From startups to selling donuts, what some Hudson Valley teens are doing this summer

Nick Zotto applied to one summer job this year and got it. He’s working at SplashDown Beach Water Park. Submitted.

“I wanted to be like my friends and have a summer job, but I also wanted to get my foot in the job world,” said Nick Zoto.

Lisa Iannucci | July 15, 2021

Last summer, fewer than a third (30.8%) of U.S. teens had a paying job. This was because many of the places where teens typically work — including restaurants, shops, recreation centers, tourist attractions – were either shuttered or had their operations severely curtailed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the Pew Research Center’s latest analysis of federal employment data, teen summer employment in the United States had plunged to its lowest level since the Great Recession, erasing a decade’s worth of slow gains.

The summer of 2021 has offered more opportunity for teen workers, especially as employment shortages in areas such as the retail and hospitality sectors continue to affect local businesses.

In June, 16-year-old Nick Zoto put in just one summer employment application — with SplashDown Water Park in Fishkill — and he was hired.

“I wanted to be like my friends and have a summer job, but I also wanted to get my foot in the job world,” said the soon-to-be John Jay High School 11th grader.

“I work in the parking lot as a greeter telling people where to park or I count cars to keep track of how many are in the parking lot,” said Zoto, who works from one to four days per week. “I like that I get to talk to people during the day, especially after the Covid pandemic.”

Once summer ends and SplashDown closes, Zoto is hoping to find another job.

Not all teens are punching a clock. While many are spending their summer days working long hours at their jobs, others are doing volunteer work and some are growing their hobbies to become a lucrative side hustle.

Hyde Park’s Simon Benca is using his time to develop his passion project, a YouTube Channel for a character he created, the Happy Womboof.

“He is on the autism spectrum and started teaching himself how to film and edit short videos during the pandemic shutdown,” said the 13-year-old’s mother, Goretti Benca, who is helping him with the endeavor  (YouTube does not allow users under 18 to earn money without help from a parent or guardian). “This summer, he has been working on his YouTube channel and planning ways to use it as a way to help the community and do a virtual summer academic program through his school.”

Nicole Cunningham’s oldest son, Jayden Cunningham, also has a full summer that includes working and camp.

“Jayden works at Nature’s Harvest in Poughkeepsie as a cashier, but also does inventory occasionally,” said Nicole Cunningham. “This is his first job and he’s been working since May.” When his job ends, Jayden will go to sleepaway camp for a week.

Abrahim Adel, a 16-year-old from Poughquag, has been working steadily for the last two years at Dykeman Farm in Pawling. He also picks up the occasional film industry paycheck by working as an extra.

“The first year he helped with pumpkin season and this year he was asked back earlier,” explains his mom Gena Lisanti. “He enjoys the work because it’s always changing, which keeps things interesting. He does everything from running the register and customer service to painting and handy work.”

Adel worked last fall through the pandemic on the weekends under Covid protocol. He also does background work in the movie industry. “Abrahim enjoys the background work because it’s one to two half days and good money,” said Lisanti.

Jenn Sorrentino owns the Donuts for Days Food Truck and will spend the summer working with her 14-year-old son Jacob.

“He started out as my assistant last summer when we first opened the food truck,” she said. “He was too young to work anywhere but a family business last year, but he hasn’t looked for work elsewhere, because he’s great at it! He can almost run the truck without me.”

Teen entrepreneurs

When it comes to stereotypes about teens and lazy summers, Mariabella Rivera-Todaro is shattering them.

The 19-year-old New Paltz resident has been working as an intern at a tech company since before the pandemic started. Then, during quarantine, she was able to start her own business and is now the president of Millions of Butterflies, her nonprofit organization.

“Last year I was participating in a lot of protests, and while I was there, I saw people handing out food to the protesters, but a lot of it was savory sandwiches,” she explains. “After walking 11 miles, I found myself craving chocolate, not a hummus and cucumber sandwich, so I went home and made a large batch of brownies to bring to the next large protest in the city, but I forgot them.”

She ultimately sold the brownies elsewhere and then donated the proceeds to local non-profits and individuals asking for money for groceries, rent, and other necessities.

“It ended up taking off and we’ve gotten so many community members involved who are donating baked goods,” said Rivera-Todaro who celebrates her nonprofit’s one year anniversary in July.

Currently, she is working on putting a Free Food Fridge behind Snugs Harbor in New Paltz and creating back-to-school care packages for students in the fall.

“If people would like to donate to the Free Food Fridge, we have a gofundme that can be found under New Paltz Free Food Fridge and an Instagram by the same name,” she said.

Lisa Iannucci is a Hudson Valley freelance writer. Contact her at