When Jared Hanks was 10, he had a paper route in east St. Paul. To “increase efficiencies,” he’d invite friends to sleep over on Friday nights and have contests to see who could roll and bag papers the fastest. In the small hours of the morning, they’d compete to see who could deliver their blocks first. It was, he said, “a great way to get done with my work faster, and have fun at the same time.” (And, yes, he did pay them, nudged to do so by his mother). Hanks, 31, has turned that enviable entrepreneurial spirit into Helping Hand Companies (HHC), a north Minneapolis-based business that teaches local youth work skills and self-sufficiency, with plenty of fun still included. Hanks shares more here.
Q: HHC was born from a personal experience. Tell us about that.
A: Yes, there was a neighbor of mine who needed some last-minute help moving but had no one to help her. At the same time, I had a group of youths that I had planned to take on a bike ride that same day. I saw this as an opportunity to help out my neighbor, while still being able to hang out with the youths.
Q: Aside from assistance with moves, what does HHC offer?
A: Our main requests now are for lawn care and landscaping. We also do snow removal and manual labor.
Q: Did you envision a company right away?
A: I knew that I wanted to start a self-sustaining, for-profit company that connected youth with the principles of business and entrepreneurship, but I didn’t know how it would look.
Q: Did you seek guidance from a mentor or local training program?
A: I went through a program called Studio/E, co-founded by Nate Garvis and Tom Wiese. They teach this amazing concept called Exploratory Leadership, which is the art of motivating yourself to navigate into the unknown and understand all the opportunities surrounding you. By learning this concept, I have been able to teach youth how to be resourceful in leveraging their assets and resources. It’s not about what you need. It’s about how you use what you already have.
Q: What was your favorite takeaway from Studio/E?
A: Nate and others taught me that “better is perfect.” The concept allows for mistakes and missteps, but also implies the intention of always striving to improve and learn. I want to show the youth I work with that messing up is not a bad thing. Rather, it’s a normal thing and it’s all on how we react to those “mess ups.” This is essential to learning.
Q: Do you include young women?
A: Yes, we have young ladies who now work for the company. We also have a gentleman who is 77 working with us.
Q: How many youths do you typically bring to a project?
A: At first, it was as many as could fit in my Jeep. But learning about overstaffing the hard way, it now depends on the project; I’d say an average of two to three youths per project. Most are ages 14 to 22.
Q: What feedback are you getting from the youths’ parents?
A: All the parents are on board. In fact, we plan to do a BBQ, inviting the families of our employees, as well as our clients.
Q: What do people misunderstand about the North Side? What do you want people to know?
A: I think people view the North Side (and inner city youth) as needing to be saved, or inherently “disadvantaged.” Our belief is that we have the assets and resources within our communities to build wellness, economic advancement and environmental health. HHC is about developing resourcefulness.
Q: Are the youths paid? If so, do you help them manage their money?
A: Yes, they start at $15 an hour and, yes, early on we had envelopes that they would keep their money in. After each project, they would choose for themselves how much they wanted to keep, and how much they wanted to save. We would set goals based on what they wanted. One goal was for everyone to purchase their own iPhone. It took them about four months to save up enough, but they all eventually accomplished it.
Q: Do they ever complain about having to work?
A: No, they don’t complain! I’m like a big kid, too, so we do our best to create a culture of fun and openness. Work should be fun, and ultimately we want everyone to understand what vocation means, and explore for themselves what they want their vocation to be. It’s doing what you love to do, what you’re good at and what helps others. And you also get paid!
Q: How do you convince local businesses that you’ll do the job well and on time?
A: By doing the job well and on time. If we don’t, then we don’t have the job.
Q: How can Inspired readers help you do more?
A: We’re currently taking business inquiries for Fall 2019 cleanup and back-to-school moving. We’re eager to connect to other youth organizations that may want to partner with us. E-mail me at email@example.com.