Volunteer fair grants students opportunities and work experience

Marnie Leonard

Staff Writer

Parkland College kicked off its bi-annual volunteer fair on Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014 in the Student Union building. 24 local organizations set up booths to provide students with the chance to chat with representatives and learn about volunteer opportunities in the area.

The Parkland AmeriCorps Vista representative and coordinator of the event, Mike Moran, explained that volunteering reflects well on people when applying for jobs, and it can provide practical experience at entry level positions in fields.

“You help build the community that you’re living in when you volunteer, and we’re all a part of the Parkland community, which is also the Champaign community, and people usually feel pretty good when they help out locally. I know I do,” Moran stated.

The represented organizations included everything from the Champaign Unit 4 School District to the Orpheum Children’s Science Museum to Community Blood Services and more. Parkland Humanities Professor, and co-coordinator of the fair, Brian Nudelman, explained that the event has been growing steadily.

“Each semester it’s gotten bigger and bigger because these organizations definitely want to be a part of it,” Nudelman said. “It’s a good opportunity for them to get volunteers to help them out.”

According to Nudelman, many of these organizations like to get young adult volunteers because the organizations tend to work with children and, at times, young people can communicate with children in ways adults can’t. He added that, ultimately, there’s just a great need in the community for volunteers.

“A lot of these organizations usually don’t have the budgets they would like but they’re doing good work, and they depend on volunteers in the community to help them do what they’re trying to do, which is to help other folks,” Nudelman added. “Whether it’s building houses or putting clothes on kids’ backs. Volunteers are often their lifeblood.”

The Planned Parenthood Community Outreach Coordinator, Jamie Hines, said the volunteer fair is invaluable to groups in the area who are able to function largely due to the efforts of their volunteers.

“Being able to engage with the community here at Parkland is really cool because it might mean that someone ends up becoming an advocate for a new cause they didn’t know existed around here or even start on a new career path,” Hines said. “It allows organizations to thrive, but it also helps students to thrive.”

Hines went on to say that volunteering is the best way to meet like-minded people with similar ideas and values.

The Volunteer Coordinator for the Daily Bread Soup Kitchen, Karen Kane, explained that the Parkland volunteer fair provides students with a great opportunity to get to know their community better. The fair can expand students’ knowledge of the experiences to help people that are available to them.

Mike Moran stated that there is always the potential for volunteers to secure jobs within the organizations they volunteer for.

“If you volunteer at Habitat for Humanity it’s entirely possible that, given that it’s something that you want to do, since there’s a bunch of branches you can use the experience as a really good step up into getting a position there,” Moran said.

Program Series Specialist, Lindsay Burton, represented Girl Scouts at the volunteer fair. She expressed that the volunteer fair is one of the few opportunities that organizations in the area have to reach out to the students and connect with them in an environment that they’re comfortable in.

“They don’t feel like they’re obligated to do anything when we talk to them here,” Burton said. “There can be a lot of pressure if you have to actually walk in to the organization’s building and sit down and talk to someone, so here it’s a lot more casual.”

Burton also said that the volunteer fair is beneficial to students who aren’t from the Champaign area and, therefore, aren’t as familiar with all the non-profit places they can volunteer.

The volunteer fair is held once a semester at Parkland College. So if you missed this one keep an eye out for announcements on the Spring fair. For more information, visit http://bit.ly/1Dmhzhj.