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Kathy Lehner is the president and CEO of the Venice Area Chamber of Commerce.

VENICE — A Friday event hopes to bring together residents with organizations that can help one another.

The Venice Area Chamber of Commerce Non-Profit Event is taking place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday outside the chamber’s office at 597 Tamiami Trail South, Venice.

“We have people come in the lobby all the time, and they want to find out how they can get involved,” Chamber President/CEO Kathy Lehner said.

The desire to connect nonprofits with those potential assistants led to the concept of a type of fair that was pondered for several years and came together for the upcoming event.

About 30 nonprofits will be on hand with a variety of missions, from preventing child abuse to celebrating antique automobiles.

“It’s a chance for people to look at nonprofits and ask ‘What’s your mission and how can I be a part of it?’ It’s kind of like window shopping with how do you want to give of your time,” she said.

With COVID-19, there seemed more desire to help out one-another and this is a chance to highlight that.

The event is taking place outside with CDC guidelines in place, she said. Wearing masks will be requested and social distancing will be the standard.

“If you can’t be six feet apart, you need to be wearing a mask,” Lehner said.

There will also be three food trucks selling food at the event, including British Open Pub, BrewBurgers and Sharky’s Snack Shack. Lehner is also hoping for “chamber of commerce” weather: nice.

Family Promise Executive Director Jennifer Fagenbaum said COVID-19 has caused the loss of more than half their volunteers for a variety of reasons.

“My hope is to engage with new volunteers for our programs,” she said.

Family Promise works with 13 churches in the area to help house families in need but, because of the pandemic, has had to change how it houses people — with more staying in hotels instead of with church families.

“If we can go back this summer to the rotational schedule, I expect a lot of our volunteers will come back through that program, but it all remains to be seen,” she said.

The organization, which opened in 2015, believes its volunteers find a connection with those it seeks to assist.

“Family Promise is helping local struggling families so (volunteers) can meet with the clients, with the families and (find) what are their needs while helping them be successful,” Fagenbaum said.

Debbie Eaton, president and co-founder of the WareHouse of Venice, said events like this are “few and far between” and it is “an opportunity to reach out to the whole community” about its mission.

“It’s important that they know who we are and what we do,” she said.

Founded in 2006, the WareHouse helps teens from Englewood through Nokomis in a variety of ways.

Prior to COVID-19, the WareHouse had about 800 volunteers; now it’s at about 500. She’d like about 50 key volunteers to help with her needs and more who can spend their time participating however they’d like to help the youth.

The volunteers learn teenagers aren’t quite so scary and are often as intimidated to spend time with older people as older volunteers are to spend time with teens.

“A lot of teenagers in town are being raised by their grandparents,” Eaton said. “It’s important to let them know they have a place where (the teenagers) can have experiences that are safe and positive.”

Overall, it’s a chance to let people put faces to a nonprofit, and the chamber — being a nonprofit itself — wanted to be a part of that, Lehner said.

“The hope are that nonprofits — including ourselves — gain a couple more volunteers. If they get donations, great. But a volunteer’s time and talent is valuable,” she said.

The year of pandemic hasn’t been easy for anyone so this is an opportunity to make new connections as 2021 begins.

“We’re getting through this together. Our community is just so giving,” Lehner said.


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