Extending a Helping Hand: StarNews Conscience Fair returns to celebrate year seven of giving back

Jan 28 • EXTRA! EXTRA!, FeatureNo Comments on Extending a Helping Hand: StarNews Conscience Fair returns to celebrate year seven of giving back

 The 2013 Conscience Fair attendees look for volunteer opportunities at community nonprofit booths. Photo courtesy of StarNews Media/Matt Born

The 2013 Conscience Fair attendees look for volunteer opportunities at community nonprofit booths. Photo courtesy of StarNews Media/Matt Born

The annual StarNews Media Conscience Fair certainly has grown since its inception. Having started in 2008 with 40 nonprofit organizations,  today it hosts over 100 agencies who help propel the give-back spirit.

New Hanover Regional Medical Center attends the conscience fair every year. Director of volunteer and auxiliary services Eileen McConville has found they always get volunteers from this fair and, more impressively, quality inquiries.

“[We] have good conversations with people who are genuinely looking for a place to volunteer,” McConville states. McConville often notices with other volunteer recruitments, which take place mostly at community or health fairs, visitors are not as focused on the actual opportunities. “Because the Conscience Fair is specifically targeting potential volunteers, it’s very much worth our while.”  Representatives from New Hanover Regional Medical Center talk to around 25 to 30 potential volunteers and on average between eight and 12 people volunteer each year.

McConville tells Cantwell it is the most effective enrolling event she attends each year. Mainly because it consists of the people specifically looking for ways to give back to their community.

Taking place February 1st at the McKeithan Center at the North Campus of Cape Fear Community College, the Conscience Fair gives members of the community an opportunity to learn about various charities and public agencies based in Wilmington. Its sole purpose is to bring to light volunteer openings available within the community. Representatives from each organization inform folks on what help the nonprofits need.

StarNews Media’s columnist and community editor Si Cantwell developed the idea with former managing editor Julie Martin. Much of Cantwell’s focus is on nonprofits and volunteerism.

“I edit Wednesday’s Living Local section, which features many stories along those lines, and nonprofits are the topic of many of my weekly ‘Here Now’ columns,” Cantwell details. “I’m grateful to the StarNews for allowing me to be the guy who helps do-gooders find volunteers, donations and resources to further their missions.”

The pair started the Voices of Conscience series in December 2007 and wrote profiles of 10 volunteers nominated by readers. “We used that series to spread the word about the first Conscience Fair and have continued the tradition ever since,” Cantwell says.

Annually, they welcome over 400 attendees, spanning across all ages—from college students looking to polish their applications to retirees wanting to fill up their extra time. This year StarNews hopes to see 500 visitors.

Cantwell informs this year’s fair will be held on the same day as the annual Castle Hayne Volunteer Fire and Rescue Barbecue and Barbecue Chicken Plate sales event. Better yet, they often make deliveries to the Conscience Fair, so attendees can give back and enjoy lunch altogether. “[It] is something we all look forward to every year!” Cantwell remarks.

Cantwell has seen a number of organizations return annually. Many attribute volunteer increase to the fair year after year. Likewise, local nonprofits can utilize it as time well spent to connect.

“One aspect of this is that members of the nonprofit community get to network with one another,” Cantwell enlightens. “As cooperation among nonprofits becomes more of a focus, a networking opportunity, such as the Conscience Fair, is a valuable tool.”

Canines for Service, another regular to the fair, has been participating in it for a while. Since it occurs a month before the organization’s annual Walk and Dog Dash, it helps recruit help for the event. Canines for Service find it valuable to spread the word about their mission.

“We are afforded the opportunity to meet and talk with other nonprofit representatives in our community,” Laura Kranchalk, office manager and coordinator for volunteers for Canines for Service, tells. “We believe that a community must work together to help those in need and this fair helps us with networking so that we can direct people appropriately and help other nonprofits at the same time.”

The fair will comprise of groups seeking help within Brunswick, New Hanover and Pender counties. Some organizations onsite will include: Coastal Therapeutic Riding Program; Disabled American Veterans; NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher; Cape Fear Volunteer Center and Big Buddy; and Cape Fear Habitat for Humanity.

Cantwell has seen nonprofits from other cities turn up some years, too. “One year the Raleigh-based N.C. Center for Nonprofits had a table,” he says. “Their purpose was to come [and] network with the local nonprofit community. I hope they’ll be back this year.”

The Conscience Fair is free for all—guests and even nonprofits interested in setting up a table. “You can volunteer an hour a month or on a regular weekly basis,” Cantwell notes. “Our nonprofits are grateful for any help they can get.”

The fair offers a wide range of opportunities in different areas—from agencies serving the needy to helping in schools to supporting the arts to providing health care. Visitors can discuss with individual groups about finding a niche that suits their abilities and wishes.

For more information contact Si Cantwell at (910) 343-2364 or si.cantwell@starnewsonline.com.

Conscience Fair
February 1st, 10 a.m. – 2p.m.
McKeithan Center
North Campus of Cape Fear Community College
100 E. Industrial Dr.
Burgaw, NC 28425

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