The sound of laughter is heard as young children walk into the shoe and clothing store Journeys at the Westfield Topanga mall and ask employee Alex Arreola ’15 for light-up shoes and Heelys.
She gets them fitted and laced, and the kids’ faces light up simultaneously with the shoes. “It’s adorable,” Arreola said. “It’s a family-friendly mall so we get a bunch of children. During a regular four-hour shift, it happens two to three times.”
Arreola started the job in August after being asked to apply by the manager while she herself was buying shoes.
“I thought he was joking,” Arreola said. “I didn’t apply immediately, but since I live near the mall, I would see him, and he would ask me why I hadn’t applied yet. I ended up applying because I wanted some extra money.”
She now works approximately four times a week in four- to six-hour shifts, making $9 an hour plus commission.
According to the United States Department of Labor, around 30 percent of teens 16 to 19 years old were employed last summer. Arreola is part of this student force, working for extra money, to gain work experience or just for fun.
Arreola said that she meets a lot of people she would never otherwise get to know and has grown as a person.
“You gain a lot of really good friends,” Arreola said. “You gain confidence because you have to talk to a bunch of people.”
Other students have actively searched for jobs to indulge their interests and to get a feel for potential career paths. Ben Winters ’16 has been exploring a potential career in medicine by training in lifeguarding and CPR for more than five years.
Winters works at the Santa Monica Swim Center as a temporary lifeguard who fills in when other lifeguards are sick during the summer and on weekends, but he plans to secure a more stable spot during Spring Break. In addition, he has done endurance training with the Junior Lifeguards of Santa Monica over the past summers.
Winters is CPR certified, lifeguard certified and has a basic first-aid license.
“My father is a doctor so I’ve always had an interest,” Winters said. “Helping people in a great time of need is very rewarding for me. It’s empowering knowing that you can help someone with a few actions in a split second.”
Winters recalled one of his encounters with crisis on the job as “scary.”
“There was a male in a water polo match, and he stopped swimming and participating in the game,” Winters said. “The lifeguard on duty saw that he started to become a distressed swimmer and hyperventilate. He was having an asthma attack. We ran the highest emergency code, and I ran out with an oxygen tank, and we put the breather mask on him. He never lost consciousness.”
Winters plans to switch from swim instructing and pool lifeguarding to county lifeguarding this summer, which means that he would work at beaches such as Leo Carrillo, north of Malibu.
Winters said that he makes more than double the minimum wage.
“Having a job has given me more financial independence, and I now look at spending money in terms of time spent working,” Winters said. “For example, after eating at a restaurant with some friends I see the check as one and a half hours spent working, which puts the true value of money in perspective.”
Clara McCarthy ’15 started working for retail clothing company Tilly’s in Santa Monica last summer to pay for a trip to visit a friend.
“I worked a lot longer than I needed to after I earned the money,” McCarthy said. “I was making minimum wage at the time, which was $8 in July. I continued working because getting a paycheck was independence for me. I could do anything I wanted with it.”
McCarthy’s family was not as supportive of her decision to continue working into the school year, and she quit her job after a “hectic” Black Friday.
“A lot of people yelled at me,” McCarthy said. “It was probably my worst day. I worked nine hours and people kept yelling at me.”
McCarthy said that she has learned many skills from her job that she wouldn’t have anywhere else.
“My best day was when they taught me how to use the cash register,” McCarthy said. “I had been waiting for a long time, and they thought I was too young, and it was so frustrating. I was really good at it. It’s an easier way to talk to customers and it creates an environment that facilitates conversation.”
Arreola said that it is hard to juggle school, a job and a social life.
“On weekends it’s easy to handle working a shift and doing homework the rest of the day,” Arreola said. “If I want to hang out with my friends, I have to ask for a day off just to get everything done. But on the days that I have to go to school and then straight to work, and have school the next day, the quality of my work suffers.”
Arreola said it is still worth it for her to have a say in how she spends money.
“You gain a certain sense of maturity,” Arreola said. “You can say, ‘I have my own job. I can do this, this, and that.’”