The Opportunity Fair at Columbus East High School is a win-win for students and nonprofits.
Students need a senior project, and local organizations need a senior to do projects for them.
More than 30 organizations visited the school for the Tuesday event, which is in its 11th year. They brought a list of prospective fundraisers and projects, while English 12 students brought their interest and excitement.
Anne Edds, senior project coordinator at East, said many students are not aware of the number of organizations in Columbus seeking volunteers or funds.
“Senior projects force kids out into the community, and many times it’s the first time they’re forced to interact,” said English teacher Julie Hult, who guided her students through the fair. “But the organizations come here, so our students are more comfortable.”
Many of the organizations — such as the Bartholomew County Humane Society — have been coming back to the fair since the start, so they know how to spark interest in students.
Cheryl Zuckschwerdt-Ellsbury, a retired teacher who helped to start the fair, was visiting with students at Tuesday’s event on behalf of the humane society. With a new building on the horizon, she said there are plenty of projects for students.
Among the ideas: design wall murals for the new shelter; design signage for the new shelter; prepare and plant a wildflower garden area at the new shelter.
As students filtered through the booths, many said “aww” as they passed the animal booths.
“The fair allows organizations to prosper and benefit from the energy,” Zuckschwerdt-Ellsbury said.
Ella Boyd represented the Arc of Bartholomew County at the fair and said the organization is looking for someone to revamp the website and coordinate the annual 5K.
She said the fair allows students to see their value and what they can do in the community and allows them to get a foot in the door for future endeavors or careers.
Many students walked away excited about their senior project ideas, but others had been approved long before the fair.
Senior Sam Lewis already has committed to helping out with St. Peter’s Lutheran School Sprint with the Spirit 5K Run/Walk. While he’s excited about that opportunity, he also was inspired by some of the booths at the opportunity fair.
“I didn’t even know all these organizations existed,” he said. “I marked on my survey that this should be at the end of junior year so I can know ahead of time.”
Seniors have until Oct. 3 to get their projects approved and then through April to finish them. While more than 40 particularly ambitious students had their projects approved early, most are still nailing down the details.
“The best part is when the students come up to me and they say, ‘I’ve found my project,’” Hult said. “It’s the moment they realize they can do something to benefit the community.”