If it weren't for volunteers, most of the helpful nonprofit community organizations would not be able to deliver their services to the needy.
Thanks to KidsMatter, a volunteer fair will help bring together those organizations and hundreds of Naperville children, teenagers and adults who want to help.
The event was scheduled for 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday in the lower level of the Naperville Municipal Center, 400 South Eagle St.
"It's a big event," said Bridget Hatch of KidsMatter. "We're hopeful that we'll get 700 or 800 people, like last year."
Twenty-six nonprofits will have representatives at the free event to explain what would be entailed by volunteering at their organization. Teenagers as well as children and families may then sign up to help a group.
"It's not easy for kids to find ways to become community contributors," Hatch said. "You don't always know the time commitment, if there's an age requirement or whether there's travel involved. At this event, when the teens and the families are there together, they get a really good opportunity to get a feel for the nonprofit they're talking with and to understand how it would fit with their own schedule and their desired career path."
Hatch said some volunteer opportunities are intended for entire families, as with Feed My Starving Children and DuPage PADS.
"Some have age restrictions, like age 14 for Habitat for Humanity," Hatch said. "But there are others where younger kids in grade school can help package food that would be sent to Haiti and beyond."
The idea for KidsMatter started with a 1998 initiative by Edward Hospital to combat at-risk behavior by developing a program to reward good behavior. The Naperville Youth Development Coalition later evolved to the organization that today has six part-time employees, dozens of volunteers and an annual budget of nearly $300,000.
"Even though we're small, people are amazed at how much we do," said IdaLynn Wenhold, executive director. "Most of the donations and grants come from the City of Naperville, but there also are local organizations like the Rotary and Exchange clubs and other wonderful groups. Our largest corporate benefactor always wishes to be anonymous because they don't want the recognition."
Hatch said the Rotary Club has been a helpful partner that provides a grant to pay for costs involved with the volunteer fair. Aurelio's is donating pizza for the nonprofit exhibitors.
"It's important to do this, and some kids have a necessity to do volunteer hours, whether it's for church or Scouts or service requirements at school," Hatch said. "Also, when kids see that they can make a difference, I really believe it turns them away from making destructive choices. It sounds cliche, but they see that they can use their power for good, to help in the community and be recognized for the contribution."
The other nonprofits involved with the volunteer fair include 360 Youth Services, American Cancer Society, Community Access Naperville, DuPage Children's Museum, Easter Seals, Will County Forest Preserves, Giant Steps, GiGi's Playhouse, Loaves and Fishes, Nickel A Day Films, Muscular Dystrophy Association, Naper Settlement, NaperBridge, Naperville Park District, Naperville Public Library, Ray Graham Association, Teen Parent Connection, Turning Pointe, Western DuPage Special Recreation and the YMCA.
"Serving others is probably the most exciting and worthwhile thing that you can do in your life," Wenhold said. "So come on out, get involved, explore the hundreds of different opportunities that will be available and take advantage of them.
"In so doing, you'll not only make a difference in other people's lives, but most importantly, you're going to make a difference in your own and your children's lives by sharing the value of serving others."