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Young People Use Social Panhandling to Get a Leg Up

Young People Use Social Panhandling to Get a Leg Up

When I decided to take a gamble on a new job in New York four years ago, I landed in the dead of winter with just enough cash on my debit card to pay for the 15-minute cab drive from the airport to my new apartment in Queens.

I can still hear the stream of profanity that followed me up the stoop after my cab driver realized I hadn’t left a tip.

But I was here. And I had worked for it. For weeks, I had filed story after mind-numbing story for a local newspaper in my hometown. I moved into my uncle’s basement to save on rent money and drove to work in my dad’s beat-up truck, which was so dilapidated that I had to stuff a wad of cardboard in the window to keep it up. For heat, I zipped myself into a hodgepodge of winter coats and danced really hard to music at stop lights.

These days, I wonder why I even bothered. Turns out I could have just thrown up a fundraising page online and waited for handouts to start pouring in.

AM New York’s Shiela Anne Feeney profiled a handful of young people who raised money to move to New York on the crowdfunding website GoFundMe.com.

And it actually works.

I checked the site out for myself and found hundreds of more pleas for cash from 20- and 30-somethings looking to move everywhere from Indiana to Australia.

Lucia Dahlstrom is three-quarters of the way toward his goal of raising $3,000 to move from New York to Atlanta to "begin my work as a therapist, social worker and budding doula."

Like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, Gofundme campaigners can offer up trinkets or prizes to donors based on the amount pledged. Dahlstrom offered everything from a personalized ringtone of his laugh ($10) to tailor-made date ideas for couples in a rut ($85). 

"What I need in order to begin diving into my work in the South is money to move," he says. "I have been applying for at least 5 jobs a  day to pay rent and trying to save up—something that is simply not possible in NYC."

Making the opposite move, Atlanta-based Amy Rush raised more than $1,000 to fund her trip to New York for a shot at a part-time job at the Jim Henson Foundation, a puppetry arts festival.

Like Dahlstrom and Rush, some of the campaigners have jobs, charity projects, internships or interviews lined up, but I was surprised by the number of people asking for money just to get out of town.

Tallahassee, Fla., resident David Smith has raised $120 to finance a move to North Carolina with his girlfriend. “Moving to the grown up [sic] world!” his profile page reads.

“It has come to that point in life where you move out on your own and start your ‘grown-up’ life,” he writes. “I have found out that moving is expensive. Please help us out.”

Not to insult Smith, but what is so “grown-up” about using the same fundraising technique as Girl Scouts and little kids who peddle candy bars for school fundraisers? At least they’ve got an excuse to knock on their neighbors’ doors -- they’re adorable, and besides, it’s illegal for them to get an actual job.

One guy raised nearly $1,000 so he could avoid an ex who cheated on him and drive from Arizona to Ohio with this pets. See his plea below (the photo of his kitten is a nice touch).

University of Connecticut sophomore  Kaishon Holloway at least had an internship lined up. He posted a fundraising page in February to raise $2,000 to finance his move to Fort Wayne, Ind., where he planned on interning for J.C. Penney. “The funds would help me with airfare, living expenses and moving expenses, etc,” he writes.

Holloway seems like a hard-working, smart guy, and as he writes in his post, he’s held down jobs and internships before. So why turn to crowdfunding now?

When my younger brother landed an unpaid internship in New York City last summer, he put in overtime at his part-time job and slept on my god-awful couch for eight weeks because he couldn’t afford rent. He paid his share of utilities and brought his lunch to work every day.

I could have dipped into my own savings to make things easier for him, but where’s the fun in that? I simply loved and respected him too much to insult his ability to hustle for what he wanted.

None of this is meant to take anything away from crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe. Just check out their success stories if you want to see how powerful a tool social fundraising can be. I’ve gladly contributed funds to people who needed life-saving medical care or friends saving up for their honeymoon.

And I admit that there are a lot worse ways to go about raising extra cash. But a line has to be drawn somewhere.

The larger issue here is the fact that young people are so desperate for funds that they’re resorting to social panhandling at all. Student loan debt is off the charts and college graduates are finding it particularly hard to land full-time jobs. The struggle is real the solutions are few and far between.

However, part of the thrill of moving to a new place is landing on your own two feet and knowing that you did it on your own, blood, sweat, guts and all. That kind of achievement can never be taken away from you, no matter what happens. And when things get tough, when your boss sucks and you hate your job and you’re battling your roommates over whose turn it is to clean the kitchen, you will remember what you did to get where you are and you will dig your heels in and suck it up.

Because that is what being a grown-up is really about.