Children with painted faces enjoyed their pink cotton candy, parents skillfully maneuvered strollers through rows of white tents, and a few brave dancers showed off their best moves.
But the little tent village that populated Miami Dade College’s Wolfson campus Saturday afternoon was not your run-of-the-mill community fair.
Instead, it was a networking opportunity for South Florida’s philanthropic community and nonprofits to exchange ideas, spread the word about their causes, and afford volunteers an opportunity to join. PhilanthroFest, now in its third year, showcased more than 100 organizations and attracted hundreds of South Floridians interested in working with nonprofit organizations.
One of them was military veteran and cancer survivor Arria’ne Mitchell.
“I’m networking,” said Mitchell, who among other things works as a massage therapist and cosmetologist. “I’m trying to get involved in whatever I can get involved in with everybody to see about expanding entrepreneurship. That’s what I’m here for. ... I came out last year and I really liked it so I wanted to bring the kids out as well.”
The free, annual festival — which featured art exhibits, live music acts, health screenings, food trucks, and even a mobile micro theater inside a school bus — was put on by PhilanthroFest’s volunteer-based organization, which bears the same name. It aims to bridge the gap among local nonprofit organizations and the community.
“What we wanted to do is bring together a variety of organizations, both large and small, from different areas,” said PhilanthroFest‘s executive director Estrellita Sibila. “Just really give people a menu of choices so if they came here and they want to get involved, we have something here that either aligns with their passions and values or it’s something that speaks to them directly.”
For many of the volunteers and staff of the nonprofits being involved in their respective causes is a very personal matter.
“I have epilepsy and the foundation pretty much saved my life,” said Marisol Valdes, who after being a client at the Epilepsy Foundation of Florida for 20 years is now its community-resource specialist.
The foundation also helped Valdes during her pregnancy to make sure her medication did not lead to any complications. Now her 8-year-old daughter Amelie helps her mother by patrolling in front of the organization’s stand and giving out free T-shirts to passersby.
Madelyn Reus, a Miami native, got involved with the Susan G. Komen Foundation, because her sister-in-law was diagnosed with breast cancer. She now works as the organization’s development coordinator.
“It’s not only about giving money, it’s really about giving your time and talents and treasures,” Reus said. “And then this event is great because people can sign up as a volunteer, people can learn a little bit more about what we’re doing, maybe pass it on to a friend that needs our help. And it gives an opportunity to people to see ‘OK, look at all the different charities that we have just in Miami-Dade. What can I do to give them my time? How can I learn a little bit more?’ ”