Jeremy Wik and his two friends were on a mission to get their first summer job when they walked into an arena filled with potential employers on the North Central College campus in Naperville.
“It’s time to earn my own money,” said Wik, 18.
The KidsMatter Student Job Fair on Wednesday connected hundreds of teens and young adults with 1,750 part-time and seasonal jobs available at local employers just as eager to give them their first opportunity in the working environment.
Young people were anxiously waiting in line for the doors to open at the North Central College Recreation Center. Many of those teenagers had similar thoughts as Wik and his high school buddies, Joe Kinsella and Jacob Hamilton of Naperville.
“I would like to be more independent and not have to ask my parents for money when I go places with my friends. I would also like to save money for college,” Kinsella said.
The three Neuqua Valley High School seniors are close friends who play hockey together but realize they will likely go their separate ways when it comes time to go to college.
“We are very good friends, but we all have different college plans,” Hamilton said.
Supporters of the non-profit KidsMatter organization realize the job fair is a convenient way to connect high school and college students with a variety of employment opportunities, but it is also a passageway into adulthood.
The mission of KidsMatter is to “empower families to raise resilient kids” who will turn their backs on destructive choices and choose life’s endless possibilities, the group’s leaders said.
Representatives from 45 employers, including home improvement stores, restaurants and grocery stores had a steady flow of visitors filling out applications for job openings.
Aside from the employment opportunities, the fair provided ways for the kids to develop basic skills to become successful workers, including mock employer interviews with 25 professionals in the area.
“I need to put myself out there a little more,” 17-year old Devin Roberts said. “I am ready for this. I like meeting new people.”
IdaLynn Wenhold, executive director of KidsMatter, said this year’s job fair is noticeably more upbeat than in those recession years that started in 2008.
“We can actually see the economy growing,” Wenhold said. “When the economy crashed, we had 25 employers and some of our employers in previous years went out of business. It was very sad to see it happen within our world and it made it difficult for our kids to get those seasonal and part-time jobs that they really needed to help themselves and their families.
“The good news is there are lots of opportunities in the workforce again,” Wenhold said.
17-year old Cynthia Swartz and her younger brother Zack filled out applications for Standard Market that will open near their home in Naperville.
“This will be my first real job,” Cynthia Swartz said. “I am pretty excited, I think it will be a nice summer job to get ready for college.”
Phillip Washington, of Aurora, will graduate from Metea Valley High School this year and he’s looking for work to keep him busy until he begins a military career in the U.S. Air Force.
“My recruiter highly recommends that I keep myself active so I am not sitting around the house,” Washington said.
There was a lot of buzz around the application table of Hollywood Palms cinema in Naperville. Jason Petro, general manager for the establishment, said this is their third year at the job fair.
“The kids are very informed and intelligent and it is very inspiring for us,” Petro said.
Dozens of parents retreated to the third floor balcony of the college’s recreation center to have a bird’s eye view as their children made their way through the job fair.
“My daughter has pursued this all on her own and we are very proud of her,” Lakshmi Karthik of Naperville said. “My experience in India was totally different. We did not get a job until after college. I wish we had this opportunity in high school.”