Volunteer expo acts as ‘matchmaking venture’ for Chicagoans, nonprofits

SHARE Volunteer expo acts as ‘matchmaking venture’ for Chicagoans, nonprofits
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Ronnda Simpson, left, talks to a representative from AARP about doing volunteer work at the Chicago Volunteer Expo on Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018. | Rachel Hinton/Sun-Times

As a former social worker, Ronnda Simpson knows the value of community engagement and interacting with others.

When she started working in human relations for nonprofits, her involvement in helping communities subsided but her love for it never did.

That’s how she found herself at the Chicago Volunteer Expo, the sixth annual gathering at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum for city residents looking to get involved with community organizations.

“I miss working with people,” Simpson said. “That was the theme of my days as a social worker. I miss the social responsibility aspect of it all.”

Nearly 90 organizations were present at the expo Sunday on the first and second floors of the Lincoln Park museum. Simpson and others walked from table to table, picking up information from AARP, Buddies Through Baseball, the USO and more.

Jill Doub, an organizer of the expo and the museum’s senior director of public engagement, said the event started because people often asked about how they could get involved.

Since the expo’s start, it’s grown from year to year, but the main goal — getting people involved and bolstering the people power for nonprofits — has remained the same.

“The nature museum considers itself a gathering place for the community, and one thing we kept hearing was that people want to get involved,” Doub said. “We thought of this as a matchmaking venture between organizations and those seeking to get plugged in.”

The “one stop shop,” as Doub thinks of it, offers people a chance to meet executives and volunteers of nonprofits that cover a range of subjects. That face-to-face connection helps people get their questions answered in a way that a Google search can’t.

Bradley Ryba would agree. The 28-year-old attorney volunteered a lot during his undergraduate days and was looking to get involved again. The face time allowed him to figure out which organizations would be a good fit and talk to people directly involved.

“I think it’s important to give back, and I know from experience that volunteering can help people and communities if people go where the need is,” Ryba said. “There were a lot of great organizations here and it was great to get the face time.”

Ryba and Simpson both gravitated toward nonprofits involved in social change.

“To have this all in one place, where you can meet executives and volunteers under one roof is great,” Simpson said. “You can get everything you need. You can’t get that from the web.”

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