Howard teens' quest for jobs aided by fair

Search: At a job fair sponsored by HC DrugFree, Howard high school students looked for jobs and ways to avoid summer boredom.

April 17, 2002|By Donna W. Payne | Donna W. Payne,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Centennial High School was host of an exclusive job fair Saturday, complete with eager applicants, recruiters with giveaway pens, magnets or candy, and entertainment to ratchet up the excitement level.

The exclusivity element? This was an event for Howard County high school students only - a chance for teen-agers to find the perfect job or activity that would earn them spending money or prevent summer boredom.

The 2nd Annual Howard County Teen Job and Activity Fair was sponsored by HC DrugFree, a countywide grass-roots organization of volunteers that is "dedicated to helping parents guide their children away from using tobacco, alcohol and other drugs."

According to Laura Smit, business coordinator for the fair, it was organized to offer teen-agers information about a variety of enriching summer experiences. "Studies show that if teens are involved in activities ... they are less likely to become involved in drug use and drinking alcohol," she said.

This year's fair attracted 608 students, nearly double last year's attendance, with all 10 high schools represented. Free bus transportation to and from the fair was offered at high schools.

Forty-two exhibitors set up booths. A handout with contact information for another 41 participating organizations also was available. Teens could learn of summer opportunities in four areas: paid jobs, volunteer jobs, educational classes and recreational activities. Branches of the military and police organizations were also recruiting.

Participating employers had to sign a pledge, guaranteeing a drug- and an alcohol-free work environment.

Jeff Payne and Frank Prempeh, sophomores at Wilde Lake High School, filled out job applications and were optimistic about their chances.

"Last year, I [didn't have anything] to do in the summer," said Payne, "so this year I just wanted something to do so I could get some money to get some school stuff for next year."

"It's hard to get a job out there," added Prempeh. "I'm having luck now. There's lots of openings [here]." Both young men had hopes of landing lifeguard positions.

Jackie Clark of Clark's Ace Hardware said she looks for more than just good grades from applicants. She has found that young people who are curious and who show initiative "work out great" as employees. Clark's husband, Andy Clark, is the sixth generation of the original Clarks of Clarksville, who have owned a hardware store in Howard County.

Clark said she returned to the job fair this year because of the success the store had with the students she recruited last year.

Some of the more than 40 applicants for jobs at Ant Race Communications offered impressive resumes and portfolios, President Dan Churchill said. The Web design and Internet marketing company plans to hire for several paid positions and to offer internships for class credit to another two or three students.

"We've had a fantastic response," Churchill said. "There are a lot of well-qualified students, a lot of creative, talented students."

Some of the younger teen-agers were disappointed to find that most employers were looking for students 16 or older. Courtney Lyons, 15, Genevieve Jacobs, 14, and Aly Blum, 14, all freshmen at Glenelg High School, were checking out the possibilities. They agreed that "freshman year you want a job" for extra cash.

Although a few places were hiring 15-year-olds, the girls were thinking of getting experience by volunteering. "A lot of the [places], you have to volunteer first and then you get paid," Lyons said.

Smit said "a lot of the parents said that what they really liked was ... [that the fair gave their children] a chance to learn how to talk with employers."

The event also offered plenty of summer alternatives for teen-agers who would not be working. Howard Community College, Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks and private organizations offered educational classes. Maryland Search and Rescue, Victory Karate and Kinetics Dance gave demonstrations throughout the day to entertain the participants. But they and other organizations also offered a varied menu of summer activities for teen-agers.

Bobbie Whyte, supervisor of programming for the Columbia Association-sponsored Teen Center at The Barn in Oakland Mills, said her group offers plenty of free and well-supervised activities for teen-agers throughout the summer.

"We don't want these kids to go without something to do," said Debbie Saraullo, one of the volunteer coordinators at the fair. "There are no excuses for being bored."

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