Before I get started on today’s column I want to let everyone know about a wonderful new development involving Hall County Schools. Earlier this spring, writer Tack Cornelius and I each submitted columns bemoaning the lack of speech and debate programs in local high schools. I’m thrilled to report that next year Johnson High School will offer just such a class, led by veteran teacher Charity Wang. Kudos, Knights!
Now, for the column:
Each year, the fourth Tuesday in April is Take Your Daughter and Son to Work Day. It is estimated that more than 37 million children and adults took part in this year’s event at over 3.5 million work sites nationwide.
As I went through my shopping day last Tuesday, I kept an eye out for evidence of shining young faces in the workplace but saw nary a one. At least not at the retail stores where my travels took me. Perhaps the corporate world is more accommodating.
I joked to Rachel that she could miss school and spend the day in my shop but she politely declined. After all, when our girls were little, every day was Take Your Daughter to Work Day.
One if my prime motivations for opening a small business in 1986 was so I could keep baby Molly, then 9 months old, with me. Along with purchasing a cash register and a clothing steamer for the new shop, I invested in a playpen to sit beside the checkout counter.
For four years Molly was my sidekick, greeting customers and making countless little friends throughout the day. As soon as she could talk, her opening question to any new child in the shop was, “What songs do you know?” The resulting songfests were always adorable.
She and her sister learned early on to entertain themselves since the growing business often demanded much of my attention. They also learned to count change, speak some Spanish, behave in public and treat others with respect. Not for an instant have I ever regretted bringing them to work with me.
Of course, the poster child for kids in the workplace is Caine Monroy. He’s the 9-year-old who spent last summer in his father’s East Los Angeles auto parts store. Complaining that he was bored, he asked his father to buy a claw machine like one he enjoyed playing in the local arcade. His father wisely declined and suggested he build one himself.
Thus challenged, Caine created a homemade claw machine using a metal hook and some yarn. He also built a soccer game and ring toss.
Soon there was an entire wall of cardboard games complete with prizes and tickets. He priced them at two plays for a dollar or a fun pass, good for 500 plays, for $2. Now all he needed was customers.
In one of those wonderful happenstances that makes life so grand, independent filmmaker Nirvan Mullick wandered in looking for a car part. Charmed by both Caine and the arcade, he bought a fun pass and stayed to play. Saddened to learn that he was Caine’s only customer, he asked permission to make a short film about the arcade.
Then, using social media like Facebook, Twitter and Reddit, he planned a Sunday for all of Los Angeles to come and play at the arcade.
And play they did. A huge crowd turned out, the video (cainesarcade.com) went viral and, within days, a scholarship fund link had produced more than $100,000 for Caine’s education and matching funds for a foundation to foster entrepreneurship among other kids as well.
I’m usually a tough sell but even I tossed in a few bucks. I figure it’s a good investment in the future.
Now Caine’s in the spotlight. Last weekend, his entire arcade was loaded onto a truck and taken to San Francisco, where it was featured at the Exploratorium, an interactive science museum. He’s been asked to speak to business classes at USC. There are talks of a full-length movie and every imaginable permutation of fame and glory are clamoring for his attention.
Just as his father was wise enough to encourage him to entertain himself last summer, I hope he can now finds ways deflect the glare of all this publicity so his child can continue to be the adorable, creative soul featured in the video.
I also hope all parents take to heart the lessons of “Caine’s Arcade” — the best toy is not always the most expensive one. Idle time is not always time wasted. It’s also fertile soil for the seeds of creativity and imagination.
And of course, keep an eye out for the biggest cardboard box you can find. Present it to your kids along with some markers, scissors and a roll of packing tape. Then prepare to be amazed.
Teressa Glazer is a Gainesville businesswoman. Her column appears biweekly on Fridays and at gainesvilletimes.com/viewpoint.