As Fayette Chamber of Commerce honored its 2017-18 Students of the Month, officials offered congratulations and best wishes but also a nudge that Fayette County could hold a place in their future.

“One of conversations we’re having with our young people all over the county is that what you hear — that there aren’t good jobs in Fayette County — is wrong,’’ said Muriel Nuttall, executive director, at the annual dinner held recently at Penn State Fayette, The Eberly Campus, in North Union Township.

Nuttall told the audience of students, their families, school officials and chamber members that the latest federal report showed there were 953 job openings in Fayette County in February. She said the Allegheny Conference, a civic leadership organization, recently determined Fayette County will be short 70,000 people to fill jobs within next 10 years.

Nuttall mentioned talking to youths about their career choices and having them say they planned to move away but she noted there are businesses here with jobs in fields youths are interested in pursuing.

“We know you want to go to college and everybody thinks the grass is greener. We want you to do that,’’ said Nuttall, “but then we want you to consider coming back to Fayette County.’’

Devan White, first vice president of the chamber and a former student of the month, talked about her own experiences that included a desire to move to New York City until the summer before her senior year at Gettysburg College when she took an interview for an internship with a television network at the top of the Chrysler Building.

“You all know the end of the story since I’m standing here so I will tell you it was the worst interview I have ever had in my life,’’ said White.

She was a little overwhelmed by the city and underwhelmed by the interview, which she said was essentially competing to be one of five interns to see who could make the best coffee.

“I got on the train in quite disarray because I realized this vision I had of myself for years turned out to be not what I really wanted,’’ White said. “So I started saying, ‘What do you want?’’’

White realized she wanted a lifestyle that’s a little slower in a place that’s more affordable and where she could make a bigger impact and quicker.

“Somewhere I wasn’t one of a million people my age fighting for one spot in a big company,’’ said White. “It was the very first time — and this is the sad part — I thought this successful life I painted for myself — this picture — could also take place in my hometown. It could take place in a small town. It didn’t have to be bright lights, big city.’’

White found an internship that summer with a small-town community development program. After graduation, she came home to Fayette County and began volunteering with a farmers’ market where White was persuaded to go on the radio as part of an effort to entice people to visit the market. After interviewing her, the radio announcer told everyone to come out to the farmers’ market and meet White, who was single and unemployed.

“I wanted to crawl under the table, but I will tell you that I went out there, met people, shook their hands and unintentionally told Fayette County I was single and unemployed,’’ smiled White. “Within two weeks, I had a job and a boyfriend.’’

While things didn’t work out with the boyfriend, White said her first job led her to start the Fayette Young Professionals Network, which led to her present job, which led her to community connections like the chamber of commerce.

“When you go to college and you are ready to start your life somewhere else, always keep Fayette County as an option,’’ said White. “There is nothing saying you cannot live that successful life you want to live in Fayette County. You can do it here and you can do it well and there are many examples of successful young professionals here.’’

State Sen. Pat Stefano, R-Bullskin, the chamber’s immediate past president, also offered congratulations to the students and urged them to “Say thank you to your support network. They’re sitting at the table with you.’’

Stefano said they included families, schools, the chamber and the student of the month sponsors who want to see the students succeed.

State Rep. Matthew Dowling, R-Uniontown, also sent certificates to the students.

The chamber annually honors 64 students — eight juniors each from Albert Gallatin, Brownsville Area, Frazier, Geibel Catholic, Laurel Highlands and Uniontown Area high schools as well as Connellsville Area Career and Technical Center and Fayette County Career and Technical Institute.

They are eligible to apply their senior year for chamber scholarships.

This year’s 2018 Education Works Scholarship Awardees were also honored at the dinner, including Madelyn Kisner, Albert Gallatin; Colton Dellarose, Brownsville; Zachary Karfelt, Connellsville CTC; Abigail Sakaguchi, Fayette County CTI; Sarah Petro, Geibel; Elizabeth Rockwell, Laurel Highlands; and Abigail Marinucci, Uniontown.

The students of the month included:

Albert Gallatin: James Garrett Brown, B. Joseph Dolobach, Evan Mehavlov, Jessica Myers, Grace Robba, Alaina Shaffer, Nathan Sutton and Jessica Victor.

Brownsville: Emily Bohna, Brooklyn Grant, Dylan Higinbotham, Jayda Jones, Sarah Lemesh, Destinie JoeEllen Olesko, Catherine Saluga and Salanieta Waqanivalu.

Connellsville CTC: Brianna Dillinger, Kelsie Hoffer, Andrew Paul Leeches, Catherine Leonard, Meredith Paige Lint, Jacqueline Moore, Mackenzie Sherwood and Sarah Stillwagon.

Fayette County CTI: Jesse McClain, Alexis Dawn Michael, Felicia Minerd, Myckayla Palo, Jessica Ricco, Cameron Riggar, Ariel Seehoffer and Joshua Yucha.

Frazier High School: Megan Celaschi, Kristen Hartz, Noah Harvey, Katlyn Massey, Julian Muccioli, Vincenzo Muccioli, Justin Novak and Erin Shetterly.

Geibel: Sarah Blackstone, Amber Blanish, Sara Ehrhardt, Kaitlyn Garsteck, Jordyn Garlow, Amanda Knapp, Hayley Riggin and Caelen Stevenson.

Laurel Highlands: Michael Brestensky, Elizabeth Defazio, Mikayla Golden, Justin Hartsek, Gregory Hensh, Zachary Mansberry, Rebecca Mihalko and Hannah Stewart.

Uniontown: Bridger Cameron, Maggie Kovacs, Macy Mills, Luke Patton, Karleigh Risha, Danae Rugola, Alec Schambach and Jayden Edmund Thomas.

The chamber offered thanks to Dr. Charles Patrick and Penn State Fayette, Sue Quinn for help with the event, Marilyn Garbart for coordinating student information, the Herald-Standard for publishing students of the month in the Applause column and the Stone House Restaurant and Country Inn for catering the dinner.

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