Up to the Task
Part-time jobs abound in Fairfield
Teens like Chloe Ruehl often greet customers at Fairfield’s local stores, like Testo’s Greenfield Hill Deli and Market, which does a bustling business in prepared foods, specialty sandwiches, and groceries.
Photo by Ryan Lavine
The next time you walk into a Fairfield business, chances are you’ll interact with a teenager working a part-time job.
In fact, several local establishments readily take on these junior members of the workforce. From Wakeman Boys & Girls Club, which hires teens as young as 15, to restaurants like The Little Pub, to places like Wild Birds Unlimited, ShopRite, The Studio, and the Sportsplex/Field House, Fairfield’s teens are working all over town, throughout the year—all the while eager to please, and ready to learn.
Seventeen-year-old Chloe Ruehl started her job at Testo’s Greenfield Hill Deli and Market when she was 16 with the goal of making spending money and preparing for her future.
“Working allows me to earn my own money and not rely on my family,” says the senior at Fairfield Warde High School. Ruehl, who puts in three part-time days a week during the school year, has many duties at the market, including manning the cash register, preparing salads, running the hot food bar, making coffee and smoothies, and cleaning. “I wanted to learn how to handle money as a teenager, since this skill is something that I know will help me through college and my adult years,” she says.
But having a job teaches teens more than just financial know-how. Employment gives them a lesson in accountability, shows them how to effectively communicate, and collaborate with people who are not their peers.
M.J. DeMartin, a 2017 graduate of Fairfield Warde, is part of the ShopRite staff when he’s not attending classes at Norwalk Community College. He says working at the grocery store is very busy. “It’s the type of place where I have to learn to deal with all kinds of customers. But the best part of working there is having lots of great managers and co-workers, seeing customers every day, and having that social aspect.”
Parents may worry that a job will take the place of studying, or soak up time for extra-curricular activities. Nineteen-year-old Fairfielder Kate McManus says the opposite was actually true for her. “Working truly helped me budget my time better,” admits McManus, who was part of the start-up team at Wild Birds Unlimited on Black Rock Turnpike when the store opened during her senior year in high school. McManus, who continues to work a part-time job while studying at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania, and returns to Wild Birds during her breaks, says “my schedule was flexible, so I was still really involved in HS activities, like playing sports and volunteering. Plus, at Wild Birds, I got useful experience learning how a new business is launched—and that was fascinating.”
“Do it with intention, and do it well,” is the advice Henry DelAngelo, a counselor at Joel Barlow High School in Redding and the founder of Your Key to College, gives to teens looking to find a job. He says colleges understand that many students need to work to help contribute to their college costs. While sports, clubs, and volunteering are all important to becoming a well-rounded student, DelAngelo explains that colleges are actually striving for a well-rounded class. A college applicant’s part-time job is “looked at very highly. Colleges are seeking leadership qualities in their applicants, not necessarily leadership titles. Having responsibility is a great thing, as is following directions, and interacting with others both older and younger.”
Ben Levy, a counselor at Fitts House at Fairfield Warde High School, echoes DelAngelo’s wisdom. “My colleagues and I have always supported students holding part-time jobs,” he says. “The skills they learn are invaluable—in both the educational setting, as well as real world experiences.”
So, what’s it like to work alongside these teens? Chris Petherick, owner of Wild Birds Unlimited, says that his teen staffers lend a special dynamic to the store environment.
“We really enjoy having teens work here,” he says. “Many times this is their first job. So, they need to learn there are responsibilities to working—for example, being on time, and not using your phone. We have a teen training now, and our goal is to always have at least one high school or college student on staff. It’s fantastic for our customers to see a whole age-range of people working here.”
Christine Orlando and Priscilla Igram, co-owners of The Studio in downtown Fairfield also find their young staffers refreshing. They help with setting up and cleaning up. But they also brainstorm new projects, and assist with tasks that come naturally to them, such as social media. “We like the young energy with our kids in the studio,” says Orlando. “Our students relate well to the teen teachers. It ends up being everyone’s happy place.”