For Good: Charity Awareness connects volunteers, nonprofits

It’s not that teens and young people don’t like to volunteer and put in community service hours.

If they’re not doing either, it’s likely because they can’t find the right fit for their passion or their talents.

So says Berkeley Preparatory School senior Daniel Stein, the founder of CAFÉ (Charitable Awareness Fair and Expo). That’s the premise of the event at Tampa’s Water Works Park on Sunday, April 12, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
 
Now in its third year, CAFÉ is based on a simple concept: Bring out the nonprofits, and the young people will come.

Aimed at students in college, high school and middle school, CAFÉ is a meet-and-greet convergence, giving potential volunteers an opportunity to visit dozens of nonprofits in one setting.
 
“It’s really a win-win situation for everyone who gets involved,” says Stein, 17, also an avid Ultimate Frisbee fan, golfer and photographer. “The truth is, finding volunteers isn’t easy these days. So we give them a venue and an audience, and the hope is they will find a new source of help.”

Finding his passion and a place to funnel his energies was never a problem for Stein. He’s the president of Gearing Up for the Dominican Republic, a nonprofit his brother, Andrew, now a junior at Yale University, founded in 2008. The organization collects and ships baseball equipment to impoverished communities in the DR.

The CAFÉ idea was born out of personal experience. Stein learned that running a nonprofit singlehandedly could be overwhelming. He needed volunteers to assist him. That’s when he realized: If I’m having trouble recruiting helpers, how about all the other organizations out there?

He also heard the complaints from fellow students about completing required community-service hours. Some didn’t have a clue what they wanted to do; others took on tasks where they felt no real connection. That’s when he came up with the idea of a nonprofit fair.

The first year, he signed up 30 nonprofits to set up tables in Hyde Park Village. With contacts at schools throughout Hillsborough County, he spread the word about the CAFÉ – and 700 people showed up. The second year, he nearly doubled the number of participants and attendees, to 51 nonprofits and nearly 1,400 visitors. A dozen   restaurants provided free food, along with entertainment from several student performance groups from local schools. 

“It was a very good feeling to see the growth,” says Stein, who relies on social media and a network of students to promote the event at their schools. “That showed me how much an event like this could make a difference.”

And he’s gearing up for an even bigger CAFÉ this year, so it was moved to a larger venue. Sixty nonprofits are signed up, including LifePath Hospice, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Pet Pal Animal Shelter, Homeless Emergency Project, Girl Scouts of West Central Florida, Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful and Special Olympics Florida.
 
Instead of finding more donors to provide food for a likely bigger crowd, four food trucks will offer a variety of fare for sale.

Getting the conversation going

Linda Adams serves on the boards of two local nonprofits – Tampa City Ballet and the Redlands Christian Migrant Association. For the third year, both of her groups will have tables at the event.
 
“It’s a great way to get the conversation going with potential volunteers,” she says. “Making a personal connection is a much better way to find out if both sides are right for each other.”

Adams says mandatory community service hours can end up backfiring. If the student is disinterested in the work and feels forced into it, it becomes a “meaningless experience.” The CAFÉ gives them a chance to make a choice, based on getting first-hand information.
 
“There’s a lot of untapped potential out there with the younger generation,” Adams says. “In this atmosphere, they can take the initiative to find something suitable that interests them, or at least a seed is planted for the future. And nonprofits get their opportunity to find new volunteers who want to be a part of their mission.”

She’s also impressed by Stein and his student board of directors.
 
“I’m so proud of how they work together. You can tell they are future leaders, and this experience is helping shape them,” Adams says. “They have to take on responsibilities that some adults wouldn’t even do. I’m really proud of them.”

Getting organized, taking control

One of those board members is Adrian O’Sullivan, a 16-year-old junior from Tampa Preparatory School. The aspiring lawyer and sports enthusiast, who also volunteers for Students for Seniors and Teen Court, manages to balance his volunteer work with practicing his cello. 

“It’s taught me a lot of skills I didn’t have before, like how to be more organized and take control of situations,” says the Valrico resident. “Working with adults gives me more confidence in myself.”

O’Sullivan says teens get a bad rap as being self-centered and indulgent. He says his experience is that 75 percent of young people have a genuine desire to volunteer.
 
“I want to convince the other 25 percent to try it. Because if they opened their minds, they would end up loving it,” he says.

There’s an acceptance letter from Yale sitting at Stein’s home. He’s also got his 18th birthday coming up in late April and his upcoming graduation. For now, though, he can’t be thinking of those things, because he’s got too much on his mind with last-minute details for the CAFÉ.

He also needs to groom a successor, so that the event will live on after he leaves for college.

“I’ve learned what it takes to put on an event of this size,” he says. “And I’ve learned you have to find people who share your vision and commitment, and are willing to put in the work. We’ve proven this concept is successful and it’s doing a good job in matching the right people to the right nonprofit. That’s what we set out to do, and we are making it happen.”

Event details

CAFÉ — Charitable Awareness Fair & Expo
Water Works Park, Tampa
11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Sunday, April 12, 2015

Read more articles by Michelle Bearden.

Michelle Bearden is a feature writer at 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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