A new web-based service developed in Lovettsville is laying the path for entrepreneurial students to start their own summer businesses in their own neighborhoods.
Leap Street began when Diana Greene, 11 years old at the time, decided to start babysitting.
“I found myself kind of in a position where I was the manager of her job, because people tend to approach things through parents now,” said Diana’s mother and the creator of Leap Street, Robin Greene. “I did a lot of babysitting growing up. I never coordinated my jobs through my parents. My mom was never like, ‘oh, you’re going to babysit for this person on this day.’”
So Robin looked around for a service that would help Diana run her own business, but none existed for teenage students.
“I really thought that there was an opportunity for us to come up with a way so that parents are not quite as involved and yet still feel safe with having their kids go do work in the community,” Greene said.
Leap Street provides a place where students and neighbors connect online to work and hire. Students need a parent to help them set up an account, which list the types of work the students do, and all their messaging online is available to the parent. Neighbors are subject to background checks, and can browse the profiles of Leap Street kids around them to find someone to watch the kids, mow the lawn, tutor, or anything else the students around them are offering.
“We’re encouraging students to really think about what their skills are, and how they might use them to make money,” Greene said. “I think because where we live here in western Loudoun, there aren’t as many businesses around here that kids can go walk to after school.” Greene said she feels students don’t know their neighbors as well as when she was a teenager, and that students now also have trouble scheduling their heavy academic, extracurricular, and sports calendars.
Most of the profiles right now are around Lovettsville and Purcellville.
“We’re up to about 200 users, and hopefully the more people that use the service, the more opportunity there is for everybody,” Greene said.
For her part, Diana found work at Heather Whitfield’s childcare service, Heather’s Kids. Whitfield said the website helps her “pick the needle out of the haystack” when she’s finding help.
“Diana was great,” Whitfield said. “I have to say, speaking for myself, I kind of tend to look at the younger generations as not having the same work ethic that I was instilled with. A lot of people have this idea that they’re entitled to things.”
Because she runs a childcare service, Whitfield is required by the Department of Social Services to conduct her own background checks. But she said having potential employee’s credentials on the website lets her have “an assurance that I’m going to get someone of good quality, even before the interview.”
Wesley Hope, a sophomore at Woodgrove High School, heard about Leap Street from some of his friends at lunch last year. They were signing up to make some money over the summer. To Wes, who will get his learner’s permit in January, it sounded like a great way to come up with some money for gas and for his snowboarding.
“It’s alright,” he said. “I mean, it feels better, since I’m getting money for it.”
He said his work experience through Leap Street gave him the motivation to get his new job at Great Country Farms. His stepfather, Joe Sorrell, who helped him set up his account, said Wes “owns the process.” Sorrell also did a test run of his own.
“I did some hiring of him through the site to see how the chatting goes back and forth, because every parent’s concern is about the safety,” Sorrell said. “When all of this online stuff comes out, and something new comes out, that’s the biggest question: how safe is it going to be for my children to be involved with that?”
Sorrell was pleased with what he found.
“I felt like I was just as involved as Wes was through the whole process,” Sorrell said. “I saw everything flowing through my email just like his. He can really do nothing without me knowing about it on the site.”
He also said he has seen the effects of the summer business on his stepson.
“I think that he’s definitely starting to see the light,” Sorrell said. “Even the importance of school for him is starting to hit home now that he’s a sophomore in high school. The seriousness that he’s taking in school now is much different.”
Robin Greene hopes she will eventually be able to connect her program to newly-mandated financial literacy classes in the schools. Diana, who just turned 16, is already learning those lessons. She said she’s been putting money into her savings account toward a car.
“It helped me better understand how I can manage my own money and make my own money, and I feel better connected with the people I work with, and I can make my own schedule to work with them and make money on my own time,” she said.
Learn more at leapstreet.org.