Why we hire High School interns

Posted by Taylor Barkin on

The opportunity first came to us to hire a high school intern almost 2 years ago. 
To be honest, we were hesitant to bring on a high school intern, let alone more than one, when we were approached by the Denver Public Schools Program. Now I can say that it’s one of the best things we’ve ever done since starting our business. 
We have the option to hire employees or to train, mentor, and guide interns that cycle through every few months. Even though the workload often doubles for us to train and mentor interns, we find a lot of value in having them around. Not just for us, but for them as well. 
Many of the interns we take on have a very different upbringing than we did. We grew up in a well off community where most kids had things handed to them. Even though we grew up in this community, Tanner and I were always taught to work damn hard for our money and to earn our own success and opportunities.
I wanted to get an internship in high school so badly! I didn’t even want money, I just wanted to be a part of something cool; to grow my skills and build my experience in business. My school didn’t offer such opportunities so I cold called companies to give me a FREE internship the second I got my drivers license. Much to my surprise, they all told me no. They wanted a college level intern which honestly dampened my spirits but also is probably the reason we started our own business as 16 year olds. 
I had one internship in college, which was incredibly valuable, but I wish I would’ve just been given the chance when I was the most eager to learn, and for free. 
The second we stepped out of the interviews, we found ourselves struggling with who we were going to bring on our team because the talent was so great and the eagerness was so strong. So we took multiple, knowing we would have to take on the responsibility of mentoring them and paying them. 
Honestly we didn’t know what to expect. Much to our surprise, these kids were absolutely incredible.
They are a huge help to us but more importantly, it means a lot to both of us to have the chance to mentor them where we can. Many of these students come from low income households whose parents work incredibly hard doing manual labor to make ends meet. They haven’t been educated about business so we try hard day in and day out to involve them in our operations to give them lessons that they might not learn until college, if ever. 
We give our interns loans for their business ventures as they express interest because sometimes the biggest barrier is the motivation to get started and the funds for their initial run of products. We open our shop up after hours for the students to make any product they want. They just have to finance the cost of their products. We provide the space and equipment for them to make them. It is our goal that they have gotten the tools they need to create any product they want in our shop. Initial barriers to entry when starting a business are high so it’s important for us to teach them to use their resources as they have them so that they have the confidence to do a dream project of their own. Not everyone wants to do independent projects on their own, but if they do, we open our doors so they can do so. 
Many of our high school interns will become the first in their family to attend college. To me, college was the path I knew I would take and I had my parents and sister to guide me through the process no problem. To them, it’s an entirely new experience that is damn scary. They don’t know where to start once they get accepted. We’re here to respond to them on a Friday night when they have anxiety about where to start when navigating their first semester. 
We’re here to hire them as a part of our team when their internship is over and they don’t know what the next opportunity might be for them. 
We’re here when they need to talk, or to give them a mental health day because of normal teenage anxiety that we have all gone through. 
We’re here when they need to escape their home life. 
We’re here to give them a good meal after a hard days work. 
We’re here to give them a place to come after school to do homework, projects, or to simply say hi; so they don’t go do something that might get them in trouble. 
We’ll stay late and talk about life if their parents can’t pick them up on time. 
We’re here to be someone they can confide in but also give them tough love as we teach them that life and work isn’t always easy. 
We’re here to listen to them. It’s simple but it’s often something these kids don’t receive from their peers, parents, or teachers. 
We’re here to push them far out of their comfort zone. I struggled to speak up in class until my last semester of college because nobody really pushed me passed my comfort zone of public speaking and speaking in front of my peers. We encourage them to attend events to not only learn how to sell their work as artists but also to do something as simple as talking to people and putting themselves out there. They might feel uncomfortable in the moment but we know they will thank us later, as I did my theater teacher that made me speak up in class. 
We’re here to provide them with the opportunity to work and make money while building their resume so that they can pay for their car when it breaks down, to pay to take their date to prom, or to simply eat a good meal away from home with their friends. 
A high school internship goes beyond a paycheck. It’s changing the lives of those who are willing to work probably harder than anyone for you. 
We recently found out that we were receiving an award from Denver Public Schools for our involvement in the lives of those that intern with us. It was never our intention to receive an award, we didn’t even know it was a thing honestly, we just wanted to give low income students opportunities that we never had growing up. We commend Denver Public Schools for their dedication to educating these young individuals and we encourage business owners as they can to embrace high school interns with open arms because you never know who’s life you might change. It might even be your own. 

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