At Pasadena City College Flea Market, Students Find Something Special: Entrepreneurial Spirit and Scholarships

Published : Monday, June 10, 2019 | 5:28 AM

Everyone loves to find something special at a Flea Market. But at the Pasadena City College Flea Market college students find their entrepreneurial spirit.

That’s because the Pasadena City College Flea Market not only encourages vendors old and young to sell their wares but because the Pasadena City College Flea Market has been giving its space rental fees back to the students in the form of various scholarships since 1977.

“Back in 1977 when I was a student at PCC we had this idea to have auction and Flea Market to raise money for student activities,” said Tom Selinske, who started the Flea Market. “With the support of my brother and the Dean of Students we launched one.”

This Flea Market is not a small-time operation. It may have started that way in 1977 when entrepreneur Selinske and his late brother, Tim, wanted to come up with a way for students to earn money while going to school. But the Flea Market has grown from two brothers organizing a few neighbors selling nic-nacks on the tennis court and football field to become what is believe to be the single biggest donor to Pasadena City College.

“Right now we generate over $200,000 a year, net,” Selinske said. “That goes to support grants and student leaders get a stipend to encourage them not to get a job like I had to do when I was a student there.”

Selinske and his tiny team had their challenges, some centered around the perception that a Flea Market was not the proper image for the college. But the vendors kept coming and now the Flea Market, held on the first Sunday of every month has more than 480 vendors every time out.

It’s hardly a full-time job for the very busy Selinske. He teaches business courses at the Fashion Institute in downtown Los Angeles and he is a respected business consultant and business broker. He lost his brother, Tim, 10 years ago to a rare form of cancer, but his brother’s dream lives on.

“My folks used to be sellers at the Flea Market and my brother Tim and I both had been on the board of directors,” Selinske said. “Tim died 10 years ago to a rare cancer. We’ve established a few scholarships in his name and his wife and I gave them away a week ago. He would be very proud today.”

Regardless, there is still plenty of work to do. Selinske has a good team in place today with Lindsey Reed, Flea Market Coordinator and Rebecca Cobb, Dean, Student Life at PCC. The Flea Market reports to the Association of Students at the college, comprised of staff, but also students who give input on how the money could be directed.

Students have more challenging and complicated financial issues today than ever before. And while it may seem difficult to fathom here in the U.S., among the major factors impacting the ability to complete school are homelessness and hunger.

“We’re working to partner more deeply with PCC on an Emergency Fund,” said Selinske. “We’re spending money for students who don’t have food, maybe they can’t pay their rent for one month and we help them with that. The needs have been growing immensely over the last several years.”

The area of short-term or emergency funds is a critical area on which Selinske and his crew will continue to focus.

And another thing the public may not see is the number of jobs the Flea Market gives students.

“We employ students as part of the staff on the day of the Market and in preparation, and that’s not counted in the money given to students,” Selinske said. “We’ve been a major employer to students too.”

Selinske said his efforts all go towards the kids.

“I am inspired by the students and their stories because of all they’re doing to give back to the college and to the community,” Selinske said. “Many are involved with nursing, or they want to become engineers, or go to law school. Many students are transferring to four-year colleges. And they’re doing other activities related to becoming an entrepreneur.”

Click here for more about the PCC Flea Market.

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