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Finding Their Future: The Volunteer Experience at the 2023 Worlds of Work Job Exhibition

I stood in the breezeway of the Oxford Civic Center, my Worlds of Work volunteer lanyard tangling up in the wind, holding the sign given to me at check-in which indicated the school I’d lead around the exhibition the morning of Wednesday, March 8. As buses pulled in, a woman called it out to the crowd of volunteer guides I stood in, and one by one people would shout, “That’s me!” and run out to greet their school.

Even though I was a tour guide at Jacksonville State University for four years, I didn’t know what to expect as a Class Guide volunteer at Worlds of Work; when I was in 8th grade myself, the fast-paced, educational event hosted by East AlabamaWorks did not exist yet. Now, as the marketing specialist for the McClellan Development Authority, my director encouraged me to attend and see firsthand what the future of the Alabama workforce looked like.

The woman in the bus lot called out for Woodland High School, and that was me. As I rushed to greet them on the bus, I reminded myself of WoW tagline: “Find your future.” As a Class Guide, I knew I’d be playing a part in that as I led my class through each zone and guided their participation in the interactive presentations set up all around us. I explained my role to the chaperones, introduced myself to the class, and we set off!

For 8th graders, Worlds of Work was divided into five zones with 20-minute intervals. The first three zones my class visited featured interactive booths in automotives, manufacturing, agriculture, construction, and public safety — and my students hardly needed a nudge to participate. I watched as a few ran to operate stationary farm equipment, some toured the cab of a semi-trailer truck, and others tested car seats in a Honda driving simulation. My class was quick to tell me about the alpacas at the Blackberry Hill Alpaca Farm booth and the headless robot dog with Oxford PD. Plus, they fearlessly took on the rock wall!

The group truly seemed to explode with interest in Zone 2. This area featured healthcare presentations from RMC Health Systems, Gadsden State Community College, Jacksonville State University College of Health Professions and Wellness, Gadsden Regional Medical Center, and Coosa Valley Medical Center — plus lots of engaging technology! Students could perform CPR on a dummy, explore prop intestines with an endoscope, and look at cells under a microscope — but the talk of the whole event was the birth simulation dummy, which prompted students to experience a whole array of emotions (at a volume that could be heard throughout the venue).

At the end of the day, I asked them if they had fun, and they responded with genuine enthusiasm. Trying to make 8th graders interested in anything is a feat of its own, but Worlds of Work seemed to have it down to a science — and by allowing kids to physically interact with potential careers, WoW got them that much closer to finding their own future. I said goodbye to my class, turned in my Woodland High School sign, and, as I sat waiting for the shuttle, I found myself thinking about my own favorite exhibits and how cool it was to get a glimpse at other people’s careers who were my own age. If these students are truly the future workforce for East Alabama, these industries are in good hands — and I’m thankful to have experienced it.


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