Week 7, Day 5: Alicia Wooten at MIFA

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It’s sad to think that we have members of our community who only have one guaranteed meal a day, but if you are in prison you have three meals a day. Thankfully, Memphis has MIFA’s Meals on Wheels program. The Meals on Wheels program is MIFA’s largest program. With the help of 100 volunteers, 1,800 hot, nutritious, lunches are served to homebound elderly and seniors.

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My route today was in the Binghampton area. I drive through this community at least once a week, never to stop and think about the people in the houses or walking down the street. After today, I will think about all the smiling and grateful people I met in this community. Knock after knock, house after house, I was able to serve a hot meal. There was only one house on my route that there was no answer to my knock. The unanswered knock has resonated in my thoughts all day, wondering about who lives on the other side of the door. My hope is this resident was out with a family member or friend eating a meal. My prayer is that this resident ate today. My fear and worry is that this resident relies on this meal, are they hungry?

As we continued along our route to more houses, the car began to fill with the delicious smell of the food in the coolers. My stomach began to rumble and I started to think about what I would have for lunch today, having already eaten breakfast. Do the recipients of Meals on Wheels have this same luxury? I wonder if they have a family member, friend, or neighbor come by and help them with breakfast and dinner. Much of my weekend is consumed with eating out at my favorite Memphis restaurants. Who helps the homebound elderly prepare meals on the weekend or do they go hungry?

My day was made brighter after leaving each house. I was always thanked profusely, and even had one woman say “bless you child.” Seeing their faces light up at the smell of the meal is something I will never forget. Some of the individuals were chatty and made me want to sit on their couch and just talk, while some were quiet or had family members or aids at their home. I felt like I was doing something for them, but I left each doorstep with a smile to match theirs.

Thank you for reading! I’m searching for a job as a Dental Hygienist. If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com or to aliciawooten@gmail.com

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Week 7, Day 4: Alicia Wooten at Church Health Center

Today I was able to volunteer at the Church Health Center’s dental clinic. Since graduating from dental hygiene school, it has been about a month since I have seen a patient. I was anxious and excited, and hoped my skills weren’t lost; thankfully it was like riding a bike.

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The hygienists were so welcoming and took time to get me set up and familiar with the clinic. They showed me where all the supplies were, how to use the computer system, and getting my patient back. After becoming familiar with everything, I was off to get my patient.

My mom is a nurse, so healthcare in our house has always been top priority. I grew up going to the dentist every six months and to a physician once a year for a physical. We always had health insurance too. By having health insurance and a mom in the health care field we were also able to research the best doctors and practices and choose who our doctors are. For those that do not have health insurance, there are few options, and health care, including dental care, becomes less of a priority. During my time in school I started to understand the need of clinics like Church Health Center Dental Clinic. In today’s economy and current job crisis, many families are either having to choose between dental and vision insurance, or unfortunately have no choice because they have lost their insurance all together. Church Health Center provides services for those who are uninsured. The payments are based on income, on a sliding scale, and the staff is there to work with the needs of the patients. To cut down on prices, the clinic also has a lab it uses for fabrications of restorations. Unfortunately, there is such a need for medical centers like Church Health Center, that there is a long waiting list to be seen. But, fortunately Church Health Center is here to serve. The dental clinic is staffed by both volunteer dental hygienists, dental assistants, and dentists and as well as a full-time dental team. Due to the fact some patients have never been to or it has been several years since seeing a dentist they require several appointments and recall visits. The staff makes sure to take the time to explain the treatment plan to each patient, letting them know what to expect at each appointment.

I was fortunate to grow up with insurance, so going to the dentist was never scary, and never took more than an hour for a cleaning. For most patients coming to Church Health Center, this is not the case. Most patients have repeat appointments to remove the calculus (bacteria) that has formed under the gum line. (I won’t bore you with all of the implications of not having regular appointments). These appointments are somewhat uncomfortable and for the new patient can be scary. Today, I saw two patients who were returning for maintenance appointments. Before each patient, I read the clinical notes and was hopeful to see improvement. The patients had several initial appointments to thoroughly clean out the calculus/bacteria and assess any need for restorations. I was amazed to see the progress these patients have made. These patients listen and follow instructions (floss, floss, FLOSS) because they want to save their teeth and do not want to have to long appointments they had when they started. They are proud to smile now and that is one reason I love my field! Today was a day that reminded me why I want to be a dental hygienist. As much as I love the quick and easy appointments, the patients who are listening to you and are motivated to improve their oral health care, are the ones who make me walk out with a smile.

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Thank you for reading! I’m searching for a job as a Dental Hygienist. If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com or to aliciawooten@gmail.com

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Week 7, Day 3: Alicia Wooten at Knowledge Quest

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Today I ventured into an area of Memphis I was very unfamiliar with and probably, had I been lost, I would have called my dad asking how to get out of South Memphis. What I found was a hidden gem, Knowledge Quest, tucked away on a street corner. When I walked up, a small, old church and classroom type portables, I was greeted by warm, smiling faces, welcoming me. I walked into a small sanctuary of kids and adults excited to start another day of summer camp. If I am being honest, for the first few moments, I was uncomfortable and felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb; for the first time in my life I was the minority. This feeling and thought quickly subsided, as I was introduced to the adorable Pre K through 1st graders that I would be helping with that day and met their lovely and inspiring teacher Ms. Hill. In that moment, I was reminded that kids just want to have fun and they don’t care who you are, as long as you are there to have fun with them. They are looking for a friend to have fun with, as we all are in life.

Knowledge Quest has grown so much in the community, they have actually out grown their main buildings. K.Q. opened in 1998 as a community initiative to help the children and youth of the community. K.Q. has an after school program that cultivates young minds not just academically, but creatively as well. They also offer a summer camp program for children who have completed Pre K through 8th grade. They have expanded to have a site at College Park and use the gym, rooms, and play ground at Gaston Park. K.Q. does not require a fee for the children to attend camp and that most of the staff are volunteers. Outside the structure activities and learning opportunities, K.Q. provides the children with breakfast, lunch, and a snack. The children participate in normal summer camp activities: sports, arts, a dance class, and will even help to cultivate a garden. Each class is responsible for coming up with a class color, mascot, cheer, and song with a dance. I became an honorary member of the K.Q. Lions who were working hard on their roar, masks, and song and dance. The kids are so creative and as all kids do say the some hysterical things. I think one of the high-lights of the day was trying to explain my freckles to a 5-year-old!! And the most heart warming was when I got hugs from all the kids as I was leaving!

The kids had art today and worked on making the outside a part of their art work. They drew a picture of something in the sky and something on the ground. Their pictures will eventually all be put together to make a “quilt”.

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Then it was onto lunch time! Today the kids had chicken quesadillas, pear, chocolate milk or water. And then a small snack of chex mix and juice or water.

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After lunch we headed back inside for sports. A little stretching first and then “playing” soccer as only 4-6 year olds can!

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As a former summer camp kid and summer camp counselor, I understand parents worries about leaving their children all day. As a child I didn’t worry about that, every day I got to see my friends, and have a new adventure. As a counselor, I would hear parents talk about the trust they put in the staff. South Memphis is an area the news likes to talk about. We hear about the poverty, violence, and schools. But, what they should be talking about is Knowledge Quest. The children attending K.Q. are well taken care of by the staff, who entertain them and take care of them in a safe environment all day long. The kids are excited to be there every morning and ready to tell their parents all about the day when they are picked up. The area of town might be different, but the love of the kids, the activities of the day, and the devoted staff are the same in South Memphis as in the suburbs.

Thank you for reading! I’m searching for a job as a Dental Hygienist. If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com or to aliciawooten@gmail.com

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Week 7, Day 2: Alicia Wooten at Community Alliance for the Homeless

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When I found out I would be helping to furnish and set up a home for a homeless recipient, I started having flashbacks of all the moving I did in college. My first thought was I hope we don’t have to climb stairs, my second was I should probably wear tennis shoes, as I am not the most graceful person. I was also thinking about how hot the day would be and hoped we would be doing more inside than outside. I wonder what all we would be buying? Furniture, bedding, kitchen supplies, clothes, groceries? What did moving a homeless person into a new home entail?

I had no clue how much this day would change my life. I will be honest and say my thoughts on the homeless were pretty negative. Unless I’m with my church group at a soup kitchen, I’m uncomfortable when I see a homeless person. Are they going to ask for money or food or yell at me if I don’t pay attention to them? When I lived in Knoxville, I was closer to downtown and experienced the homeless on a daily basis. I got so used to seeing them outside stores, but I simply ignored them. I passed by them each day without really giving them much thought. I believed the stereotype that most homeless people are on the streets because of a drug or alcohol addiction and no real drive to find a job. But, all of this changed when I had the chance to meet up with Katie from Community Alliance for the Homeless.

Currently,there is a nation wide initiative to house 100,000 homeless in the U.S. this year. Memphis has a goal of housing 100 homeless. The criteria, which has been set for this program, is to house the most desperate and in need of shelter, who are those who have the highest risk of death on the streets in two years time. This information was completely mind-boggling to me. The homeless suddenly became real to me. I thought of all the times I have passed someone holding a sign under a bridge, intersection, or outside of a store and for the first time thought about their life and the will to live.

I would be meeting Katie, Lauren, and Sarah at an apartment complex, in the Hickory Hill area. It has been ages since I have driven past the old Central Church and Hickory Ridge Mall. Memories of eating at Cracker Barrel and heading to the carousel at the mall came flooding back. Unfortunately, the area is not what I remembered, and I began to feel uneasy about where I was driving. This feeling quickly went away as we got busy planning our day. We unloaded two full loads of furnishings for the home. This included a kitchen table and chairs, queen mattress and box springs, and a chest of drawers. It has been a few years since I have moved furniture like this and I knew I would be feeling it the next day! With a budget of $1000, we had a long way to go to make this apartment look like a home. We made a plan to head to Habitat for Humanity Restore and Goodwill. You could say we hit the jack pot at Habitat for Humanity Restore. Here we found a love seat and a tv stand in very good condition, very reasonably priced. We loaded up and headed down to Goodwill where we found some essential items for the kitchen. What I had not thought about were all the other essentials of daily living, that really make a house feel like a home. Items such as, a hand towel draped over the oven, pot holders, something as simple as soap sitting on the kitchen sink, or a candle on a table. So we headed to Big Lots for personal hygiene items, towels for the bathroom and kitchen, pillows for the couch and bed, blankets, sheets and comforter, small rugs, cleaning supplies, and other decorative items for the home. And the finishing touch, a clock radio! (We found out our recipient, Ray, loves rock music!) We crammed everything we could in the car and headed back to get everything in place for Ray to arrive.

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Getting the house ready for Ray.

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As the day went on I learned that Ray is a Veteran, has family, a dog, and has been living with a community of people under a bridge. The more I learned about Ray, the less he became a face I would ignore as I drove past a bridge or walked past a store. The time was getting closer for Ray to come home and the anticipation was building. As Ray and his dog, Whitey, came through the door I don’t think I have ever had a bigger smile on my face (or in my heart). Ray was speechless. He had tears welling up in his eyes. He was truly grateful, even to the point of saying he “felt guilty” for getting this opportunity. An American, who fought for our country, felt guilty. I have never been more humbled in my life. I don’t know Ray’s whole story, but I do know that he deserves to have a home. The VA and a case worker will help him get back on his feet with doctor visits, a job, and budgeting and paying bills. Ray has often been in my thoughts as I went about the rest of my day. As I got home, I suddenly realized all the things I take for granted having home, a meal, a bed, had whole new meaning. I like to think that Ray took his time sitting on his couch, eating at his table, cooking a meal in his kitchen, and sleeping in his own bed. I hope it will be one of many peaceful, comfortable, and restful nights for him.

You can “meet” Ray.  Watch the story

Thank you for reading! I’m searching for a job as a Dental Hygienist. If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com or to aliciawooten@gmail.com

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Week 7, Day 1: Alicia Wooten at SRVS

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My week started at Shelby Residential and Vocational Services (SRVS). I may have been the most nervous about this day. I started my day at SRVS around 9:00 in the morning, so the night before, and while getting ready I was pretty anxious. The disabled population is one I am not familiar with at all. I had so many thoughts running through my mind: Will they be comfortable around me? Will I be comfortable around them? Will I be able to understand them? Will I disrupt their schedule and upset them? All of these thoughts were put to rest as soon as I walked through the door. Everyone was welcoming with waves of hello, hugs, good morning, and introductions.

My first task of the morning was slightly daunting, due to the fact I know nothing about plants or planting. I can keep a bouquete of flowers alive for a few days, but can not arrange them or manage to cut them to the right size for a vase. My mom says gardening is therapeutic for her, and I just don’t get it. When I have attempted to plant or garden, I am awkward and worried about killing the fragile plants. I was asked to help plant some new flowers in their sensory garden and thought why not tackle one more thing I am unfamiliar with. We headed out with one of the classes that was taking place, I was surprised and amazed at how the recipients immediately got involved and wanted to show me the garden and what they were growing. The garden is full of flowers and plants (I will not even try to tell you what they are because I would embarrass myself). They had planter boxes of tomatoes, different types of peppers, cabbage, and herbs. (I know only this because they were labeled!) As I started to work, I noticed how independent the recipients are. They could be as hands on as they wanted to be or just watch the others. Each person worked together, sharing tools, but also picked out where they wanted to plant. I was most amazed by Chris, who is in a wheelchair, but does not limit himself because of his wheelchair. He immediately found some way to help out and began watering the plants as we got them in the ground. Another participant LaQuita, was wearing a very pretty blue dress and wanted to plant, but was also very demure in her way of planting. She asked for gloves so her hands would stay clean and also a smock to sit on, so she wouldn’t get her dress dirty. She also managed to sit very lady like the entire time! She was determined to help plant, but even more determined to stay clean!
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Once we finished, we headed back inside, I got a quick tour of the learning center. I was amazed at all of the activity rooms and how bright and fun all the classrooms looked. The rooms were very inviting with art work  on the walls and windows. Each of the rooms is also impeccably organized with activities in open boxes or trays to use at any time. They have an art center, music room, therapy room, media room, learning kitchen, and mock set up of a house. Everything here is to better mainstream the recipients in a safe learning facility.

I then headed to another classroom and went to the therapy room. The therapy room has some exercise equipment, such as a bike, treadmill, and small trampoline.  It is a large room about half the size of a basketball court. It is open in the middle for individual games or group games, such as, bowling or the parachute. The therapy room even has a ball pit! The purpose it to get the recipients up and moving, but also to work on sensory skills. I played “catch” with two recipients who are completely different in terms of physical ability and verbal ability. Patrick and I played catch with velcro pads and a tennis ball, but this is more than just a game of catch. One of the staff members informed me that this helps with hand eye coordination and sensory skills. She also told me that although Patrick could not verbally communicate with me, he understood everything I was saying to him. He answered to his name and even posed for a picture. I also played a game of catch with Precious, whose smile can light of a room. We played her favorite game, which she is very good at, and had me laughing and working hard to catch a small ball in my basket. I have a feeling if she was allowed to play this game all day she would!
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Volunteering at SRVS could not have been a better start to my week. I left with a better understanding of this population and having made a few friends along the way. I hope to return soon!

Thank you for reading! I’m searching for a job as a Dental Hygienist. If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com or to aliciawooten@gmail.com

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Prelude: Miki Skeen

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When I went back to school and started working in one three years ago, I spent my first summer at home with my child. Ahh, the coveted gig of an educator. I quickly learned that summer is not exactly a relaxing respite, during which educators and parents rejuvenate themselves for another year of learning. If you’ve ever experienced summer break with a child you know that your days are numbered before you hear those two little words that will turn you inside out with frustration… “I’m bored.”  Rivaled only by the questions “Are we there yet?” and “What time is it now?” I learned an important lesson that first summer; plan ahead and anything can be turned into a learning experience.

This summer is a bit different from that first summer. You might think that someone who has just spent the past three years completing course after course towards a teaching degree would want a break from learning. But you’d be wrong. I think that’s the thing about teachers… they never stop learning and they never stop teaching. So, I just completed my very last college course and I’m looking forward to student teaching in the fall, but I’m also mapping out another summer of learning for myself and my best girl.

Congratulations Miki Skeen. Now that you’ve finally finished your college coursework, what are you going to do?

Volunteer Odyssey!

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Prelude: Alicia Wooten

I have lived in Memphis my entire life, with the exception of a few years in Knoxville at UT, but have stuck to the familar suburbs or “safer” streets in midtown and downtown. I grew up in a Baptist church that put huge emphasis on volunteering and giving back. Admittedly, I signed up for many mission trips and activities around Memphis because it was another chance to see my friends, but also because I thought this was what I was supposed to be doing.But, I was always left feeling incredibly blessed and wondering what more I could do. The experiences crept up on me later in life when I was trying to figure out what to do with my life. I realized I wanted to be in a career where I was helping people. And after a very long “journey”, as my parents call it, I have found myself in the dental field as a dental hygienist. Having recently finished school and passed boards I have had enough down time and need something to do with my time. While looking for a job, I have had several friends encourage me to look into volunteering and mentioned Volunteer Odyssey. My hopes for this week are to get to know my city better and the different groups of people in my city, find a organization to regularly volunteer for, and learn more about myself by getting out of my comfort zone.

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Week 6, Day 7: Brittany Tuggle at Dorothy Day House of Hospitality

Today marked my final day with Volunteer Odyssey and the culmination of a week of moments I will never forget.

On this final day, I spent my evening at the Dorothy Day House of Hospitality. The Dorothy Day House provides shelter for families who have lost their homes. This is different than other shelters in Memphis, which separate men and women.

Like many other places in Memphis, the Dorothy Day House provides shelter for people who have lost their homes, but Dorothy Day is different from these other places in one key way: at the Dorothy Day House families are allowed to stay together. In addition to providing families with a place to live, Dorothy Day also provides its residents with resources in finding homes and jobs.

Every week, the shelter hosts “Sundays at Six” where volunteers, families, and staff gather in fellowship with each other. There is a prayer followed by dessert. I arrived before the event started to get a tour and speak with Sister Maureen who works at the shelter.

Once the tour was finished, there was some free time before Sunday at Six started. I had a chance to meet with a young woman and her family who have been living at Dorothy Day for about six weeks.

She and her family have found a home and will be moving soon. She was so happy and proud. Her and her family were getting back on her feet. That’s when the mission of the shelter hit home. It’s all about families getting the support and resources they need to remain together in even the most difficult of times. Dorothy Day provides food, clothing, and shelter to homeless families as they transition to find homes and jobs to provide for their families.

After speaking with the family, it was time for the event to start. We all said what we were thankful for and prayed for things we needed. What I noticed was that we were thankful for the same things. Everyone had different circumstances, but was grateful for family, health, and Dorothy Day.

After we said our prayers and thanks, it was time to have dessert. While everyone was eating, I took the time to look at at all the pictures in the dining room. So far, 27 families have come through the shelter. There are framed pictures on the wall in the dining room of all the families. Their picture is placed on the wall after they have left the shelter. Each family’s stay at Dorothy Day House is different, so the duration of their stays varied. The pictures are a tribute to the dedication of families and volunteers at Dorothy Day.

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I had a good evening visiting Dorothy Day. Sister Maureen is a wonderful woman. I wish the families living at the Dorothy Day house the best of luck. I am sad that today was my final day with Volunteer Odyssey. Perhaps it was fitting that my final time was spent in a place focused on empowering its residents. My life’s journey has been changed through Volunteer Odyssey, and I now understand that I have the strength to make a positive impact not only in my own life, but also in the lives of those around me.

Thank you for reading! I’m searching for a job opportunity where I can apply my PR and Marketing knowledge at a nonprofit organization. I am also interested in development, event planning, and fund raising. If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com

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Week 6, Day 6: Brittany Tuggle at Memphis Botanic Gardens

I am not an outdoors person at all. Dirt, bugs, wild animals, poisonous plants those are the things I think of when someone mentions any outdoor activity. But, I put all my preconceived notions aside and embraced today’s volunteer work which led me to the Big Backyard at Memphis Botanic Gardens.

If you haven’t visited the Big Backyard, it’s a cool place for kids to explore and learn about nature in a safe environment. There are tree houses and areas that have different activities and games. Swings and hammocks are hidden in all the shaded areas of the garden.

While taking a tour with Dave, one of the employees, he told me that there are classes available in the summer for kids to teach them more about the plants and trees in the area. Memphis Botanic Garden also educates kids on sustainable resources and what they can do to help the environment. Even better, there is a strawberry patch located by the activity center that are free for the picking.

One of the most interesting places that I saw on my tour was the music house. All of the instruments in the house were made up of pots and pans. The sounds were different, but entertaining.

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After I finished my tour, I worked in a few different parts of the Big Backyard,but I spent most of my time in the Woodland area building forts and helping out kids playing in the area find activities they could do by themselves or in a group. This proved to be my favorite area to work, as I got to watch as the kids who came through played tic-tac-toe, built mosaics out of seedlings and leaves, and walked a crooked balance beam made of wood that zigzagged all around the beautiful and tall trees.

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I volunteered my services to McKayla and Caleb to help them build a fort, and they immediately put me to work. The finished product turned out pretty good.

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I had a good time volunteering in the Big Backyard today. Putting my fears of dirt, bugs, and poisonous plants on hold for a day turned out to be a good decision. If you are looking for a place to have a nice family outing, birthday party, or weekend activity, I would recommend coming to the Big Backyard. The kids’ classes and workshops are available during the Spring and Summer.

Thank you for reading! I’m searching for a job opportunity where I can apply my PR and Marketing knowledge at a nonprofit organization. I am also interested in development, event planning, and fundraising. If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com

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