Looking to connect elementary through high school students across the Capistrano Unified School District with various volunteer opportunities, the student-run organization Engage is hosting its fourth engagement fair on Monday, April 10.
From 5:30-7 p.m. at the Sea Country Community Center in Laguna Niguel, representatives from more than 20 organizations and nonprofits will share a wide range of ways students can get involved in their communities.
“One of the main benefits of coming to our fair is that the representatives of the organizations are at the fair,” Engage Founder Sophie Anderson said. “You’re not here looking at posters, you’re not here just reading information off the chart. You are meeting the people who care about this organization and who showed up because they want you to be involved.”
The upcoming spring fair is Engage’s second CUSD-wide event and the first fair open to middle and elementary school students through the organization’s partnership with the Laguna Niguel Youth Board.
Representatives from the cities of Aliso, San Clemente and Mission Viejo, the Dana Point and Mission Viejo libraries, and the Pet Project Foundation are among some of the organizations set to attend.
With this fair, Anderson emphasized that engagement does not have to start in high school. After seeing an elementary school student involved with the H2O protectors and Stand Up To Trash, Anderson was inspired to engage younger students in volunteerism.
“I felt like ‘wow, what a great way to inspire kids to get involved in what they’re passionate in and start making a difference,’ ” Anderson said. “So, she will actually be attending the fair.”
“We’re really excited that by having her there, either young students could join her group, or they could realize, ‘wow, this is something that I can start now, I don’t have to wait,’ ” Anderson continued.
The upcoming engagement fair will be Anderson’s last as the Dana Hills High School senior looks to graduate in the spring.
“This certainly isn’t the end but it’s kind of the end for me,” Anderson said. “And I’m really looking forward to seeing the community that comes together.”
“I think it’ll definitely be a moment for me to reflect on this fair now, then reflecting back on the first fair we had, where there were like two organizations and no one knew anything about us or even when I had the idea to start this and it hadn’t even been created yet,” Anderson continued.
Anderson added that when she launched the student-run organization, she never imagined the spirit for community engagement that she would end up facilitating.
Inspiration for Engage sparked after Anderson heard that a family friend had run a similar event at her school, though that event had not continued.
“I thought, ‘wow, at Dana, I have so many friends who are interested in becoming a part of the community, but they really don’t know where to start,’ ” Anderson said.
In the few years since Engage first launched, Anderson realized there are many more benefits to volunteerism than one might realize.
“We’ve realized that there’s so many other benefits to this as well that just come with building a community like this,” Anderson said. “Students are getting these opportunities but being involved in your community brings so much better mental health and a sense of belonging that you don’t necessarily get if you’re not super involved.”
Even when Anderson first launched the engagement fair, she looked to grow the event district-wide. However, when her first fair only had a few organizations attend, she was unsure if she could reach that goal.
“While I maybe always saw us getting here, after the first fair, and the reality of how difficult this is set in, I don’t think this was a realistic expectation,” Anderson said. “But we’ve gotten here and I’m really proud of that.”
Tesoro High School sophomore Apoorvi Singh joined Anderson in her mission to introduce fellow high school students to volunteer opportunities after she saw Anderson’s passion for Engage.
“When we saw the first fair and the effort that she had put in and how passionate she was about it, I just knew that I wanted to be a part of it,” Singh said. “I wanted to help Sophie grow (the fair) and I knew that she could teach me so much as well.”
“It has been such a beneficial experience,” Singh continued. “I’ve learned so much. I have grown so close with Sophie and Anusha (Misra) and it’s just been such an awesome experience.”
Anderson will graduate this spring, with plans to study biomedical engineering in the fall.
Singh and Misra, a Dana Hills High sophomore, will take over running Engage next school year.
“Anusha and I are definitely very excited to continue Engage and we hope to live up to Sophie’s legacy,” Singh said. “Our biggest concern is definitely the CUSD-wide aspect and definitely trying to get our fair to be publicized to all of the different schools in our district.”
For students looking to join the Engage team, Anderson said the group is always looking for volunteers.
“We’re looking for passionate individuals who care about connecting others with opportunities and who want to help break down those barriers,” Anderson said.
Those interested in joining Engage or organizations interested in running a booth at the next engagement fair should email the team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Registration for organizations hoping to attend the fair closes on Wednesday, April 5.
The Sea Country Community Center is located at 24602 Aliso Creek Road, Laguna Niguel.