CAMP RIPLEY - Morrison County 10th-grade students, about 375 teenagers from four high schools, spent much of Wednesday at Camp Ripley exploring career options available in central Minnesota as part of the second annual career exploration fair.

The event, sponsored by the Healthy Communities Collaborative of Morrison County, brought together about 80 working professionals to Camp Ripley to give presentations on their fields and host career exploration booths. Careers represented at the event included those in technology, health care, education, military and law enforcement, ministry and media, among others.

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Unlike a typical job fair, these high school sophomores took a survey in the fall and based on their interests, presenters were found to speak on those occupations that most interested them, said Kate Bjorge, executive director of the HCC. She said students then signed up in December for four different breakout sessions to hear presentations from local people working in those fields now.

Steven Hortness, a Little Falls chiropractor, and Little Falls 10th-grader Joey Hanowski demonstrated how using the wrong size pillow can be hard on your neck at the second annual career exploration fair for Morrison County 10th-graders Wednesday at Camp Ripley. About 80 area business professionals conducted mini-sessions for students to learn more about a variety of careers in fields ranging from technology and health care to law enforcement and military.

Brainerd Dispatch/Jodie Tweed

"We wanted to give kids the message that there are good jobs in this area," Bjorge explained about the career fair. "We hope we can send them out to get their education and have them come back."

The fair kicked off with a motivational message from Pastor Bobby Loukinen, a former youth pastor at Living Hope Church in Little Falls from 1994-2009 who is now a speaker with Youth Alive. Loukinen told students of his own mishaps and adventures in finding work, as a teen growing up in the Twin Cities area, as well as an adult. He gave them advice on job interviewing skills and developing a strong work ethic.

"You have an opportunity to decide what labels people will use to describe you, not from your words, but from your actions," said Loukinen. "Are they going to talk about you being lazy or are they going to say that kid is committed to the task ahead of you? ... This is the start of the exploration that lies ahead of you. Today is the start of your journey to find out what your purpose is."

Little Falls 10th-grader Lexi Kapsner said she was interested in hearing Little Falls chiropractor Steven Hortness speak about his job. It's a profession she is considering. She said it seemed interesting to be able to treat someone in pain without the use of medication.

"I want to see if I really want to do it," said Kapsner.

Students also participated in two service projects, new this year to the career exploration fair. They were invited to tie fleece blankets to create lap blankets for hospice and home care patients, as well as build 150 wood duck houses that will be installed at the Crane Meadows National Wildlife Refuge south of Little Falls in memory of the late Tom Heim. Heim was a HCC board member until his death last fall.

Funding for the event was provided by Catholic Health Initiatives, Little Falls Area Chamber of Commerce, Central Lakes College and the Swanville, Pierz Healy, Little Falls and Royalton high schools.

JODIE TWEED may be reached at jodie.tweed@brainerddispatch.com or 855-5858.