Mahtomedi teen's idea of cleaning and companionship services for elderly wins $1k

Two people smile in front of a wall of siding.
Mahtomedi 10th grader Jaylen Jones submitted a proposal to the YouthSparks Ideas Competition inspired by the time he spent helping his grandmother, Shonda James Ofili. Social Venture Partners Minnesota will celebrate Jones and four other winners at an event on Jan. 22.
Courtesy of Jaylen Jones

Minneapolis based nonprofit Social Venture Partners recently asked youth ages 12-24 for innovations that could help their communities. The organization is celebrating five winners of the YouthSparks Ideas competition on Monday; 15-year-old Jaylen Jones is one of them.

He pitched an idea for a business called “Jones Cleaning and Companionship,” which was inspired by his time helping his grandmother, Shonda James Ofili. Jaylen sees the business as a reciprocal benefit to three generations of people: teenagers who can gain employment and connection, middle-aged adults who need help for their parents and senior citizens who receive help in their homes and friendships.

Minnesota Now Producer Alanna Elder recently talked with them both.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

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Audio transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING] INTERVIEWER: Minneapolis based nonprofit Social Venture Partners recently asked youth ages 12 to 24 for innovations that could help their communities. The organization is celebrating five winners of the YouthSparks Ideas competition later today. 15-year-old Jaylen Jones is one of them. He pitched an idea for a business called Jones Cleaning and Companionship, which was inspired by his time helping his grandma, Shonda James Ofili. Minnesota Now producer, Alanna Elder, recently talked with them both, and Jaylen started by describing his winning idea.

JAYLEN JONES: It was a business marketed towards older individuals that aren't physically able to clean their own homes. So one part of it was a cleaning service, and another part of it was a companionship service that brought a sense of friendship and unity to every appointment. The cleaning part of my idea definitely came from helping my grandma out a little bit and going over there helping her clean and just noticing that she couldn't get to the hard-to-reach spots not only because of her age but also just because her health issues with her back. So that made me think about how many other people are not physically able to clean their own homes.

I work as an intern for a startup software company called Blue Nest Connect that focuses on closing the digital literacy gap for older individuals. So that's where I got my understanding for the need that older individuals have for things that we deem easy or something that we may not need help with as younger people.

ALANNA ELDER: And, Shonda, what did you think about the idea when Jaylen first told you?

SHONDA JAMES OFILI: I thought it was an excellent idea due to the fact I need a lot of help when it comes to social media things, the internet, yeah, a lot of stuff. And I had a brain injury. So that caused me to have difficulty-- I don't want to get emotional here-- remembering things. And a lot of times when I would ask the younger people that know about how to do this or that, they'd say like, I just told you that. You should have remembered. And we wrote it down. But they didn't quite understand what I was going through.

Jaylen, he is so patient and understanding. His ideas are brilliant. He's always got his mind clicking and clicking trying to be more understanding and have more knowledge about things. He just doesn't sit still. His mind is always going. And I'm very proud of him.

ALANNA ELDER: Yeah, you sound really proud. So what are some of the things that you talk about when he's over helping you since part of the idea was companionship?

SHONDA JAMES OFILI: I do share with him about with companionship because I did not realize how devastating it could be and lonely. It could be to be an empty nester. And I share about other seniors that have lost their husbands or being an empty nester, and they sit home alone. And sometimes we feel forgotten as well. And I share those things with him, and he just embraces that.

And I just want to share ever since he could walk and learn to talk, he's always been one to help in any way that he could. It's just in him. But I do have to give credit to his mom. I've always said she is the best mom ever. She has built a strong village around them for them and has always kept them involved. And she's amazing. He gets a lot of that from his mom.

ALANNA ELDER: Jaylen, it really stood out to me that this competition was this effort to ask youth for solutions in their community. And you're turning around and making sure that older people in your community are not forgotten. And I was curious why it was important to you to do that.

JAYLEN JONES: One thing I would say is definitely just knowing that I have family that are going through the same thing and just knowing that younger kids of these older adults don't have all the time in the world like they used to. They have jobs. They have stuff going on outside.

For my business, when I was thinking about three different demographics and how it would benefit those three different demographics, the younger demographic, kids my age, the middle demographic, kids like my parents age, and older demographic like my grandma or just older people, I'm hiring youth employees. So that's opening new jobs for the younger demographic.

And as far as the middle demographic, it just takes something off of their plate as far as just stuff that they have to worry about, like, I need to go help my mom do this. I need to go help my dad do this. And then the older demographic is obviously providing this service to them.

ALANNA ELDER: So you won $1,000? Is that right?


ALANNA ELDER: And I understand you were planning to save that for college. Is that right?

JAYLEN JONES: Yes. I'm planning on having a long academic career after high school. So college is expensive nowadays, and especially the college that I want to go to. Saint Thomas University is very expensive. So I'm definitely just trying to save and invest.

ALANNA ELDER: Well, thank you both for being here. It was really great to learn more about your family and the project. And I really appreciate it.

JAYLEN JONES: Thank you.

SHONDA JAMES OFILI: And thank you.

INTERVIEWER: Oh, what a great idea. That was Jaylen Jones and his grandma, Shonda James Ofili, talking with Minnesota Now producer Alanna Elder. Jaylen will be speaking along with four other winners of the YouthSparks Ideas competition this evening at Social Venture Partners together for Good Event.

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