By Marin Howell/Addison County Independent
Before he was an economics major at Middlebury College, Ben Lash was getting hands-on instruction in the distribution of goods and services by running his own business.
Lash, now a senior at the college, founded American Student Helpers in 2016. The odd jobs company connects students looking for part-time work with community members in need of help with everyday tasks like yardwork or furniture assembly. After seeing success with the business in his hometown of Westerly, R.I., Lash is expanding the operation into Addison County this month.
“So far the responses I’ve gotten from people in Middlebury, it seems like it’s a need that is not being met by other odd job services,” Lash said. “I’m really excited for the opportunity to expand and to see what comes next.”
Lash described the services his company provides as low-skilled tasks, things like dog walking or helping deliver someone’s items to a donation center.
“It’s the stuff that someone’s landscaper or caretaker won’t do or can’t get done that we’ll fill in for,” Lash explained. “(American Student Helpers) covers a lot of areas that there’s not really a someone to fill.”
Interested customers contact Lash and his team with a task they need done, and then Lash coordinates a time for a group of student workers to complete the job.
Lash started the company with his brother and a friend, and the team in Westerly has grown to five part-time workers that offer over 14 services.
“In Westerly, people love it. The response has been overwhelmingly positive,” he said. “It makes me super happy to hear that we’re helping people.”
The opportunity to expand American Student Helpers to Middlebury came earlier this month, when Lash began taking a winter term course on entrepreneurship at Middlebury College. The course sends students out of the classroom to engage with potential clients and customers, which Lash said has helped him think about further developing his business.
“I thought I might as well try it out and see if this business plan is feasible and scalable, because it’s something I know I love to do and would be interested in doing in the future,” he said. “The course has been great. It’s given me a lot of confidence to do this on my own and see how it works out.”
Lash began posting on Front Porch Forum to gauge if the Middlebury community has needs that could be met through a business like American Student Helpers. He found there was a lot of interest from residents that needed help with elderly care, handyman tasks and other services.
He’s now putting together a team of Middlebury College students to form the Addison County branch of the business, which he hoped to launch on Jan. 23. In the past, American Student Helpers has operated solely during the summer, though Lash is working to offer services throughout the year.
Lash said he plans to continue surveying Addison County residents about what kinds of jobs they need done and what the price range of those tasks might be. Typically, American Student Helpers charges a base rate of $30 per hour for each worker, with some jobs subject to additional fees.
“I want to see what prices (Middlebury residents) are expecting and what they’d like to pay for certain jobs,” he said. “I don’t want to blindside anyone. I want to be affordable.”
Lash said he’d like to continue expanding the services American Student Helpers offers, and he’d like to eventually add student profiles to the company’s website (americanstudenthelpers.com) so residents can request a task with a specific team member based on their specialties.
In the meantime, he’s excited to begin accepting jobs in and around Middlebury. Lash said he’s enjoyed running the business in his hometown for the past six years and is looking forward to getting to know the Middlebury area better by expanding services to Addison County.
“I’m excited to meet new people in the area. I’ve gotten to know my hometown really well (through the business), and it’s changed the way I see the community,” he said. “There’s so many nice people in every community, and it’s just great to get to know them and learn more about the people you live next to.”
Lash said he will likely head back to Westerly this summer, but he’s hoping by then he has a strong team based in Middlebury to keep the operation going while he’s out of state.
“Ideally we’ll build up a client list and enough student workers to where we can run year-round in Middlebury,” he said. “I know I can find the right people to trust to do the jobs as well as they can and be reliable.”
Those interested in hearing more about American Student Helpers or looking to request a job can contact Lash and his team at firstname.lastname@example.org.