Fair hopes to encourage volunteers


Fanny Trang

“I volunteer because I know I’m very privileged and blessed,” says Yvonne Fuentes, Director of Community Engagement Programs for the Volunteer and Service Learning Center. “I feel like giving back to my community is the least I can do for others.”

Shane Miller

Students passionate about promoting welfare and seeking an opportunity to give back can stop by the UT Volunteer Fair Wednesday. More than 70 different agencies will convene at the biannual fair in hopes of encouraging participation and providing information to students and faculty. This year’s event will mark the 40th annual fair. Hosted by the Volunteer and Service Learning Center, the event will be held in front of Gregory Gym. The Texas Iron Spikes, a service and spirit organization, will provide food to participating agencies and will sell it to fair-goers as a fundraiser for Dell Children’s Hospital.

Yvonne Fuentes, the center’s director of community engagement programs and a UT alumnus, currently employed in her 10th year at the University, said that she’s excited to be a part of an important milestone.

“I volunteer because I know I’m very privileged and blessed,” Fuentes said. “I feel like giving back to my community is the least I can do for others.” The Volunteer and Service Learning Center is a department of UT’s Division of Diversity and Community Engagement. Located on the fourth floor of the Student Services Building, the center has an easily accessible wealth of information. Representatives can help volunteers find the most interesting opportunities based on individual preference and provide a routinely updated online database.

“The Volunteer and Service Learning Center serves as a hub to connect students with various volunteer opportunities, both on campus and off,” said Berenice Rodriguez, a graduate student assistant at the center. “We need to realize that we are part of an individual community that’s part of a larger one.”

Candlelight Ranch is a nonprofit therapy group participating in the fair that is geared toward kids with special needs. Located in Marble Falls, the outdoor camp provides a setting for special needs children to exercise and interact with their peers. The ranch, which works with the UT Autism Project, heavily relies on volunteers to serve as camp guidance officers.

“We provide equestrian therapy, zip-lines and other assorted team-building activities,” Bridget Shrum, the ranch’s project director, said. “The outside environment is really rewarding for both the kids and the volunteers.”

Founded in 1999, the camp has worked with more than 1,000 kids, providing a camp experience that most of the children would otherwise be unable to enjoy.

Also to be represented at the fair is Keep Austin Beautiful, a 27-year-old organization that seeks to provide resources and recruit students to help with Austin beautification projects.

“Our focus is to work with local citizens to promote environmental clean-ups and increase awareness about local nature topics,” Keep Austin Beautiful spokesperson Monica Lopez said. Keep Austin Beautiful is also hosting a Lake Travis clean-up Sept. 23 where certified divers can gather litter from the seafloor and a bimonthly gathering at Lady Bird Lake Oct. 20 to clean the 10-mile trail.

“Volunteering is a great way for individuals to learn about themselves and make like-minded friends,” Fuentes said.

“There’s so much value in these experiences that can enhance what one learns in a classroom.” Inspiring students to pay good deeds forward, the fair’s 40th anniversary hopes to continue coordinating various nonprofit efforts and organizing the UT student body to benefit its city as a whole.