Dozens of teenagers discovered employment and volunteer opportunities and options for higher education at the Teen Job and Education Fair March 15.

The NCO Club squeezed in 78 teens and a combined 22 employers, volunteer organizations and colleges from across the state during the three-hour-long Army Community Service event.

"Sometimes we don't think about what interests us until it hits us," said Carl King, a Fort Jackson employee whose son, Elijah King, 15, attended the fair in hopes of finding an entry-level job.

Carl said he encouraged his son to attend so he could "get an early start on some of the different things that may actually interest him."

Other benefits of joining the workforce early include "learning how to be responsible … just being able to socialize (and) work with other people," said Rosalie Whisenant, an Exchange human resources assistant who worked the event.

Holding down a job teaches young people about "life structure," Whisenant added.

The Exchange did on-the-spot interviews for its up-and-coming Burger King location, seeking at least 15 employees ages 16 and up.

The Richland Library highlighted its paid summer internships, soon to be finalized and posted online, and volunteer opportunities that can feed into more permanent positions, like shelvers.

"It's the opportunity to learn more about teamwork," said Marcia Smith, Richland Library talent acquisition coordinator. Taking on responsibilities gives teens "a feel for what they can find in life."

It teaches skills like learning how to stick to a set schedule, Smith added, "to give them a glimpse of what's coming."

Joyce Jenkins, a DOD civilian employed on-post, said she has seen her son mature since he started working. Mikell Jenkins, 15, had a job at Patriots Park last summer. He decided to apply again in 2019 after the fair.

The job has helped "get him used to the workforce and doing what it takes to make it in life," Joyce said.

For teens seeking community service opportunities, the American Red Cross VolunTEEN program recruited volunteers to add to the group's nearly 70 members.

"They're just kids who want to provide community service," said Sharon Brown-DraperPierre, VolunTEENS parent lead/youth chair. "It's just a good group for the children to be in."

They work both on and off-post at events that range from community blood drives, to fire prevention, Special Olympics events and the Saint Patrick's Day parade.

"We basically love to help everyone," said Leah Pierre, 16, VolunTEENS president, longest-tenured member and Brown-DraperPierre's daughter. "It's also good to go on college applications."

Keyana Demons, 16, the lead student ambassador for the VolunTEEN program, encouraged youth to join, as she did in November.

"I just felt like I needed to do more in the community," and this organization provided that opportunity, Demons said.

Anderson University, Midlands Technical College, and South Carolina State University were a few schools represented at the Teen Job and Education Fair.

Additional employers included Riverbanks Zoo and Garden, Belk, and the U.S. Army Recruiting Battalion Columbia.