A 15-Year-Old’s First Job, A Second Family

Posted by: Isabel Dobrin
Posted: Jan 26, 2015

I'll never forget my first Yale Cleaners experience.

I walked in to one of the south Tulsa locations at 91st and Yale and asked timidly if I could see the manager. I was a 15-and-a-half year-old sophomore in high school at the time, and I'd never asked to see a manager before. I had never interviewed for a job before, either. Enter Christine Terrel, the manager of the store and Yale Cleaners employee for more than 20 years. We talked for a while about the job and responsibilities of a counter staff employee, and then, just like that, I was hired for my first job.

I was ecstatic, nervous, determined and queasy all at the same time. I started my first day about a week later. I eagerly retrieved the dry cleaning for my first customer in the drive through, rang up the total at the register, and happily said "Have a nice day!" at the end of the transaction. It all went smoothly . . . until the gentleman drove back around and politely asked for the drycleaning he had just paid for and I had forgotten to give him. Oops. Later that day, I did the same thing with another customer, only I also ran smack into one of the sliding glass doors in the check-out process.

It was an interesting first day on the job, to say the least.

It was a rocky start, but then weeks, months, and finally three years went by. I worked part time during the week and every other Saturday while going to school. I also worked with a few other high-school students and eventually, we became friends. While our work environment could get busy and hectic, we learned pretty quickly how to work with one-another well; we learned how to be a team. Outside of school and a few extracurricular activities, I had never had to work so closely and so long with the same people. I learned how to interact with different personalities, different communication styles and different work ethics.
While I enjoyed working with the other part-time high-schoolers, I enjoyed getting to know our regular customers even more. As a counter staff employee, customers would learn my name and ask me about my school and my job. Our regular customers knew that I was the editor-in-chief of my high school newspaper during my senior year, and that I was planning on pursuing journalism when I went to college. They would ask for copies of my high school paper and ask (almost every week) if I had decided where I was going to school yet (every week for three months I would sigh and say no). Eventually, I got to know them, too. I could ask about grandkids and how vacations went and the other day-to-day happenings.

This is what made the job special. I had other friends who worked in retail or food service, and they didn't get this kind of social interaction with customers. I did. I loved that about my job. I could come in to work on a Friday and find out how a customer's week went, what they were looking forward to over the weekend, and all within a five-minute interaction while they were picking up or dropping off clothes. Looking back, I got to know a lot of people. I was around when big life events occurred: I watched customers bring in wedding dresses and graduation robes, I got to see babies grow out of their onesies for slightly larger, but just as cute, Easter and Christmas outfits. Essentially, I got to see families do life in all stages. It made coming to work that much better.

Whether it was working every day with my peers or interacting with customers, everything I did as an employee involved speed, convenience and quality in some way. I learned to communicate effectively, problem solve efficiently, and I genuinely enjoyed coming to work everyday. There was a kind of family-atmosphere that made me feel, well, at home.

I stopped working part-time for the company in the summer of 2013, right before I went off to college. Today, I'm in my sophomore year at the University of Arkansas and I still keep up with Christine, my former coworkers and some customers. Whether I come home and work over Christmas break or in the summer, or just stop in and drop off some cleaning on my weekends home in Tulsa, Yale Cleaners is a place I think fondly of when I'm in town.

It was, without a doubt, an experience.

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