Fair brokers volunteers, nonprofits

Rachelle Bergeron has volunteered in the past and found it to be such a rewarding experience, she didn’t mind driving 72 miles to Baton Rouge on Saturday morning to find out how she could do it again.

Bergeron, of Mandeville, was presented with a buffet of nonprofit organizations to choose from during the Regional Volunteer Fair conducted by Volunteer Louisiana and the Louisiana Association of Nonprofit Organizations, which took place under the awning of the Capitol Park Museum.

The inaugural event was the organizations’ latest attempt to bring together local nonprofit agencies with service-minded people such as Bergeron.

“I’ve been looking for different opportunities and there are so many nonprofits that are under the radar,” Bergeron said. “In the New Orleans area … you only think of the big ones. But I’m sure the smaller ones are in greater need and most of the ones here today have chapters in my area.”

Representatives from more than 20 federally approved nonprofit groups set up booths at Saturday’s fair where they gave attendees first hand information about their organizations and the missions they are trying to accomplish in the communities they serve.

Taking part were organizations such as Evergreen Life Services, the Sexual Trauma Awareness and Response Center, the Office of the Mayor-President, the Recreation and Park Commission of East Baton Rouge and the Louisiana Secretary of State Voter Outreach Division.

Like Bergeron, web page designer Javier Alberty, of Baton Rouge, also has been eager to give back to the community. He said the volunteer fair gave him a unique opportunity to cherry-pick where he wants to spend his free time.

“I’ve gone online and looked stuff up, but it’s all just a lot of basic information,” said Alberty, 27. “It’s kind of hard to really know what’s in town so I came because I figured a lot of these local organizations can tell me specifically what’s going on and how I can fit their needs.”

Marci Gaines, with Evergreen Life Services, said people such as Bergeron and Alberty are an important component in the day-to-day operations of most nonprofits.

Gaines, a 21-year-old senior at Southeastern Louisiana University, originally worked for the faith-based organization as a volunteer before becoming a paid staff member.

Evergreen Life Services serves the needs of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“Staff members can only do so much when you’re trying to provide for a person’s everyday needs,” Gaines said.

Saturday’s volunteer fair also served as a backdrop for networking opportunities among many of the organizations taking part.

Toni Brantley, visitor services coordinator with the West Baton Rouge Museum, used her downtime to recruit other nonprofit groups to appear during public events the museum hosts throughout the year.

“I talked to some of the people from (Cangelosi Dance Project) to come to our Christmas Open House to do performances,” Brantley said. “It’s always good to get people to the Westside and expose them to the things going on in the parish.”

Vice President Matt Mullenix of the Louisiana Association of Nonprofit Organizations said his agency and Volunteer Louisiana will pair up twice more to hold volunteer fairs in the Shreveport and Lake Charles areas later this year.

And both groups hope to hold another round of volunteer fairs next year as well.

“Organizations need this,” Mullenix said, of Saturday’s event. “We need people here to help them understand (nonprofits’) purposes and what they do.”