Naperville event helps link up residents with volunteer work
By David Sharos For The Sun January 6, 2012 9:28AM
Sue Haynes from Naperville, far left, talks to Courtney Simek, right, with Teen Parent Connection during the Volunteer fair at Naper Settlement in Naperville on Thursday, January 5, 2012. | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 14, 2012 8:02AM
Those looking for ways to give back to the community or get involved in a project they are passionate about found plenty of options last week at the Naper Settlement, where a volunteer fair for area non-profit groups was held from 4:30 to 7 p.m. Jan. 5.
More than 25 organizations were represented, ranging from food banks and senior citizen groups to Scouting and literacy organizations.
Kathy Blair, executive director of Giving DuPage, said this was the fifth fair she has overseen and that many of the organizations represented Thursday had appeared numerous times before.
“We usually get anywhere from about half to three quarters of the same groups back each year, but we do have some fresh faces,” Blair said. “Actually, there were some last-minute calls from some groups but we didn’t have the room to accommodate them.”
Blair said the volunteer fair has usually been held during the fall at Cantigny in Wheaton, but that the decision was made to change the venue as well as the timing of the event this year for a number of reasons.
“People make their New Year’s resolutions this time of year and many of them talk about wanting to give something back to the community, so this coincides with the goals people might have,” Blair said. “The other issue is that there is so much help and support for people leading up to Christmas and as soon as the holidays are over, it shuts down. This is a way to keep things going.”
Blair said she was very happy with Thursday night’s turnout, which found plenty of folks with their arms stuffed with pamphlets and brochures.
Anne O’Dell, volunteer coordinator from PADS, said the agency uses an army of about 4,000 volunteers a year to help those who are homeless.
“The profiles of people who do this are varied, but one thing they have in common is they all want to give back to the community,” she said. “The tasks they do are based on their skill sets and they have a willingness to be there working.”
Support service supervisor Dayell Muchowicz, who works for the Western DuPage Special Recreation Association, said her group has been at the fair the last few years and that “any word that gets out about the organization is good.”
“We get a couple hundred volunteers a year and we had a real surge of about 150 people this past fall,” Muchowicz said. “We think there has been a really good turnout here so far and feel like we’ll get some good exposure.”
Many who left with materials had specific volunteering interests, like Pola Rest, who said she moved here from Montana in the past year “to be with her mother who shouldn’t be living alone anymore.”
“I did some tutoring with Native American children back in Montana and have taught ESL classes in French and Spanish,” she said. “I’m interested in doing some literacy work here in DuPage County.”
Linda Nolten of Naperville said she already volunteers with Loaves and Fishes, Literacy DuPage, St. Peter and Paul and Edward Hospital, and that she was hoping to find still another agency in order to “fill up one more day.”
“I moved here from Madison, Wis., to Naperville a year ago, and you can’t just sit at home,” she said. “I have one more day in the week to fill, and I’m thinking about doing something related to autism.”
Robert Hacker and his wife Gillian said they moved from England to Naperville back in 1990 and that as people who are still healthy they want to help those who might not be.
“I’m 69 and still in good health, and I’d like to help people who aren’t as well off as I am right now,” he said. “I might do some work where I’ll drive people who can’t get around to their various appointments.”
Gillian Hacker visited at least 10 booths and already does volunteer work at Benedictine University.
“I’m going to take home all of these materials I’ve collected and see what I’d like to do this year,” she said.
“At this point, literacy seems kind of interesting to me. I think it’s very important.”