Volunteering Miami’s Volunteer Fair

Ava Stuzin, News Editor

On Nov. 20, from 1–4 p.m., local nonprofit organization, Volunteering Miami hosted its first Volunteer Fair at Thalatta Estate. The fair included 23 organizations each presenting an informational booth and different community service opportunities for attendees to gain service hours and volunteer in the community.

“We connect high school students to volunteer opportunities, and the Volunteer Fair is an opportunity to bring these opportunities from an online platform to an in-person setting. And it benefits both our businesses and our students because it’s transitioning from the pandemic and makes it more interactive and engaging,” Miami Palmetto Senior High junior and Volunteering Miami Chief Operations Officer Jordis Markowitz said.

The fair’s purpose was not only for Volunteering Miami to branch out from its website and expand its organization, but also to create a more interactive activity for all high school students.

“Before, we were just a website that connected volunteers through one easy-to-use platform. And through that we have connected over 1300 volunteers so far,” MPSH junior and Volunteering Miami Chief Executive Officer Lorenzo Castillo-Rios said. “But in recent months, we decided that we wanted to take that a step further. And we came up with the idea of hosting a Volunteer Fair, which would do the same as our website, but in an in-person event, where organizations would come out and host booths, and show other students or community members, what their organization does, and hopefully have an increase in student involvement and community awareness of their cause.” 

Along with in-person events, Volunteering Miami utilizes its website to post local, Miami-based community service opportunities where students can easily sign up and see what fits their interests.

Along with booths, the event featured live music and offered food and drinks.

“Frankie’s Pizza was the food vendor. We also had music by a fellow Palmetto student [junior Diego Ortiz] who was DJing. And a lot of the organizations were having activities for each person to do. You would go to the organizations and get to meet representatives from them, and become involved with them. And once you’re done, you can either hang out listening to the music, go get food, get snow cones or even just talk and walk around the venue,” Castillo-Rios said.

MPSH junior Isabel Duran, one of the organizers, attended the fair to spread awareness about her community service project, STEM GEM.

“I decided to go to the Volunteer Fair to introduce STEM GEM to other organizations and people. I also wanted to sell cookies; I normally sell them at school and all of the profits go to buying materials for STEM GEM activities. Everyone was super kind and supportive. A lot of parents and students seemed interested in STEM GEM and its efforts.  [The] Volunteer Fair was very well organized and executed, and it was a great event both for volunteers and organizations,” Duran said.

Duran started her project after competing in a Chemistry Olympiad when a fellow mother and teacher expressed her contentment over Duran’s participation in the competition. Initially confused, Duran noticed she was the only girl among the nine competitors. 

“My project is called STEM Gender Equity Mentorship (GEM), and it empowers young girls in science. I take a team of professional female scientists to elementary schools and do engaging experiments to provide a safe space for girls to learn science and also show them that women can be successful in science. My hope is that some of these girls will fall in love with science, like I did, and feel confident in their capabilities,” Duran said.

The Volunteer Fair was curated through a team effort and a lot of brainstorming among staff members. 

It was honestly just like us sitting down, trying to come up with something in the moment that would be able to let people connect with volunteer opportunities in-person. There was nothing specific; it was just us talking about something interesting that people would want to come to,” Markowitz said.

Once figuring out the idea for the event, the process of planning the fair included finding a venue and local businesses that would sponsor the event to pay the expenses.

“We all met and talked about how we’re going to do it. And then once we came up with some sort of plan, we moved forward with the planning process, meaning first reaching out to Palmetto Bay in hopes of partnering with them to host this event, and then the next step was contacting the organizations to have them come and host booths while at the same time the rest of our staff was contacting local businesses for sponsors in order to cover the event costs, and also at the same time coordinating where each organization goes, all of the event activities, what there’s going to be, to do the food and promoting the event in general,” Castillo-Rios said.

The fair’s turnout exceeded 100 people and was quite popular, despite the rainy weather which forced the event to move from an outdoor to an indoor location.

“It was really good, a lot better than expected. Because, of course, it was raining all day. So last minute, we switched our venue from the outdoor venue to an [indoor venue], we basically had to flip everything. And that would not have been possible without all of my staff members. And it was a really good turnout, considering all of the circumstances,” Castillo-Rios said.

Due to the success of the first event, the Volunteer Fair has been declared a biannual event.

“We have decided that we’re going to host the Volunteer Fair biannually. So hopefully in March and then September, so it is not the end of us. Our staff is in the process of coming up with other events and other ways we can support students and promote volunteerism throughout Miami,” Castillo-Rios said.