Palo Alto mother of three Janet Shah wanted her kids to develop a sense of the value of money and to gain work experience, but she saw few opportunities.
The first lesson she demonstrated was taking the initiative. Shah created an app called TeenJobFind in August 2017. Midpeninsula residents can post odd jobs for teenagers such as gardening, washing cars and assisting with technology on the app. Teens can view all of the job listings and choose what works best for them according to their schedules.
Kids today don't have the time for a traditional job the way she did when growing up because of school pressure, Shah, who is the company founder and CEO, said.
TeenJobFind is open to youth as young as 13 — there isn't a work permit required for the jobs listed on the site. But teens must have a reference before they can register for the app. Their parents have to approve each job once they are notified, she said.
Community job posters must also comply with a mandatory seven-year criminal background check to see if they have ever been convicted or have pending cases for violent crimes, theft, felony, sexual or drug-related offenses. These measures help to ensure safety precautions are met before sending teens to people's homes, Shah said.
Pediatrician and Palo Alto resident Linda Faust, who uses the app along with her daughter, said she appreciates the safety and the lengths to which the app goes to keep parents informed and teens safe. The app is a great opportunity for teens with busy schedules, she added.
"These days, teens are very scheduled and don't have large amounts of free time," she said.
TeenJobFind also isn't just for teens. One of the biggest challenges Shah faces is getting parents to use it themselves, she said. Some adults are finding the app and taking advantage of all it has to offer.
Resident Lisa Bertelsen, who works as a communications consultant for startups, learned about the app last fall after moving back to Palo Alto from New York. She previously used a similar service and decided to give TeenJobFind a try, she said.
Bertelsen primarily uses the app to find babysitters. She is pleased with the teens she has hired so far and likes to support small businesses, she said. But she would like the ability to request sitters.
"It would be good to know which teens are available at any given time. Sometimes we just want to have an impromptu night out, which is hard to do because most Palo Alto kids have full schedules," she said.
TeenJobFind is also reaching people outside of Palo Alto's neighborhoods. Jayne Uberti, who lives in San Carlos, heard about the app through word of mouth eight months ago. She has lifting-and-bending restrictions due to a sports injury. The app helped her find teens to assist with household chores and cleaning. It was great seeing the fulfillment in the faces of teens who have come to her house, she said.
"The opportunity for them to earn money, to get the gratification of helping someone and completing a project ... that is a really great trade-off. They're happy to be here, and that makes all the difference in the world. I don't want someone who has to be here because they have to be here," she said.
Fraser Kelly, 15, discovered the app when she was 14 and has been using it ever since.
Kelly has done various jobs, including weed whacking, car washing and other duties, which she described as not typical, easy tasks.
"It's a fun experience because it's not like a 9-to-5 job. It seems like it's a chore but you're making money off it," she said.
The jobs are a great way to build work ethic for teens, Kelly added.
"This app is a really good introduction to real-world jobs."
She could see the app becoming a service for teens who are not old enough to legally get a job and a way to mentor and train them for future work, she added.
Shah said creating the app is gratifying. "I'm helping teach today's teenagers lessons that they will take with them for the rest of their lives."
She hopes to create a sense of community not only by helping teens with finding jobs, but by connecting everyone together, she added. She is pushing for the app to go national within three to five years.
"Everybody kind of wants that sense of community. This is bringing that back in a way that had been lost for quite some time," she said.