Turning a teenager's job into a mission

Here's a man who knows how to turn a summer job into a higher calling.

"You'll be able to impact a lot of lives," Jamie Blackwell told a crowd of teenagers gathered around his table at the Lenape Regional High School District's second annual job fair Monday. His table was by far the busiest at the fair, held at Lenape High School in Medford. You can read my story about the job fair by clicking here.

Blackwell sounds like he's polishing a halo, but he wasn't talking about an institution with some noble mission to make people healthier, or more educated. He was talking about jobs operating amusements and rides at the Funplex Center in Mt. Laurel, an amusement park. "For me, it's about making a lot of kids happy." Blackwell pointed to other employers at the job fair and told the teenagers that many of those jobs would provide a pay check, but working at Funplex would be much more satisfying.

Blackwell played a classic, right out of the motivate-your-employees handbook. We all work better when we can attach the mundane tasks that we do to a higher mission. What could be more satisfying than making kids happy?  But Blackwell did more than that, he promised these young people an opportunity to belong to a tribe, not just a miscellaneous gathering of people who happen to draw a check from the same establishment.

Ebullient, Blackwell had the teenagers eating out of his hand. He told them how, if they worked out, they could move into whatever line of work they like. "Do you like to take apart bumper cars? Would you like to work as a party planner?" And, he said, once they worked for him, they'd have a job, even after they left for college. One phone call, and he promised some hours on spring break or over the winter holiday. "You can make this into a high school career."

"How many of you have had jobs?" A small smattering of the students raised their hands.

"How many have never had a job," he asked. Either way was fine, but he had no problem with the completely inexperienced. "You know, that's good," he said. "You have no bad habits yet."

Blackwell said his organization employs about 80 year round, but in the summer he brings the ranks up to 250 to 275. Last year, he set up a table at the same job fair and hired 15 kids from it. "They were all good kids," he said.