Every year, around mid-December, downtown Boulder City is invaded by King Kids.
There are signs in the shop windows and at restaurants welcoming the Kids.
At first I thought it might be something like one of those science fiction or horror films like “Children of the Corn” (a Stephen King story about a cult of children that believe everyone older than 18 needs to be killed), and kindly merchants and restaurateurs were alerting the community about pending evil happenings.
But something about the timing was off. It was December and the Kids were smiling, happy and often dressed in holiday attire as they roamed the downtown streets — even if they were “armed” with bags filled with unknown contents.
Despite my suspicions from watching too many movies, it didn’t take me long to realize that the annual outing was nothing more than a chance for local children to do a little holiday shopping away from their parents’ snooping eyes.
My children had participated in similar holiday shopping experiences, with the multipurpose room at their school transformed into specialty shops featuring items with low prices. So it was natural for me to think that it was something that simple.
The King Kids expedition, however, is much more than a one-day shopping spree.
The program for fifth-graders from King Elementary School is a multifaceted lesson incorporating elements such as math, economics, civics and social skills.
It begins at the start of the school year with each child filling out a job application and explaining how he or she intends to earn money for holiday shopping.
Val Olsen, officer manager of the sponsoring Chamber of Commerce, and Julie McAnany, special events director, explained that the children must get a “job” and can earn money by doing chores such as cleaning the yard or helping neighbors. Paychecks are deposited with the school’s banker.
Then, they must learn how to budget their earnings, allocating funds for gifts and lunch. They also must calculate tips for the service they receive when dining at an area eatery.
According to Julie, last year one girl only had $8 but was able to purchase gifts for her family and enjoy lunch out.
The importance of shopping local is emphasized. Val said the children learn that shopping locally allows area businesses to hire employees, such as their parents, while creating funds from taxes that pay for services and things such as police and parks.
Throughout the day, the common theme of business and fun could be seen everywhere.
It started the minute the kids walked into the old Department of Water and Power Building for instructions.
They were greeted by chamber volunteers in festive holiday attire and treated to snacks by Val and Julie’s businesses, Thrive and Glamour Girls, respectively, before they headed out to shop.
Each child also was given a coupon book, filled with specials, discounts and gifts from the local merchants, along with holiday messages.
Their excitement was palpable. Weeks of hard work was about to pay off, and they couldn’t wait to get started.
After getting their instructions for the day, the children were divided into small groups —each accompanied by an adult — and set loose on the downtown area.
I tagged along with a four boys, Tyson, Brian, Kaipo and Daniel, for a short time, barely able to keep up with their enthusiasm for shopping.
Once they created a team name — Infinity Eagles — it was off to shop. They were eager to explore every location in the downtown area, which is part of the program’s aim: to introduce them to the local businesses. Even I ventured into a few places I had never been before.
Our first stop was the Ace Shopper Stopper. From the moment they crossed over the store’s threshold I could tell this would be an unforgettable experience. They learned about the variety of items found in a hardware store, and had fun imagining what some of the tools, gadgets and gizmos were used for.
And in no time, the boys’ personalities gave me hints about how the experience would be for them.
Tyson reminded me a lot of my own daughters. His philosophy was simple: If I go into a store, I must find something to buy.
Daniel was a cautious but impulsive shopper. He scanned the shelves searching for the perfect item and once he found it, nothing stopped him from obtaining it.
Kaipo was thoughtful and careful about his purchases, selecting a beautiful piece of handmade soap for his mother, who is vegan, because it hadn’t been tested on animals.
I had to return to the office before I could truly get a handle on Brian. He started his expedition having already gotten presents for his family.
With that many groups of kids in each store, the shopping experience was a little chaotic for both the children and the merchants.
Unfortunately, there were a few Grinches stalking around that day. I heard Monday from a couple of merchants that not all the kids or chaperons were polite and that several items had been stolen from their stores.
Still, the program has many merits. The overall lessons about the importance of supporting the community and how the kids learned about the amount of hard work it takes to earn a paycheck are invaluable.
They may not realize it now, but King Kids is a gift that will keep on giving for years after the presents the children purchased have been unwrapped.
Merry Christmas to all.
— Hali Bernstein Saylor is editor of the Boulder City Review. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 702-586-9523. Follow @HalisComment on Twitter.