Kenai students hit the streets Wednesday to find out what the future holds.
Nearly 100 students from the junior class at Kenai Central High School participated in the Kenai Chamber of Commerce's annual job shadow program, with each student following an area professional through part of a work day in everything from dental clinics to police stations to car dealerships.
The goal was to give students a firsthand look at professions they have considered exploring and help the youth establish connections in their own community.
"There's nothing more important we do with our lives than build relationships," Kenai Police Chief Chuck Kopp said. Kopp graduated from high school here.
"What you are doing through this activity is laying a foundation for students to feel connected to their community. This is why they come back; this is why they're proud to be part of (this community)."
Margaret Gilman, another local graduate, agreed. Gilman has taught on the peninsula and is currently a school board member and the new congressional delegation representative for the area.
"You never know what doors life is going to open up for you, but you do need to take advantage of those openings," Gilman told the students at the luncheon.
Gilman said when she graduated from high school and headed to the University of Notre Dame, she believed she would not return to Alaska. Doors in her life, however, led her back to her hometown.
"Why would you students return? (Alaska provides) an opportunity for hands-on community involvement. They will use every bit you are willing to offer and sometimes get more out of you. That is community," she said.
"Alaska also is a great place to raise children. It's a safe place to raise children, an educated place to raise children."
And, she added, she believes Alaska also is rare in that people are not judged on their status.
"There's still a spirit of accepting people for what they are, not for the outside entrapments," she said. "Hopefully, we will see you back and as participating members of the community."
The day also was designed to show students that viable opportunities exist for them on the peninsula, said Cheri Brewer, president of the chamber.
During a quick breakfast for students and their guides, Brewer asked students whose parents had graduated from peninsula high schools to stand.
"There's still a lot here," she noted, as about one-third of the class came to its feet.
"That's what job shadow is about, convincing you there is something to do here, so you can decide whether to stay or come back (after your education)," Brewer told the students.
And, of course, it offered students a chance to see if the reality of different careers met with their dreams. Some students spent the day exploring careers close to their intended line of work.
Lilly Babcock, for example, is an aspiring fashion designer, but there is no fashion design industry on the peninsula. So she and another student spent the day with Zada Friedersdorff, who works with wearable art.
"I like clothes in general, I like style," Babcock said before leaving for her job shadow Wednesday morning.
"I want to see how it really is behind the glitter on TV. I want to learn everything I can before I go off to college."
Friedersdorff had every intention of showing the girls a real-life day, too.
"I was so excited to come and talk to these girls," she said. "It's an exciting world."
Friedersdorff said she planned to take the girls to the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center to view and continue hanging a fiber arts show. Then, the group planned to go to a fabric store to discuss tools and fabrics designers might use.
"Plus, I brought things a fashion design person gathered careerwise (to show the students)," she said.
Four other students spent the day at the Soldotna Police Department learning about law enforcement and similar careers.
By midmorning, the four girls -- Alexis Ogle, Shawna Power, Amy Rask and Emilie Simon-Collonge -- were bubbling with excitement about their day.
"We pulled someone over," Power said.
"We might get to see the evidence locker eventually," Rask added.
"They get to wear a uniform and drive fast," Ogle quipped.
Not all the girls are interested in careers in law enforcement.
Simon-Collonge, an exchange student visiting from France, said she spent the day at the station to see cultural differences.
"The police are definitely different," she said. "It's interesting to see the differences between the two countries."
Rask is more interested in joining the military, but decided a day at the police station would provide a close comparison.
"It's real close to what the military does in the structure and social environment," she said.
Ogle and Power, however, said they would like to be police officers some day, and the job shadow only heightened their resolve.
Likewise, Jessica Deardoff said her job shadow experience was a positive push toward her planned profession.
A future teacher, Deardoff spent the morning with Terry Cramer, a third-grade teacher at Mountain View Elementary School.
While Cramer and a parent volunteer ran reading groups for the students, Deardoff spent one-on-one time with children working on biography writing projects.
"So far, it's been fabulous," Deardoff said. "This is it. I'm having a lot of fun, and it's only the beginning."
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