Six years strong, ‘Teen Expo’ continues to grow Dinwiddie minds

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: April 13, 2019 | 1:45 p.m.

DINWIDDIE – It is said that the youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow and, for some, those are just words but in Dinwiddie County, those words serve as an overarching pillar for one of the county’s premiere youth events, the annual Teen Expo, which is just over a month away but the excitement for the expo is already approaching a fever pitch as registration continues to fill up at a quick pace.

According to organizers, they are keeping registration open for the upcoming expo on May 18 at Richard Bland College, even as roughly 200 Dinwiddie teens and parents have already registered for this year’s event as interest to attend the annual event that seeks to provide an educational but fun experience for Dinwiddie that centers on providing the young attendees with professional development opportunities, connections with local employers for summer employment and sessions that help develop those soft skills, the intangible knowledge that employers seek and students need as they transition to adulthood, something Dinwiddie Deputy County Administrator Tammie Collins said local businesses said they needed more of in the up and coming workforce.

“This is something that came from our business interactions and they were wondering if there was something we can do to build on that,” Collins explained, which birthed the Teen Expo through a partnership with Dinwiddie County Public Schools five years ago.  

A Teen Expo attendee takes part in a critical thinking exercise during last year’s event. For organizers, making the event engaging, informative, and relevant are the three pillars used to help make the event as successful as it has been since its creation. (Dinwiddie County)
The first Teen Expo was held at Eastside Enhancement Center and, even in its infancy, the interest in the event necessitated a change of venue for future events, which brought about their current home at Richard Bland College, who has allowed the use of their campus in the county every year since, which is a win-win for the county as they get a larger venue to host the expo’s very sessions and presentations and the local college gets to showcase what they can offer to Dinwiddie’s teenage attendees who are likely either getting ready to or already looking at different options for higher education.

This year’s event will feature a number of student success sessions, ranging from topics including shaping their future beyond secondary education, overcoming obstacles, and, specifically for high school students, a session where they’ll get a crash course on adult life and going over some of the overlooked but necessary knowledge they will need as they prepare to go into the world after high school, like changing a tire, delivering everyday first aid and CPR, along with developing effective communication skills. 

For Collins, who has hosted the soft skills session over the years, she said, despite the misconceptions that young people have little to no interest in learning some of those adult skills, like writing a check or understanding how to read a paper bill, young people want to know about these things as they prepare to head off on their own within the next few years. 

“I did the session with them and I was thrilled to see their eyes light up as we walked through these things,” she said. “We have had some of our strongest survey responses from that session because they want to know. We have heard some of their greatest fears is going out and not knowing how to do things. Each of those things we can remove and teach them is great.”

Collins continued, “Young people want to know what people are paid, how different jobs look, how to interview for a job properly.”

Along with the different exercises, students and parents get to attend sessions geared toward them specifically, ranging from topics on adult life for the young people and planning for life after high school for the parents of students preparing to make their next steps. (Dinwiddie County)

The teaching goes beyond students as parents who have registered for this year’s expo will be able to attend sessions of their own covering topics like financial planning for life after their children finish high school, college planning, among others. 

The Teen Expo strikes a balance between fun and education, but also relevance thanks to organizers’ efforts to remain engaged with students about topics and things they would or wouldn’t be interested in seeing at future events through surveys and a newly developed youth ambassador program, where some students use social media to get the word out about the expo but also gain information that can be used to help shape the event, keeping it dynamic and informative.

“Without their voice, this isn’t relevant,” Collins remarked. “We have made sure that we engage with our students to make sure we cover exactly what they want to see.”

Efforts like the Teen Expo and even Government Day in May, where Dinwiddie High School government class students take a day to serve as supervisors to learn about local government operations and gain exposure to different opportunities, serve to break a recent trend county officials and local businesses are seeing where students are graduating from Dinwiddie schools, then leaving the county to attend college, university, or a vocational center but not returning to Dinwiddie for work. 

“That’s not the community we want to be,” Collins said. “We want to immerse our young people in what is available locally in the area. These are our community’s future employees so this is a win for them and our local businesses.”

An event like that that has had nearly 150 attendees consistently across the last five years can’t come together without the work of volunteers. Collins said, on a yearly basis, they have between 40 to 50 people who volunteer time out of their Saturdays to take part in making the Teen Expo a success, with Supervisors Brenda Ebron-Bonner and Dr. Mark Moore among them annually. 

“The community really embraced this,” she remarked. “We usually have more volunteers than we can use to support this event.”

When asked, County Administrator Kevin Massengill said it’s his belief true growth and development of the county’s youth workforce has to go beyond the normal annual funding the county provides to the school division.

“From our perspective, we spend a lot of money on education and we do all the things we are required to do but, at the end of the day, this investment helps to bring people with the right skills to employment,” he remarked. 

Volunteers play such a vital role in the Teen Expo’s success as between 40 to 50 volunteers attend the event to help out, ranging from county officials, school leaders, board supervisors and school board members, to those just wanting to help out. (Dinwiddie County)

Programs like the Teen Expo leave a lasting impact not only on the attendees, but those working to make it a successful event where the young members of the Dinwiddie community are walking away with knowledge that will stay with them for a lifetime and help them feel confident as they prepare to make the next steps in the lives.

“At the onset of the Teen Expo,” Collins said, “we would go before the board [of supervisors] and say we have a company coming to Dinwiddie who was planning to hire 200 people and the first question would be how many of those positions will be Dinwiddie graduates? Then we would hear from businesses who were saying they were having soft skill challenges when it comes to employment. Thanks to events like the Teen Expo, this is providing a solution and it is rewarding to be part of it.”

Registration for the Teen Expo will remain open through April 19. To register, visit the county’s website at http://dinwiddieva.us. For additional information, contact Cierra Gravely, Marketing and Youth Workforce Development Coordinator at 804-469-4500, ext 2154 or via email at cgravely@dinwiddieva.us.

Copyright 2019 by Womack Publishing
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