Morris Innovative High School students had a chance to learn more about local career and college opportunities on Tuesday inside the Mack Gaston Community Center, and while job fairs certainly aren't rare, this one was special because it was coordinated by students in the school's Translation Academy.

"They organize it, and they get hands-on experience," said Paige Watts, director of the Translation Academy. "Every year, they want to bring new things to it."

The job fair was the fourth hosted by the Translation Academy, as Watts believes leading an event of this nature helps her students develop community connections, communication skills, work ethic and leadership abilities, she said. Students taking the Translation Academy series of classes already pitch in at parent-teacher conferences, health fairs and family nights, among other responsibilities.

"Being bilingual is a skill," and there's ample need for translators in the Dalton area, Watts said. Filling that gap provides many students with "a place in the world, and it empowers them."

Senior Evelyn Zuniga and junior Jose Reynoso have both benefited from information they've learned at this event over the years, and they helped plan this latest edition.

By helping coordinate the fair, Reynoso better understands how to manage his time and remain organized, he said. In addition, he and other leaders speak to their classmates for feedback before, during and after the fair, and they also call and/or email local businesses to lure them to the event.

"We make connections with people, and that gives you more confidence," Reynoso said. "It gets you out of your comfort zone, (so) we know we can work on something big."

Some Morris students follow a well-worn path from school to home each day, and that's it, so a fair like this exposes them to the larger Dalton community, Watts said. "It's a fun way for our kids to understand what all is out there for them, and our community reaches out to youth in a very special way."

Reynoso has discovered education and career paths via this event, he said. "This benefits me, but it also benefits everybody else" who attends the fair.

Estela Ramirez, who works for Franklin Dental, was among those providing information at booths, and "it's been great," she said. "(Students) have so many questions."

Ramirez was able to demystify the dental profession, which is pivotal because some students had heard horror stories from parents or grandparents from years or decades ago, and she explained how treatment has advanced.

"Technology has taken over," she said. "Everything is so different, now, when you go to the dentist."

Brian Cooksey, director of workforce development for Shaw Industries, brought a putting green with him for attendees to test their golf strokes.

"We sell a lot of sports turf, and putting seemed like a good way to have a little fun," Cooksey said. "Some have never tried golf before, so I thought we could have a little fun while we talk."

Some students he spoke to are considering diving directly into the workforce following high school graduation, while others are looking for part-time duty as they balance work with school, and still others wanted to know more as they plot long-term options, he said. Fortunately, Shaw has roles to suit all those ambitions.

"We're eager to talk about different career opportunities they might not be aware of," Cooksey said. "We make carpet, and that's a key part of our company, but we also have jobs in business, logistics and supply chain."

Ramirez believes the college and career fair is a win-win for the students and the businesses.

"I love that they are doing this," she said. Students "can look forward to see all the options they have."

Zuniga has always cast her personal focus at this fair toward institutions of higher learning, like Dalton State College, Georgia Northwestern Technical College (GBTC) and Genesis College, and she's found information on paying for school especially helpful.

Many students are concerned about cost, but there are numerous scholarships and other methods available, she said. "Now, I feel I can go to college, and I don't need a lot of money."

The cost of college "can be a downer," Reynoso said. However, he's realized "that doesn't have to be the big issue."

Zuniga and Reynoso are currently dual enrolled at GNTC, and both have high ambitions for their futures, with the former focused on criminal justice and the latter on business management.

In fact, Reynoso can start his Dalton State tenure next year, and "I probably wouldn't have known" about that possibility if not for this college and career fair, he said. "I have a better vision of what I want to do with my life because of all the opportunities I heard about here."

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