Naperville’s KidsMatter holds 20th annual Volunteer Fair

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KidsMatter held its 20th annual Volunteer Fair at Naperville’s Fort Hill Activity Center on Tues., Sept. 19. The nonprofit’s CEO and Executive Director Nina Menis said this year, they sold out of their volunteer vendor tables for the popular event.

“We have over 25 volunteer organizations here that people can pick to volunteer with,” said Menis. “You can come and visit with all of these different nonprofits and there are a variety of opportunities to volunteer, from little kids and their families to senior citizens.”

A two-decade tradition of growing volunteers

The fair started two decades ago, shortly after KidsMatter launched as a nonprofit.

“We saw in the community that kids’ mental health was struggling a little bit. We know that research shows that when you volunteer, when you serve others, it helps you. And so, through that, we started the first volunteer fair and we said, well what if we just asked a few other nonprofits who need volunteers to come together and invited people to come learn about what we all do and come learn about how they can help and it has just grown and grown from there,” said Director of Programs for KidsMatter, Sherilyn Hebel.

Rebuilding volunteer base post-COVID

Opportunities for adults, teens, and kids were all available at the fair. With many nonprofits seeing a drop in volunteers during the COVID-19 pandemic, the event was a chance for them to recruit more helpers for their cause.

“A huge mission of ours is to have as much of a diverse population in these STEAM fields as possible. So we’re trying to teach kids that no matter who you are, you can join this organization. You can gain interest in the STEAM fields and hopefully have a career in it when you’re older,” said STEAM Dream Member Maya Raman.

Support Staff Manager for Western DuPage Special Recreational Association Heather Richardson came to the fair to find those interested in helping the WDSRA continue to provide recreation programs to people with disabilities.

“I find that recreation speaks to everybody, regardless of their age, their background, their interests. Recreation is what brings us together and creates those community connections,” Richardson said.

Planting the seed of volunteerism

No matter which service path those attending may choose, Menis said she’s just glad that the seed has been planted, and hopes it will grow.

“My hope is really, excitement. That they see all the opportunities in the community for them to give back. So hopefully they’ll come away with better help and also in looking at all the different fun opportunities to get involved and give back to our community,” said Menis.

For those unable to make the fair, KidsMatter has a list on its website of the groups who were in attendance, so that people can reach out for more information about the volunteer opportunities that are available.

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