Gilroy Gardens employs about 200 local teens

Published in the August 15 – 28, 2018 issue of Morgan Hill Life

Photo by Marty Cheek
Cameron Childers, 18, poses with two Gilroy Garden Family Theme Park mascots.

For many teens, summer means lazy days spent in the sand and surf. For some teens, summer also means responsibility and revenue. With more than 40 rides, gardens, exhibits, and water play areas, Gilroy Gardens Family Theme Park employs about 200 local teens between the ages of 15 and 17.

About half of them return from a previous season, giving them the opportunity to gain valuable job skills while earning a paycheck.

Barb Granter, the park’s general manager, said, “Gilroy Gardens is committed to providing the best first job experience for the youth of our community and their first opportunity to grow as supervisors and managers. Tourism is a dynamic industry, uniquely suited to this workforce.”

Cameron Childers, 18, graduated from Christopher High School in 2017, and is now taking business classes at San Jose State University. The Gilroy resident started working at Gilroy Gardens when he was 16 and is now in his third season. He began as a ride operator but has had a few promotions along the way. After moving up to lead, he then became a supervisor, training all ride operators with a partner. Then he moved to the office, where he now works as a marketing supervisor.

“I like to think last year is when I started growing up,” Childers said. “I was promoted at 16, and a lot of the staff is in the 18-22 age range. It was a little awkward at first. But I really started learning from all the department managers and got to know the management staff. Then a year ago, I got promoted into marketing with full-time managers and department managers. It’s been a great experience.”

Childers’ job is considered a specialty position, with day-to-day duties split between him and a partner. Childers is in charge of local agreements and distribution, coupons, and flyers. He works closely with Arteaga’s Food Center. In the spring, he oversees the Natural Science Field Trip program, which is targeted to students in grades K-5. Childers works behind the scenes, organizing groups, reaching out to schools, and trying to grow the program.

“I enjoy it thoroughly. It demands a lot of time and head space,” he said. “But I’m definitely happy with where I’m headed.”

Katelyn Teerman, 17, will be a senior at San Benito High School this fall. The Hollister student works as a ride operator. It’s her first job, and she said it’s helped her learn patience and people skills.

“All day, I deal with so many different types of people,” she said. “It’s given me a different point of view. Now I understand people’s frustrations if they have to wait for something. And it’s taught me about responsibility. Parents are trusting you with their kids, so you need to consider the safety factors. Plus, it’s taught me about personal responsibility, like being on time.”

An unexpected bonus of Teerman’s job has been developing confidence. “All my friends went to work in food and I chose rides,” she admitted. “That took me out of my comfort zone. I’m usually shy, but I had to introduce myself and meet new people.”

Joel LeFevre, 16, of Morgan Hill, has had a similar experience. He’ll be a junior at Live Oak High School this fall, and the ride operator said he’s learned quite a bit at his first job.

“It taught me to be a lot more patient in dealing with people, who can be impatient when they have to wait in line,” he said. “And it taught me how to be responsible. I wasn’t the most responsible before. Now I have to get up, be on time. I’m more self-reliant. And,” he added with a laugh, “it taught me how not to spend my money. With my first paycheck, I spent it all on food at the park. That really adds up.”

Plus, LeFevre said, “It’s really cool to see children have fun on the rides. When you have happy people, that means happy workers.”

Teerman agreed. “Some kids just make my day. One little girl hugged me and said thank you after she got off the ride. It was the sweetest thing.”

All three teenage employees mentioned the camaraderie they feel working at Gilroy Gardens.

“All the coworkers are cool,” LeFevre said. “We’re all pretty close.”

“I’ve made a lot of friends here,” Teerman added. “It’s a fun environment, and we’ve become a team.”

She’s interested in earning a business degree when she graduates next year and thinks her experience at Gilroy Gardens will help her in that pursuit.

“I’ve definitely learned people skills, communication, and problem solving,” she said.

Childers said his jobs at Gilroy Gardens have helped him in his business classes at San Jose State. “I breeze through,” he said. “I kind of get bored, to be honest. (The work experience) has given me everything I need.”

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He takes bits and pieces from what he learns at the park into the classroom.

“I’m happy I’m not working somewhere else, and that I lucked out on my first job,” the teenager said. “If you put in a little effort, you’ll learn a lot.”

“One of the best parts of the general manager’s job is working with young adults who are just beginning their careers,” Ganter added. “They have such great energy.”

And, thanks to the job opportunities Gilroy Gardens provides, a sense of independence as well.

Donna Lane

Donna Lane

Donna Lane is a storyteller and San Jose native who earned her journalism degree at San Francisco State University. She lives in Gilroy with her family, who inspire her to celebrate life each day.
Donna Lane