gained a ton of self-confidence.
Child labor can be good. And child labor can be bad.
Let’s start with the bad. Gov. Paul LePage is attempting to loosen Maine’s restrictions on how much time during the school year students can work. It does nothing good for a kid to allow him or her to work longer hours at a minimum-wage job, while neglecting his or her education and other in-and-out-of-school activities. I’m thinking about music, sports, church, chores, 4-H, scouts — so much for a kid to do, so little time. And of course, they need a lot of sleep.
They also need time to be kids — to hang out with friends — to hunt, fish, enjoy pick-up basketball games, swim, bike and so much more. We ought not to rush them into adulthood.
While some of those after-school jobs can be teaching and learning experiences, more is not usually better. They are often dead-end, depressing, boring jobs, shunned by adults. Is this really where we want our kids to spend their time and energy?
There is a better way, something that creates young entrepreneurs capable of launching their own businesses — just what we need for a more prosperous Maine future.
Last week, we taped a “Wildfire” TV show with Kate Krukowski Gooding, whose Build A Biz program teaches kids how to start their own businesses, make money and have fun. The program offers real-world experience, competitions, scholarships and much more. The show is produced by Maine Audubon and aired on the Time Warner cable station and on Audubon’s website.
Initially, we’d booked Gooding for the show to talk about her wild game cookbooks. I’d seen her on stage at the Harvest Festival in Bangor last fall, cooking curried beaver stew — which, incidentally, was delicious.
And while we did talk about food with Gooding, co-host Harry Vanderweide and I were more interested in her Build A Biz Youth Entrepreneur Program, which in its last three years has attracted as many as 1,200 participants per year.
This program helps kids identify local needs and products, teaches them the skills needed to launch and maintain a successful business, and provides them with rewards and encouragement all along the way. Separate programs are offered for 5- to 9-year-olds, 10- to 18-year-olds, and parents and mentors.
Looking through the program’s website, www.buildabiz.me, I wish I was a kid again. Gooding makes it all fun. There’s the Elevator Pitch Competition, with the top five 90-second videos competing for scholarships and cash. There’s Build A Biz Day, scheduled for May 18 and celebrated statewide. There’s the Business Plan competition.
The Bliss Brownie Co. was named 2013 Maine Entrepreneur Business. Run by the Portland Boys and Girls Torch Club, coached by students at Jobs for Maine’s Graduates program, the kids sold their brownies at the University of Southern Maine, while collecting donations for the Good Shepherd Food Bank.
Throughout the year, Gooding travels the state, appearing at children’s museums and other places, to get kids involved in this amazing program.
This week is National Entrepreneurship Week, a good time to tackle this child labor issue in a positive way by supporting Build A Biz and a local young entrepreneur. I tried to do my part by offering Gooding the signs from that vegetable stand I had in front of Wilson’s (yes, I still have the signs), for a new young veggie seller. But she thought the “Tomatoes 3 for 10 cents” sign might offer a price that’s a tad too cheap these days. Another lesson learned.