Volunteer Fair connects students with community

SOFIA LEGASPI, Staff Writer

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Approximately 200 people visited the volunteer fair in the Maucker Union ballroom on Jan. 18.

The fair, sponsored by the Volunteer Center of Cedar Valley (VCCV), featured about 30 different vendors with whom students could network to find both volunteer opportunities and internships.

Lauren Finke, executive director of the VCCV, estimated this to be their 15th year sponsoring the event on campus. This was the first time the fair took place during the spring semester.

“A lot of the volunteers in our community come from the university, and so let’s help make it easier and be a good outlet for those potential volunteers to make those connections,” Finke said.

Aside from students, several UNI faculty and staff members also attend volunteer fairs, according to Finke.

The Nonprofit Leadership Alliance (NLA) on campus partnered with the VCCV to organize the event.

Mikaela Heikens, a junior majoring in leisure, youth and human services, was one of the NLA members helping with the fair. Heikens currently volunteers with the Spectrum Project and her church’s Sunday School. She also plans to start a program with Love, Inc.

“I think [volunteering] is a good experience,” Heikens said. “You can gain a lot of knowledge from the organizations you volunteer with. It looks good on a resume to know that you care about your community. I guess I just enjoy it a lot because you feel like you’re making a positive impact.”

Vendors at the fair ranged from major nonprofits like the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army to local organizations, including the ASPIRE Therapeutic Riding Program and UNI PALS (Panthers Allied with Local Schools).

UNI alumna Janelle Brehm is an Americorps VISTA at the Northeast Iowa Food Bank, which serves 16 Iowa counties. Their on-site pantry serves around 5,800 people each week.

Brehm listed some of the food bank’s volunteer opportunities for students: sorting through donated food items, rescuing unsold produce from farmers’ markets and gleaning harvest at the end of the growing season.

Last week, hundreds of UNI students packaged food for the organization’s “Backpack Program” during UNI’s MLK Day of Service.

“I think it’s important to volunteer to give back to your community,” Brehm said. “And I think it just better helps you understand your community and how these different organizations are working together.”

“I just feel like it’s a really rewarding experience to help mothers and families in the community,” said Carolina Arce, a senior family services major who interns with Alternatives Pregnancy Center in Waterloo. The faith-based nonprofit provides free pregnancy tests, ultrasounds and parenting classes.

According to a news release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2016, volunteer rates among 16- to 19-year-olds in the United States are comparatively high at 26 percent.

However, those aged 20 to 24 years old have the lowest rates, with only 18 percent of them volunteering.

“There are a lot of reasons [to volunteer in college]. One of the biggest is that it’s an awesome way to network and meet new people,” Finke said. “I think when you’re in college and prepping for the next chapter of your life, the more people you can meet, the more experiences you can have can help direct you to your next steps.”

“People who are college-aged students have the enthusiasm and the want and the ability to get involved in such a wide variety of activities, too,” Finke said.

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