What I Learned from Work
By Emma Kilroy
I used to attend a Christian girls’ camp called Camp Hickory Hill in upstate New York, at the invitation of my cousins, who live in Rochester. Each summer I would make the six hour drive from central Pennsylvania to spend two weeks of cabin living, canoeing, campfires, and rock climbing. When my cousins and I turned 16 and graduated from the age limit for campers, becoming counselors seemed like the next logical step so that we could keep coming back. Room and board was free in exchange for supervising a cabin full of younger girls, and I was paid an additional $25 per week. It wasn’t much, but because it was my first job ever, this paycheck was a source of great joy for me. I couldn’t believe I was being paid to send more time in a place I loved. The other counselors that I worked with were all from the Rochester and Buffalo areas, and saw each other a lot when summer ended. I was the only staff member from another state, as well as the only non-born-again Christian, and I got a lot of questions about Pennsylvania and about Catholicism, but I always felt so welcomed by the incredible community formed by the staff and campers at Hickory Hill.
For the summer before I entered my senior year of high school, because I was hired at Bamboo Frozen Yogurt Café. Located just fifteen-minutes from my house, I was able to drive myself to work, three times a week. My duties at the froyo store included greeting customers and answering their questions about the self-serve process, weighing and ringing up their yogurt creations,
keeping the dining area clean by sweeping and wiping down tables as needed, and refilling the yogurt machines and toppings bar. The owners and managers of Bamboo were three couples who had met and become friends as church. They opened Bamboo about a year before I started working there, right in the middle of the frozen yogurt craze. I remember driving past when the store initially opened, and seeing lines of customers out the door. When I was hired, the boom had died down, and some days were extremely slow, especially in the winter. Only three or four people were needed to work a shift, so I usually worked between 15 and 20 hours a week at minimum wage, $7.25 per hour. I didn’t mind the low hours, because it was my first steadily paying job. Every other Tuesday I got to pick up my check and drive to the bank to deposit it in my account, and I liked when the teller would ask if it was a payroll check, and I would answer yes.
I worked at Bamboo up until I left for my freshman year of college at Fordham University. During winter break I emailed my boss, asking if I could work during the month that I was home, but she replied that business had been too slow to add anyone else to the shift schedule. When I returned home for the summer after the school year ended, I decided to look for a job where I could work more hours. My best friend Victoria worked for our local Chipotle Mexican Grille, and told me that they were hiring. Through her recommendation, I got an interview with the manager and was hired almost immediately. I was really excited because Chipotle is an extremely popular chain; I would start working between 25 and 30 hours a week, but eventually I would be working almost forty, especially toward the end of summer when other employees started leaving for college again. I was also being paid a full $1.25 more per hour than I had made the previous summer, and I was working with my best friend. In contrast to the shifts that dragged by in an empty Bamboo Frozen Yogurt, Chipotle was always fast-paced, especially during peak hours at lunch and dinnertime.
I’m an environmental studies major, and one reason that I enjoyed working at Chipotle is because the company has very high food standards. Most or all of the produce is sourced from local farms who don’t use artificial fertilizers or GMOs. Likewise, the meat is local, free-range, and hormone-free. As a consumer, I thought that these policies were great because Chipotle’s popularity has created a higher demand for environmentally healthy food, and as the restaurant has grown, more farms have switched to environmentally friendlier practices to meet Chipotle’s requirements. As an employee, I was pleased to see that these standards were not an exaggeration or marketing technique, but actually upheld: we received weekly shipments from farms whose names I recognized from driving past them on the highway. All of the produce was freshly prepared daily. I was involved in unpacking, washing, and dicing vegetables, and I saw the meat prepared on the grill.
Another one of Chipotle’s policies is employee empowerment. Everyone who worked there was so friendly to me from the minute I started, and every staff member taught me something. I went through basic training, but after that I was always given constant, positive feedback from my managers and peers, who also taught me tricks of the job. I was encouraged to try to solve problems on my own, to make mistakes and learn from them, and to use what I learned to empower others. During the first month I could not figure out how to roll a burrito. They always turned out horribly messy. No one ever ran over and told me to stop rolling burritos, but almost everyone took turns showing me how they did it, and eventually I got the hang of it. It was always a positive and uplifting atmosphere.