Teens making own job opportunities
By Gregory A. Patterson
Minneapolis Star Tribune
MINNEAPOLIS — If Janyesha Jackson hadn't co-founded the Express Yourself Clothing resale shop, she says, she might be working at Dairy Queen this summer. Business partner Kelsey Heider says she would be looking hard for a job.
Janyesha and Kelsey, along with Stella Richardson and Perquila Rogers, over the past 18 months conceived, planned and opened the resale shop two blocks from Central High School in St. Paul, Minn., where three of them are enrolled. They've all struggled to find employment in the past.
In the worst economy for teen jobs that almost anyone can remember, a new entrepreneurial spirit has emerged — some of it by necessity — that is being fueled by government and private agencies as well as by the desires of teens looking to make their own way in the world.
Teen unemployment topped 21 percent last summer, and with so many adults taking jobs normally reserved for youths, this year's summer jobs picture may be only slightly better, state officials say.
Even Junior Achievement — the time-honored teen business icon — is getting into the act, again. For the first time in 16 years, the Minneapolis-area JA unit is offering the business start-up program that made it famous.
In partnership with Best Buy's Geek Squad, JA is helping students from Edison High School in Minneapolis start a business. They're writing and planning to sell a cookbook with all the diverse recipes, flavors and tastes found at the polyglot high school.
JA's effort, in part, is a response to a national survey the organization commissioned last year. It found that 51 percent of teens would like to start their own businesses, says Gina Blayney, president of Junior Achievement of the Upper Midwest.
Other organizations are also filling the void, including Youth Express, the nonprofit agency that has guided and sponsored the clothing store initiative. It's an example of social entrepreneurship, a way of doing business while doing good.
That trend has been underway a number of years but only recently has reached out to teens, says Mary Karen Lynn-Klimenko, director of Minneapolis-based Sundance Family Foundation, which has been funding such ventures.
"Instead of finding jobs, they start their own," Lynn-Klimenko said.
That's what Mohamed Jama is planning for a coffee cart business that will provide jobs for 10 teenagers living in and near the Riverside Plaza towers in Minneapolis.
Mohamed, 16, a sophomore at the Ubah Medical Academy charter school in Hopkins, Minn., says he and a group of upstart entrepreneurs thought a coffee shop would be a good idea so their parents wouldn't have to go far from their housing complex to get coffee and to talk.
The coffee cart, which will open this summer in the Brian Coyle Community Center, is the first step. A full-fledged coffee shop is next on the agenda.
"Our community does not have a lot of employment for youth," Mohamed said.
Mohamed's group is learning through a Pillsbury United Communities business program that is teaching them about prices, menus and job descriptions, said Jennifer Blevins, director of the center.
"We're not taking any step without the youth leading the way," she said.