‘Competition conference’ points students to career success

Caesar Rodney High School junior Alissa Haith, 17, participates in a mock telephone job interview during one of the competitions in Tuesday’s Delaware Career Association Competitive Events Conference held at Delawarere Technical Community College in Dover. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

Caesar Rodney High School junior Alissa Haith, 17, participates in a mock telephone job interview during one of the competitions in Tuesday’s Delaware Career Association Competitive Events Conference held at Delawarere Technical Community College in Dover. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

DOVER — Looking a questioner straight in the eyes, Sean Finney explained in detail how he’s benefited from Jobs for Delaware Graduates training in the past four years.

“When I began in the program I was withdrawn and shy, and couldn’t really see myself doing anything beyond Delaware,” the Positive Outcomes Charter School senior said.

“This is what helped me realize that I shouldn’t limit myself to considering just the easiest path into the future, and that I had potential to go further than that.”

On Tuesday, Mr. Finney was among 225 sharply dressed high school juniors and seniors attending the Jobs for Delaware Graduates’ annual competition conference.

The conference is designed to test application of life skills and enhance career prospects in the very near future. An awards ceremony will

The Delaware Career Association of Jobs for Delaware Graduates president Sean Finnery of Positive Outcomes High School in Camden spoke during Tuesday’s DCA Competitive Events Conference.

The Delaware Career Association of Jobs for Delaware Graduates president Sean Finney of Positive Outcomes High School in Camden spoke during Tuesday’s DCA Competitive Events Conference.

be held on May 12 for the top finishers.

Active at schools in all three counties, the nonprofit program provides classes for students to learn what it takes to apply for a job, nail the interview, connect with others and then thrive at work once an opportunity presents itself.

Delaware Technical Community College hosted the event, providing participants the opportunity to explore a college campus as well. Every half hour, Delaware Tech honor society students led tour groups throughout the complex, as well.

Without participating in the program, Mr. Finney figures there’s no way he’d have been college-bound for SUNY-Oswego in New York to study zoology.

“Not in my wildest dreams did I think it would have been possible,” he said.

Positive Outcomes classmate Berton Gartrell echoed those thoughts, believing his enlistment in the U.S. Marine Corps was largely due to attending program sessions.

“Not everyone has to go out and try to become something really great. The key is going out and becoming the best you can be,” he said.

Nearly 3,400 students from seventh grade through high school are involved this year. More than 50,000 have passed through the program since 1979.

The state of Delaware provides 41 percent of the funding, with 43 percent coming from federal government sources and the rest raised by the organization.

Former Lake Forest High School student and past JDG member Eric Brown, now employed by tech giant Microsoft, was the lunchtime speaker at Tuesday’s all day DCA event at Delaware Tech in Dover.

Former Lake Forest High School student and past JDG member Eric Brown, now employed by tech giant Microsoft, was the lunchtime speaker at Tuesday’s all day DCA event at Delaware Tech in Dover.

“We are the best kept secret in Delaware,” said JDG president Nicole Poore, also a Democrat state senator who represents New Castle.

On Tuesday, the students competed in simulated telephone job interviews, public speaking, employment interviews, personal budgeting, pay and benefits, job survival and public speaking exercises, along with a team contest.

Among the more than 70 volunteer judges and speakers was Natasha Pendleton, a fraud analyst for Bank of America. She passed through the program while at Caesar Rodney High from 2002 to 2005.

“After I did this, my grades went up as well as my confidence and skill level for making contact with people, business etiquette, public speaking, just a whole lot of things,” the Virginia State University graduate said.

With a smile, Microsoft Technical Envisioning Specialist Eric Brown Jr. described his excitement for returning to a Jobs for Delaware Graduates event as a guest speaker. He remembered the time he spent in the program while at Lake Forest High, before graduating from Delaware State University.

“Being a part of this really helped me gain confidence and hone in on core skills,” he said. “It taught me to value group interactions, be personable, all sorts of things that employers want to see from people applying for jobs.

“I don’t know where I would have been without it, but I know this — it was a pivotal part of my life, being part of the classes.”

Currently, the program works at 24 high schools and 12 middle schools throughout the state, and has a full-time staff of 58 employees.

According to the nonprofit’s website, “Jobs for Delaware Graduates works with students that are the most at-risk of dropping out of school. Last school year (2014-15) over 95 percent of our underclassmen returned to school and over 90 percent.”

The program states that its mission is to “enable students to achieve academic, career, personal and social success.”

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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