The fifth annual Career Awareness Fair, cosponsored by an organization of black World War II veterans and the D.C. Public School System, attracted about 18,000 junior high school students from 54 city schools to two all-day sessions at the Armory Starplex last week.
"We can't guarantee that we've helped everybody, but those who wanted to be helped have been helped," said John Plummer Jr., president of the Washington chapter of the Prometheans, the group that originated the annual effort to expose District students to the career opportunities that await them after high school graduation.
At the fair, more than 500 career "role models" staffed 100 booths to share their expertise in fields as diverse as cartography, economics, special education and silversmithing. According to their individual interests, the youngsters visited various booths to receive advice and literature from men and women already established in the occupations they wished to know about.
Fannie Stinson, widow of Nathaniel Stinson, who originated the fair idea and in whose honor it was named this year, bustled about the cavernous armory complex, tying up loose ends and answering endless questions in her role as information coordinator. After a quick visit to one job information booth to deliver materials, she looked about her and seemed to marvel at the cacophony, the busyness of youngsters seeking and getting advice on matters that could directly influence their future.
"Our first interest is helping the students get the information they need to prepare them for an occupation they can bring their talents to," she said.
Nathaniel Stinson, like his fellow Prometheans, was a member of the 2515th Army Specialized Training Program and stationed at Howard University in 1943, the year the club was formed. After the war the returning veterans vowed to direct their efforts toward civic betterment in the areas of education, health, and youth activities. Stinson proposed the Career Awareness Fair in the late 1970s. Two years after introducing it to the community, he died.
"The school system has now institutionalized our activity as a part of its program," said Friason G. Travis, chairperson of the fair's activities. During kick-off festivities last Tuesday evening, Mayor Marion Barry, School Board President David Eaton and Schools Superintendent Floretta D. McKenzie expressed high praise for the program.
The school system provided transportation to the fair for the students and staffed some booths with teachers who are experts in various career fields.
But the costs of the fair rest on the backs of the Prometheans. According to Travis, money is raised by charging exhibitors $325 each for floor space, and advertisers pay $200 for displays in the program book.
"It gets harder and harder every year to get the money we need to put this on," said Travis.
Leslie Bentley, 15, a ninth-grader at Johnson Junior High School, pelted art teacher Joyce Harrod with questions. Harrod, who manned the advertising, painting and drawing booth, said all the students who approached her were equally enthusiastic.
Bridgette Commock, 14, of Paul Junior High, is intent upon pursuing a nursing career. "I found out more here than anywhere else about what I need to do to become a nurse," she said, clutching a handful of literature and hand-written notes.
Wendell Dixon, 14, of Taft Junior High, was busy gathering materials and asking questions at the pharmacy exhibit. Said Dixon: "This is it. This what I want."
Students moved in groups as they strolled by or lingered at booths featuring information, slides and demonstrations on surveying, hotel-restaurant management, motion picture projection, computer programming and many more occupations.
The Prometheans have established career awareness fairs in eight other areas of the country. "It's hard work rounding everybody up to participate, but we need positive role models and information to combat the negative factors in our community," said Travis.