Teens at Work: Paycheck for a Cause

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New Youth Connections, New York

I first learned the distinction between a Democrat and a Republican in second grade, when my teacher gave the class a simplified explanation. She told us that the Democratic Party supported education and the environment, and the Republican Party liked to fund the military. Since I loved my teacher and thought the Democrats would pay teachers more, I sided with the Democrats.

And although my arguments have gotten more sophisticated, I’ve been a Democrat ever since.

When my parents started bugging me about finding something to do in the summer of 2006, I found the answer in an ad from Grassroots Campaigns, an organization working to help Democrats win that fall’s elections. I called the group, set up an interview, and was hired to be one of the people on the street asking for donations to the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

On the first day, I was trained until I had my rap down pat. I received my official DNC T-shirt and set out for Union Square in Manhattan. It was about a million degrees outside. People were ignoring me as they passed by. I was nowhere near my daily quota of $120 and was preparing to give up.

That’s when a woman stopped and asked me what I was doing. I told her about [DNC Chairman] Howard Dean’s plan to raise money in big cities like New York and spend it in places where the Democrats weren’t as strong.

To which she responded, “Oh, I love Howard Dean.” She pulled out her checkbook and wrote me a check for what I thought was $25.

But when she handed me the check, I noticed that her thumb was covering an additional zero. The woman had spontaneously donated $250 to the DNC.

My heart skipped a beat. My week was saved. That one contribution gave me the pep in my step that I so desperately needed on that scorching day.

Of course, there were other days without a $250 contribution. Sometimes I’d get into conversations with rude and disgruntled people, and it was really a shot to my self-esteem. Sometimes people called me “commie” or “coward.” I came home every day drenched in sweat. I thought about quitting sometimes.

But as the weeks went on, I got better at delivering my speech. Eventually I could do it without stammering. I got used to standing on the street for five hours every day. I felt good helping a cause I’m truly passionate about. And I felt good when I got my first paycheck.

© 2007 Youth Communication/New York Center, www.youthcomm.org.