The organizers of the Tuolumne County Volunteer Fair say more than 200 people came to the first one last April at Mother Lode Fairgrounds.

Scores of local nonprofit organizations seeking volunteers sent representatives. A month after the first fair, members of the 2018 Tuolumne County Leadership Team followed up with those organizations and found that as many as 45 people had already started volunteering.

Rebecca Andrade is a volunteer leader with the nonprofit Stanislaus Wilderness Volunteers, the California Native Plant Society, Sierra Foothills Chapter, and the California Naturalist Program, Central Sierra.

She says her volunteer activities include giving talks about wilderness values, preservation, gardening and native plants, leading field trips and wildflower hikes, and citizen science programs with people of all ages.

Asked what she gets out of volunteering and why she does it, Andrade said she enjoys being outdoors and meeting new people and it helps her channel her concern for the natural environment.

“And the work really does make a difference,” Andrade said. “It's meaningful, having a connection with the land and people at the same time.”

Organizers and nonprofits are excited about enthusiasm for this year’s fair, due to demand for limited space in the venue at Mother Lode Fairgrounds, said Darrell Slocum, executive director of the Sonora Area Foundation.

"Volunteers come in all shapes and sizes which pairs well with the various needs of our organizations," he said. "I regularly serve as a volunteer judge for such things as the Sonora Lions annual speech competition and reviewing senior projects."

The majority of those who attended and exhibited at last year’s fair were on board with continuing the event this year, and that says a lot about the need for volunteers in the Tuolumne County area, Slocum said Wednesday.

This year, the Tuolumne County Volunteer Fair is being hosted by Project Feed Our Kids, Inc., a local nonprofit seeking to eliminate childhood hunger in Tuolumne County. The fair is again sponsored by the Sonora Area Foundation.

There will be room for representatives of 75 non-profit organizations in the John Muir Building.

One of those nonprofits will be ATCAA, the Amador-Tuolumne Community Action Agency, which will have representatives for several programs.

People with ATCAA say they have volunteer opportunities for all ages and skill levels. They also say volunteering increases self-confidence. Doing good for others and the community provides a natural sense of accomplishment, pride and identity.

Volunteering can also connect people with other like-minded people, providing opportunities for friendship and networking. Learning new job skills through volunteering can also help open up job opportunities. Many ATCAA employees began as volunteers.

Every person helping organize the event are also volunteers, said Gary Johnson, a spokesperson for the second annual Tuolumne County Volunteer Fair. The event is free for everyone involved.

Research suggests people who volunteer live longer, are happier, and have overall more positive health outcomes in their lives, according to Tuolumne County Volunteer Fair organizers.

They cite data from the Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency headquartered in southwest Washington, D.C. The agency’s research showed that, in 2017, 30.3 percent of adults nationwide volunteered for organizations, showing that millions of Americans take part in and benefit from volunteer activities.

Contact Guy McCarthy at gmccarthy@uniondemocrat.com or 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.

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