Matthew Reich, who graduated in May from Illinois State University with a degree in finance, confessed to being anxious on the first day of his summer job with the Forest Park’s public works department back in 2009.
“When I first started working for Public Works,” he recalled, “At first, it was a little intimidating working among others who had over twenty years of experience.”
He needn’t have worried. “This intimidation was unfounded,” he explained, “as they were a friendly group that respected my work ethic and didn’t get too mad if I made a mistake. Working alongside a fun group of co-workers was a reason why I worked for the Public Works as long as I could [2009-2012].”
Most of Forest Park’s returning college students working at local summer jobs, to help pay for the staggering cost of post-high school education now days, remarked on how their co-workers are a big reason they keep coming back to the same job summer after summer.
Reich said “Overall, the best part of the job was in the wake of the massive floods a few years back. We went into several residents’ flood damaged basements to assist in removing damaged items. Many of the residents were elderly and greatly appreciated the efforts we put in. One resident was so thankful she even attempted to tip a co-worker and me, which we refused.”
Joe Crawford, who will be starting his third year of schooling at Triton College to be a personal trainer, is in his fifth year of life guarding at the Forest Park Aquatic Center. He fondly remembers his first year at the pool. “It literally was a completely new thing,” he said. “It was my first job. During our training I met the guy who would become my best friend. The moment we met we clicked. The pool brought me a lot more friends in my home town.”
He said that in school he is wound up with work, but at the pool he can be silly and joke around a little more with the staff, who are mostly around his age. He’s even got family around. Joe’s brother Anthony, who is now the head life guard at the pool and will be starting his last year as a kinesiology major at UIC was the first one to wear a shark suit which the Park had purchased for guards to wear and act as a kind of mascot. “I was bare foot and really clumsy,” he recalled. “I almost fell a couple times.”
Staff members at both the pool and village day camps tend to get along so well that they often hang out together after work. Adam Forsythe, who is taking classes at Morton College and is a counselor the teen program at the Park District of Forest Park, said, “It feels like an extended family.”
Max Puente is in his first year as a counselor at the Forest Park Community Center’s day camp. He has serious goals. The nineteen year old is a criminal justice and sociology major at Bradley University, is a member of ROTC and will begin an eight year hitch in the Army as a second lieutenant when he graduates. One thing he enjoys about his summer job is rough housing with the kids when they go to the pool. “They like to jump on me and try to dunk me in the water,” he said with a smile. “It’s nice to be a little kid every once in awhile.”
Sometimes camp counselors observe the children doing extraordinary acts of kindness and compassion. Jessica Dylewski, a nursing major at St. Francis University, told the story of an experience they had during a day camp field trip to a bowling alley. “One of our special needs campers actually bowled a strike,” she said. “When the kids on the other lanes saw what he had done, they ran over, patted him on the back and lifted him up in celebration.”
Emily Dorian majors in music and biology at Rochester University during the school year and is scooping ice cream this summer at the Brown Cow. For her the best experiences have been with her customers. “When a person comes in and asks how the staff is doing, even when there is a line out the door and around the corner, that is the person that truly makes my night,” she said.
“Serving the groups of old ladies are my favorite,” she added. “They’re always so excited to be coming in and terribly nice when they’re ordering. They all comment on how grand their friend’s ice cream looks and their jaws drop every time one of them orders one of our glamorous root beer floats.”
The work in these summer jobs, however, isn’t all fun and games. Brian Powers, a counselor at the Community Center’s day camp who once was a camper there himself, said, “A lot of my friends say, ‘oh you work with kids, what an easy job.’ They have no idea. A lot of the kids we get haven’t seen their birth mother or birth father ever. A lot of them are living with a single parent.
“It seems like we have a big responsibility just trying to guide these kids along. Kind of like a teacher or an older sibling, when we see them doing something that’s not right, we tell them why it’s wrong. We just try to guide them help them make the right decisions.”
The students gave much of the credit for the good work environments they enjoy to their bosses: Park Director Larry Piekarz, Community Center Director Karen Dylewski, John Doss, head of Public Works and Brown Cow’s Connie Brown.
Dorian’s embarrassing moment turned into a funny memory for the Brown Cow temp. She was working the cash register one evening with a “crazy long line” of customers when one of them was searching for the exact amount of change in her purse. When Dorian saw the bills in the woman’s hands she typed that amount into the register. Then, when the customer produced coins, Dorian typed in the new amount without deleting the first number.
“Accidentally I had told the register she was giving me a thousand some dollars instead of a twenty and some coins,” she said. “When the amount popped up on the screen in front of the register, the customer and those with her began to laugh. I had to think the rest of that one out of my head.”
Many of the college students laughed when they told about experiences which were embarrassing or even scary when they happened. Joe Crawford remembered the time he threw a colleague in the pool as was the staff’s rite of initiation custom with first year guards. In the process, however, she hit her head on the pool deck and required first aid.
When he realized what had happened, he had “a sinking feeling.” “Oh God,” he thought, “I just injured a new guard. I’m going to get fired. I pictured saying good bye to all my friends. Thankfully, it wasn’t too serious, and a week later she and I were laughing about it. All in all it was a pretty bad-funny experience.”