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Exploring volunteer opportunities

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Enticed by a free T-shirt, snacks and opportunities for volunteer work, students poured in to the north gym at Darien High School during their lunch periods.

For 10 years, Darien High School has offered a day for students to meet representatives from local organizations and to find potential passions.

“At first it was just the T-shirt,” said Niamani Williams, a freshman, who had stopped at the SoundWaters table, an organization that encourages kids to learn about the Long Island Sound. Many students gathered around Soundwaters’ educators, who let students examine a live horseshoe crab.

The sea creature was a plus, Niamani said, because she wants to become a veterinarian some day.

About 60 students signed up for information from the organization 40 minutes into the fair, according to Dianne Selditch, center director.

Two experienced volunteers, Olga Papaeconomou and Sofia Imbimbo, both sophomores, worked at the YWCA table with the organization’s president, Julie Forsyth. The girls got involved through their parents and spent the three-hour long volunteer fair inviting their classmates to sign up.

Kate Rissolo, a senior, signed up for more information from the Maritime Aquarium, at a booth decorated with a toy seal and informational pamphlets. She already spends time volunteering for the Darien Animal Welfare Group, or D.A.W.G., and plays sports at the high school, but at the fair, there is “no limit” to what you can sign up for, Kate said.

Other local organizations included Shakespeare on the Sound, Darien’s Historical Society, Neighbor’s Link, Community Plates, Darien’s fire and police departments, Safe Rides and the Depot.

Students who visited a volunteer station were allowed to pick up a “Dive In” T-shirt, designed by Darien student Kelly Kosnik. A member of the Art for Action club designs the volunteer fair T-shirt every year, according to Lisa Stout, interim executive director of The Community Fund of Darien.

This year the T-shirts, stacked a foot high across a table, were sponsored by Darien-Rowayton Bank, and the fair by other local businesses.

The Community Fund of Darien, which has relationships with non-profits in Darien, Norwalk and Stamford, has joined organizations and students for 10 years.

The student-designed t-shirt is one of the familiar practices for organizing the fair, but the look of the event has changed over the years.

“The formula hasn’t changed much,” Stout said, of the fund. “The school population has gotten a lot bigger.”

The event started at the old high school and with a smaller student body, she said.

“We used to do a big assembly with a speaker. Years ago we had Brian Williams and Scott Pelley.”

This year, parent volunteers and high school administrators thanked the Community Fund for its service in the gym with some students present.

Everyone still gets the full experience there, she said.

“The idea was to bring the non-profit agencies here to give the kids an idea of what opportunities are out there to volunteer in the wider community,” Stout said. It’s also a chance for non-profits to meet students and each other, she added.

One change she noticed this year — the organizations are getting more “sophisticated,” Stout said. While many had pamphlets, signs and buckets of candy, one table featured photo slideshows and another displayed a large QR code, which is scanned with a smartphone and opens a link.

At the end of the day, students hope to find their passions.

Last year, one student discovered Inspirica, a Darien-based service provider for the homeless in Connecticut, and shared it with the Depot’s Student Governing Board, said Janice Marzano, the Depot’s director. Now, the Depot hosts Inspirica fundraising events.

“Some kids really find something to do in these places,” Marzano said.

ydavydov@darientimes.com 

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