If you cook it, they will come

Organizations tempt new volunteers with potluck spread

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“We were both thinking last summer that we couldn’t find something to do for people.”

Sisters Susan Morris and Barbara Hunter have been on the lookout for opportunities to lend a hand in their community – they found plenty Tuesday night at Kilgore’s first Volunteer Expo in the Texan Theater.

One found the event on social media, the other through the News Herald.

“This popped up so we decided to come,” Morris said. “It was perfect. It was a non-intimidating way to see what’s going on.”

Inside the theater, visitors were immediately struck with the scent of the night’s smorgasbord, a wide variety of home-cooked, restaurant-prepped and store-bought fare provided by about 20 participating organizations in need of volunteers.

Further in, the ground floor of the newly-revitalized downtown venue was ringed with Kilgore outreaches, from the Saturday Bread feeding program to Kilgore Boys & Girls Club, Reel East Texas Film Festival, Kilgore Improvement & Beautification Association, Friends of the Kilgore Public Library and more.

“I’ve been hunting, Hunter said. “I’ve been looking in Kilgore and Longview for somewhere I could volunteer.”

She found Texas Broadcast Museum there recruiting docents. The Texas Shakespeare Festival Guild was searching for new supporters of the local theater company. Heroic Inner Kids – East Texas sought new team members “to inspire those with challenges to realize their Inner Hero via education, outreach and advocate efforts.”

Around the circle, Josie Atchley of the Special Abilities Family Fun Event educated people about SAFFE Day’s Sept. 15 activities while the Special Needs Ministry of First Christian Church welcomed roaming guests with updates on the initiative. Avalon Faire participants in period garb invited visitors to come help out at the FM1252 fairgrounds, and Hannah Beets recruited coaches for Ignition Station. East Texas CASA sought more Court Appointed Special Advocates “to give foster children in Gregg, Rusk and Upshur Counties a voice in court and help them find a forever home” as Ursula Plaisance of Helping Hands looked for new helpers in the local food pantry.

Likewise, Kilgore Chamber of Commerce’s Ryan Polk offered a variety of branded Visit Kilgore items, looking for new tourism partners, while Kilgore Special Events Coordinator & Main Street Manager Sonya Trout – who organized Tuesday’s expo – recruited volunteers for upcoming downtown events.

“I thought it was fantastic. I was blown away by how great all the community organizations’ foods were,” Trout said. “We definitely had plenty of food.

“And, the amount of people who came through that were new – people from the organizations told me they talked to people they’ve never seen before. That was definitely one of the core objectives of the event, to expose new people to the organizations that we have in Kilgore.”

Veteran volunteer Jerry Camp was pulling double-duty Tuesday in his roles as president of the Kilgore Rotary Club and Kilgore Historical Preservation Foundation president – both organizations are always on the lookout for new volunteers and members.

Especially for a first time event, Camp said, and despite some rain, the expo drew a healthy turnout and a lot of positive energy from the participating organizations and potential volunteers.

“I was impressed with it. I hadn’t thought about that before, that’s a good idea,” he said, crediting Trout for bringing the various groups together and spreading the word. “It was an opportunity to see everybody, see what they do. We even got some names,” fresh faces to lend a hand in KHPF and Rotary activities.

“I think it went well. I heard several good compliments about it from the people who were there recruiting. I guess if you have food, they will come – this gives them a chance to come and see without feeling they’re pressured to join.”

After a successful event, thoughts are already turning to the next. The Volunteer Expo will definitely be back, Trout said, once the local event cycle’s primed for a repeat.

“At the moment we’re talking biannual. It just depends on the response we get back from community organizations.”

Visit tinyurl.com/KilgoreVolunteerExpo to learn more about each of Tuesday’s participating organizations, and log on to KilgoreNewsHerald.com to find the 2018 Expo’s guide to local volunteer opportunities.

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