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Be a Mensch: Hire a Kid

It can seem impossible at times, imagining how small acts of goodness can possibly make a big difference in a world gone wild. But it does, and it has.
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November 24, 2021
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A few summers ago, when my son Finn was eleven, he delivered a handwritten flyer for his new business—“Finn’s Bins”—to every house on our block. Several older retired folks (and a few busy younger neighbors) hired him to haul their trash bins out to the curb on Thursday night and then roll them back up the driveway on Friday. Most of Finn’s customers signed up for the flyer’s “special deal”: four weeks of bin service for $15 (you saved a buck by booking the whole month). But one couple, Gary and Shari, booked the entire rest of the year. Finn couldn’t believe his luck. Then, at the end of that year, they booked another. Then another. Before he knew it, Finn was rolling in dough, thanks to rolling in bins for Gary and Shari.

Finn now refers to Gary and Shari as his long-standing clients. But they aren’t the only ones. Over the years, Finn and his older sister Reese have been employed by least a half-dozen of our neighbors. From babysitting toddlers, walking dogs and feeding chickens to pulling weeds, waxing cars and bringing in mail, my kids have gained valuable skill sets that might not make it onto their college applications, but have made them into the kind of people you’d want to spend an afternoon with—or at the very least, hire to water your hydrangeas.

From babysitting toddlers, walking dogs and feeding chickens to pulling weeds, waxing cars and bringing in mail, my kids have gained valuable skill sets that might not make it onto their college applications, but have made them into the kind of people you’d want to spend an afternoon with.

But it’s not just about acquiring a work ethic or the quick thinking needed to convince a wayward bunny to jump back into his hutch. The real gift my kids have been given by toiling in the neighborhood is best conveyed by something I’ve come to refer to as the White Envelope Effect. Every month, even during COVID, Gary and Shari would walk the eleven houses down our street holding hands sweetly and deliver Finn’s monthly salary to our mailbox: one crisp ten-dollar bill and one five-dollar bill enclosed in a small white envelope. On the front of the envelope each month, in Shari’s careful handwriting, there’s always a message for Finn.

Finn,
For September. Sure, it went fast! Good luck in school. Thanks for being consistent.

 Finn,
For October! Doing a good job. Happy Halloween! Thanks again.

And in May 2021, when Finn “graduated” from middle school while sitting in his bedroom on Zoom, there was still this bright light, along with an extra ten-dollar bill in the envelope:

Finn,
Thanks for May. A little extra for your next step in your educational walk.

What our neighbors have really given Finn and Reese by literally investing in them is the gift of community. Along with the chance to earn a few bucks of their own, these mensches have woven in with their tens and fives so much good intention, support and love. When Skip asks Finn to help wax his classic car, Finn is keenly aware he’s part of a privileged group deemed special enough to touch such a prize. When Heidi has him assist her with something in her garden, he has a chance to witness the magic of a green thumb up close and personal. And when he weeds eighty-year-old Sharon’s garden, he doesn’t just come home with a sore back, but also a treasure trove of stories from our street’s oldest resident.

What our neighbors have really given Finn and Reese by literally investing in them is the gift of community.

Over the years these relationships have become so much more than transactional. They have turned our block into sacred ground, a true village raising good humans, together. 

Gary and Shari can certainly roll out their own trash bins. Skip didn’t need to put a tub of carnauba into a ten-year old’s hands. Sharon has a gardener. But they—along with so many others in our community—made the decision to hire a kid, our kid. To get involved. To take the time to bother. And as these kids of ours get closer to leaving this community for college and the big wide world, I am more grateful than ever that their first steps were met with so much grace. I know it’s too much to wish for a world of white envelopes for these two precious people we’ve raised—my community and I—but just knowing that wherever they go and whatever they do, they take with them such love and care, is somehow enough.

It can seem impossible at times, imagining how small acts of goodness can possibly make a big difference in a world gone wild. But it does, and it has. Tikkun Olam can certainly be a charitable gift of millions, a social justice movement or buying an electric car. It can also be choosing to be a mensch when you can, making room at the table, smiling at a stranger, investing in the ten-year-old kid down the block who now knows what it’s like to be knitted tightly to a place, to be seen, to be counted on.

If that’s not repairing the world, I don’t know what is.


Geralyn Broder Murray is a Northern California-based writer whose work has appeared in Newsweek, USA Today and Shondaland. www.GeralynBMurray.com @GeralynBMurray

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