Attorney Alison Goldenberg works at a large downtown Baltimore law firm and goes home to Columbia every day. The three-year resident wanted to become more involved in her community, but she wasn't quite sure how to take the first step.
Howard County's nonprofit organizations gave her a small push last week at "Come Take Your Place," a gathering of 35 nonprofits at Howard Community College with the goal of recruiting potential board members and volunteers.
Goldenberg roamed from one display table to another, talking with people who represented groups from the arts to human services to the environment. She left clutching a 3-inch stack of brochures.
"I signed my name to some lists and if people call me back, I wouldn't say, `Sorry, I can't help you,'" Goldenberg said. "Maybe I can give my legal expertise."
More than 150 people - identified by event organizers as having leadership potential - strolled up and down the three aisles of nonprofits, seemingly shopping for one with a good fit.
"All of the nonprofits in the community are feeling the tug of trying to keep strong leadership on their boards and committees," said Stacie Irish, a spokeswoman for Leadership Howard County, a nonprofit that enrolls potential community leaders in its annual leadership program and a sponsor of the event.
"Everybody is seeing that there's a need to bring new people and new energy into the organizations," she said.
Other sponsors are the Howard County Chamber of Commerce, the Association of Community Services, the Volunteer Center, the Horizon Foundation and HCC.
Lori Fuchs, chairwoman of the advisory board for Family and Children's Services, said the fair is a good forum for potential volunteers to learn about the range of nonprofits in the county.
"It's a really good way to structure it," Fuchs said. "They can interact where they want to and feel comfortable."
Steve Bonavita, a Montgomery County resident who is a resident manager with Merrill Lynch in Columbia, talked enthusiastically with several groups.
"I think it's important for people who are fortunate and lucky enough to have stable families and jobs to get involved in some good causes," he said.
In his remarks at the event, Howard County Executive James N. Robey said that 750 volunteers contributed 22,000 hours of service last year to county recreation programs.
"Can you imagine if we had to pay for that?" he said.
Dearest Chandler, a member of this year's Leadership Howard County's class, said she wanted to contribute to an organization that was "struggling."
Tina Smith, director and co-founder of Piano Perspectives School of Music, said her organization qualifies. A board member with fund-raising experience could "help us move to the next level so we can have much-needed scholarship programs," she said.
In the Howard County Center for the Arts in Ellicott City, the music school provides piano instruction to children and adults at beginning, intermediate and advanced levels.
Smith wants to increase the program's visibility and could use help in developing a business partnership to acquire more pianos.
"We're the best-kept secret in the community," she said.
A few tables up from Smith, Jim Vincent was looking to bring accounting and fund-raising skills to the board of Sundays at Three, of which he is president.
The organization presents chamber music concerts at 3 p.m. Sundays at Christ Episcopal Church in Oakland Mills. The performances feature professional musicians from the Baltimore-Washington area.
At the end of the nonprofit fair, one signature was on Vincent's list - an outcome that didn't disappoint him.
"If only one person becomes a part of our group, it's been worthwhile," he said.