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Kids get sneak peek at careers

Published: 01:55PM April 14th, 2011

Julie Blakely

Betty Harter, from Armed Forces Bank and Sgt. Robert Harter, 65th Air Defense Artillery, prepare cotton candy for the children of the JBLM McChord Field Youth Center to enjoy during a Youth Career Fair Saturday. The Harters were on hand to share information with kids interested in the banking occupation.

When Holly Gimeno decided to join the military out of high school, her parents weren’t very supportive.

Her mother wept. Her father told her she’d be throwing away four years of her life.

But after training to be a firefighter for the Army, her parents saw a change in her. She received straight A’s through fire school, and she had passion about her future.

“My dad actually apologized to me later because the military gave my life direction and straightened me out,” Gimeno said.

Now a civilian firefighter at Joint Base Lewis-McChord Fire Department, Gimeno and a handful of her colleagues represented the occupation at a youth career fair held at the McChord Field Youth Center Saturday. They were there to answer questions from kids about what it’s like to be a firefighter.

“It’s important for kids to know that they can do any job as long as they apply themselves,” Gimeno said. “The military has almost every job out there. I think it’s a great avenue for kids who aren’t really sure what they want to do. I’m not a believer that everyone has to go to college — I’m a believer in finding what you’re passionate about and going after that.”

The McChord Youth Center services youths ranging from 9 to 18, according to Tara Rohrbough, the assistant director of JBLM Youth Field Programs. Rorhrbough said the goal of the career fair was to provide something helpful for kids of all ages.

“We wanted to provide some education for the little ones and a resource for the older ones where they could come and see a mix of different occupations,” Rohrbough said.

Representatives from several companies attended the career fair, including The Salon Professional Academy in Tacoma and Armed Forces Bank from JBLM. Betty Harter, a retail banking representative from Armed Forces Bank, brought her own machine to make cotton candy for the kids. But the pink fluffy treat didn’t lessen the impact of the career information her organization offered.

“An event like this is amazing,” Harter said. “It’s a great opportunity for these kids to learn so much. I’ve got teenagers so I know how important it is for them to get information.”

Kids were also invited to workshops on resume writing and interview skills, offered through the Army’s HIRED program, which teaches and trains teenagers about workforce-related subjects. The program, funded through the Army Family Covenant, is managed at the McChord Field Youth Center by Dwon Jackson, who completed the program himself when he was a high school student. He said the focus is on getting work experience to put on a resume.

“The kids take six to eight hours of career classes, and then we place them with a work site where they do 180 hours of volunteer work. When they complete the program, they receive a certificate and a small stipend. But their focus is on the long-term training they are getting,” Jackson said.

One of the HIRED graduates, Chris Staffa, a senior at Lakes High School, now works in a paid part-time job at a JBLM library as a result of the program, and will find out May 30 if he’s been granted an ROTC scholarship to Pacific Lutheran University where he hopes to study physics.

“This program provides some great benefits. You start the program and you get interested in something, and then you go to work and you have something to put on your resume,” Staffa said.

That day, several HIRED teens were also brainstorming ideas for a field trip. But this wasn’t any field trip — the kids wanted to go to California to visit the corporate offices of some huge companies, like Facebook, for professional development. Jackson said they needed to form a committee and get a presentation together in the hopes of getting the trip funded.

“If you can do this,” Jackson said, “You won’t just be seen as HIRED teens — you’ll be seen as future leaders.”