May 30 can't come soon enough for Whitehall-Yearling High School senior Tabionna Spencer.

She's looking forward to the day her parents will help her walk across the stage to receive her diploma as a member of the class of 2018.

Spencer was smiling broadly Feb. 23 during a career fair at Whitehall-Yearling, deftly moving her wheelchair from table to table while collecting a wealth of names and phone numbers, focusing in on what she might want to do after that special day.

"I love smiling and meeting other people," said Spencer, who said she was giddy to receive such positive responses from the 25 or so Whitehall businesses that participated in the fair.

While the school has hosted similar events in the past, this career fair was unique, as it offered career options and job opportunities for students who don't plan to attend college.

"We want our students to see there are options, that college is not the only single route to success," said Bill Hughett, Whitehall-Yearling's athletics director.

Spencer said she has experienced problems, perhaps even discrimination, while looking for jobs in the past year.

She said she applied for jobs at multiple fast-food restaurants and several retail stores but felt she wasn't hired because she uses a wheelchair.

"But here, I've had the chance to ask everyone here what kind of jobs I could do ... and I've found a lot of opportunity," she said.

Spencer particularly is interested in a job in which she can help others. She spoke with representatives from Wallick Communities, which operates assisted-living communities in Whitehall and around central Ohio.

"I can help them fix their lunches and things like that, help them with rehabilitation, and I know a little bit about what it's like (to have limited mobility)," Spencer said.

Other businesses and organizations at last week's career fair included Byers Chrysler, the Wasserstrom Co., Holiday Inn Express, King Gyros, FedEx, Mount Carmel Health Systems, Columbus State Community College, the Franklin County Sheriff's Office and the city of Whitehall.

The Whitehall-Yearling High School Alumni Association and the Whitehall Area Chamber of Commerce sponsored the career fair.

Joyce Turnbull, a 1969 graduate of Whitehall-Yearling, helped plan the fair with Hughett and Anthony Paletta, a government teacher at the school.

"My students helped write a questionnaire that (participating) students used (during the fair) ... and Joyce worked to get all the businesses to come," Paletta said.

"We want our students to learn what employers are looking for and how our students can prepare," he said. "It could lead to a summer job, but our goal is to help students who aren't going right to college to discover other opportunities."

Erica Brown, a talent acquisition specialist for Mount Carmel Health Systems, said her employer offers many opportunities for those without college degrees, including patient support care, housekeeping and some administrative and clerical positions.

"Our salaries are quite competitive and there is room for growth, too," Brown said.

Whitehall-Yearling junior Wing Yu, 18, said he is not sure he will apply for a college and came to the career fair to learn about alternatives.

"College isn't for everyone," said Yu, adding it was important to him to find a career he enjoys, but also one that compensates enough to meet living expenses.

Junior Tajai Walters used the opportunity to meet Whitehall police officer Erick Hollyfield.

Walters plays football for the Rams and said, like Spencer, he wants to land a post-graduate job in which he can help people.

"I'm thinking about being a police officer," he said.

Hollyfield and fire Chief Preston Moore represented the city's safety services at the fair. Students had a chance to try on firefighting gear while quizzing the safety officers about their jobs.

"This was a great event for our students to learn what employers expect, what you need to do to get good jobs ... all in one place at one time," said Whitehall-Yearling Principal Paul Smathers.

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