By: Naples Daily News | Laura Layden
A volunteer expo at the Hilton Naples looked like trick-or-treating all over again.
Residents came in search of volunteer opportunities, going from one table to another to learn about dozens of local nonprofits, collecting handouts along the way, including brochures, promotional products — and an assortment of candy. They left with the plastic bags they got at check-in stuffed with information on how to get involved in Collier County.
The second annual Get Involved Collier! Volunteer Expo, organized by the Leadership Collier Foundation, an affiliate of the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce, was held from 3 to 7 p.m.Wednesday. It ran two hours longer to avoid the traffic jams generated by last year’s inaugural event, said Amanda Beights, the foundation’s vice president.
The expo is designed to fill community needs. Beights said she came up with the idea for the event after people kept asking her if she knew about volunteer opportunities.
“We fit as many as we can in this location,” Beights said of the Hilton. “I have a waiting list every year of organizations that want to be part of this event, but we’re just short on space here.”
At each table there was a page produced by Leadership Collier describing the volunteer opportunities and the hours volunteers are needed.
Nearly 60 organizations participated in this year’s event — about the same number as last year. Their needs range from big to small, with some looking for just a few volunteers and others needing hundreds. Opportunities range from data entry to board seats.
Janey Cook, a Bonita Springs resident who works for Make-A-Wish Southern Florida, came in search of organizations her nonprofit can partner with and to find charities she can get involved with personally. She discovered a few charities she really liked including Wellfit Girls, a newer organization in Southwest Florida.
“I’m very interested in that one,” she said. “There are a lot of organizations I never knew about.”
Wellfit Girls is a five-month fitness, leadership and empowerment program for teen girls. It ends with a life-challenging trip to Peru with community service and a trek to Machu Picchu. Since 2014, 30 teens in Southwest Florida have completed the program.
“We serve all teen girls. We don’t like the word at-risk. All teen girls are at risk,” Colby Hazewinkel, program director, said.
Since the nonprofit is so new, it’s still in need of board members with skills in such areas as marketing and finance, she said. Mentors are also needed to work with the teens.
“We’re growing, and we have a lot of interest,” Hazewinkel said.
Naples Equestrian Challenge, which serves children and adults with special needs through therapeutic horse riding and related programs, is growing, too.
With the addition of a new riding arena, it will need at least another 200 volunteers to add to its current army of about 400, said Missy Saracino, program director. For every child who rides a horse, three volunteers are needed — two to walk on the sides and one to take the lead, she said.
Saracino was happy to get the contact information for three potential volunteers in the first hour of the expo. She’s a fan of the event.
“It’s so much fun to see all the organizations in one place and for people to come out and see how they can get involved,” Saracino said.
Susan G. Komen Southwest Florida participated in the event in hopes of finding more donors and volunteers, including knitters to make tote bags that are filled with educational information and handed out to comfort and inspire survivors through a program known as Project Hope. The bags include handmade pink shawls.
The charity — whose mission is to rid the world of breast cancer — also needs more people to get involved with its annual race, set for March 4, said Natalie Matricardi, a volunteer at the table for the nonprofit.
“We had almost 3,000 this year,” she said. “One year we had 10,000.”
Seventy-five cents of every dollar raised by the nonprofit is spent in the local community, Matricardi said.
Some charities find it harder than others to generate interest.
For the Parkinson Association of Southwest Florida, volunteers aren’t easy to come by, and most find their way to the organization once their lives are affected by the disease. The nonprofit needs extra hands to help with its speech, swallowing, exercise, support and other programs, as well as with its events.
“We have a big need for volunteers,” said Laura Domonte, a volunteer. “We have two paid employees. That’s all.”