Week 11, Day 4: Ann-Katherine at SRVS

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I’m still smiling about my wonderful day at Shelby Residential and Vocational Services (commonly known as SRVS).  SRVS is a nonprofit organization that provides programs and services for individuals with disabilities and their families.  Some individuals live at home and just go to SRVS during the day.  Some live in residential homes (run by SRVS) with other disabled individuals and a staff member who assists them.  SRVS is available for all ages, but most are middle-aged due to the fact they can go to public high schools until they are 22.  They offer a variety of programs such as employment training, family support, clinical services, and community living.

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As soon as Julie and I sat down with our first group of friends, we knew it was going to be a great day.  We helped the volunteer coordinator, Allison, with her art class who was painting coffee cups to be sold at the Germantown Festival in September.  Each cup would be baked (to set the paint) and a tag would be attached with the picture and name of the person who painted it. So cool! When a few friends were done painting, they started working on little bead projects that were very time consuming.  My new friend LaQuita reminded me multiple times that it was going to take us forever to finish hers.  Julie and her friend Tommy were working on one as well and they were having just as difficult of a time getting their beads to stay on the board.  When we finally finished, Allison placed wax paper over them and ironed them until the beads melted together.  LaQuita had hers made into a necklace, and Tommy’s became a keychain.  Although they took forever to complete, the outcome turned out great!  They were very proud to show off their melted bead projects when we ran into them again at lunch.

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After art, Julie and I joined in on a class in the Learn Center.  I sat with a young man named Clifton, and he seriously made my day.  He immediately stated that we would be best friends and expressed to me how much he loves Mountain Dew.  He was pretty disappointed to hear that I was not a Mountain Dew lover like he was.  He had been in the process of writing a story about a snapping turtle when I arrived, so we finished up the story and drew a few pictures to go along with it.  I could have chatted with Clifton all day long.  He was so full of expression and really just loves everyone.  Before he headed to lunch, he reminded me that I was his best friend and then gave me a hug.

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We then moved on to help another class that appeared to have friends with more severe disabilities than the last class.  I helped my new friend Ernest finish a puzzle while Julie helped her friend Richard string some pasta-shaped beads onto string.  Both Ernest and Richard amazed me.  They were so quiet and pensive when they were doing an activity, but then they would become so full of life with smiles and laughs whenever they found something funny.  Neither of them were very verbal and both had difficulty with hand coordination and walking, yet they seemed so happy to be spending the day with their friends.  We followed the class to lunch before moving on to the teaching kitchen.

In the teaching kitchen, we met back up with our friends from art class and watched them make chocolate chip muffins.  The kitchen has an area with a stove and oven that is surrounded by counter space where everyone can participate in meal preparation and cooking.  Each of our friends got to pour water into the muffin mix, shake the container with all the ingredients, spray the muffin sheet, and pour the batter.  Tomorrow they get to eat the muffins for snack!

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I could go on and on about my day at SRVS because I really just loved it that much.  It truly is a wonderful place and it makes me SO happy to know it exists.  Families of individuals with special needs go through many moments of stress and anxiety over the years.  There are so many factors to be considered that most families never think much about: What schools have a special ed program? Will they have the ability to work? Will they live with me forever? What happens when I’m gone? Do I ever get a break? I’ve worked with a girl with special needs named Annie for about two and a half years; helping teach her new communication skills and providing her parents with respite care when needed.  One of her mom’s big questions is what will Annie do when she finishes high school in a few years.  Spending the day at SRVS made me so excited about the possibility of Annie being a part of their program in the future.  These families want to know that their loved one is being cared for, learning new things, and feeling happy.  At SRVS they are just that! I definitely plan to return to SRVS in the near future when I can.

What I learned about myself today: I LOVE the special needs population.  I actually already knew that about myself, but this experience just affirmed those feelings.  They have hearts of gold and so much love to give.

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Week 11, Day 3: Ann-Katherine at Hospitality Hub

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Today on my Volunteer Odyssey, Julie and I had the opportunity to spend some time with the wonderful volunteers and guests of the Hospitality Hub.  I’ve seen the agency’s name posted around my church before, but I never knew their mission.  Hospitality Hub is literally a “hub” for homeless to go for assistance in meeting their needs.  New homeless guests meet with a volunteer counselor to receive an intake assessment, help identify needs, and discuss possible solutions in the Memphis community.  Each guest has a certain day of the week they can return to speak with their counselor, but they can return other days to use the phone or computers.  The Hub offers assistance for 90 days, with the goal that each individual will be off the streets and working by the time the 90 days are up.

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Julie and I folding brochures for all the new guests

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With Mike, one of the volunteer counselors

Julie and I were able to sit in on a few assessments and offer any additional suggestions and advice we had to share.  Although I definitely wasn’t the expert when it came to assisting the guests, I really enjoyed seeing their process unfold and learning about job and housing options in the community.  You can tell the volunteers truly care about the welfare of each person they meet.  One man I met, Charles, has had a difficult time finding a job since he has a felony on his record from 10 years ago.  The Hub is aware of most of the opportunities in Memphis that hire individuals with felony charges.  It’s unfortunate that an incident so long ago can impact a person’s ability to be hired, but it’s a struggle that many homeless have experienced.  Organizations like the Hub are so instrumental in connecting these individuals with employers, and they can identify options in a fraction of the time it would take each person to search and apply until someone says “you’re hired.” Luckily for Charles, he had an interview later today for a temporary position that he hoped would give him a chance.

Listening to Charles tell his story.

Having a social work background, it really excites me to see an outreach agency making such impactful changes for the Memphis community.  It pains me to see so many people on the streets, and there are some who just need a little guidance to get their feet back on the ground.  For someone to sit down with them and spend a little time assessing their situation and discussing options, means the world to them.  It warmed my heart to see how confident Charles felt about his interview today after his assessment.  He knew that even if he was not offered the position, Hospitality Hub was committed to finding him another option.

It was another great day with Volunteer Odyssey.  I’m loving every opportunity to expand my Memphis resource directory!

What I learned about myself today: I can really help someone in need by just sharing my knowledge with them.  I take for granted knowing how to set up an email account or create a resume.  Although they seem like such simple tasks to me, sharing that knowledge can make a world of difference for someone who was never taught it.

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With the wonderful volunteers and staff at the Hub

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Week 11, Day 2: Ann-Katherine at Project Outreach

With all the college school supply bags!

My day with Project Outreach started bright and early (6:20 to be exact)!  I was joined in this adventure by Sarah (Founder of Volunteer Odyssey) and our friend Lauren Ready who helped take pictures and video during the day.  We made our way to the Collierville Walmart parking lot where we met up with the other excited volunteers.  Project Outreach is a ministry committed to the support and empowerment of the poor in Fayette County.  Most of the volunteers we met in the parking lot were from Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church, where Project Outreach began its mission.  The group’s leader, Shona Moore, prepared us for what the day had in store before we caravanned over to Fayette County.

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Project Outreach began through the efforts of a woman named Sister Elaine Wicks.  Sister Elaine was a Franciscan Sister who responded (with other sisters) to a bishop’s appeal to set up a health care facility in Fayette County.  At this facility, she saw other needs in the area and decided to devote her time and energy to providing food, clothing, and support to this rural community. Twice a month the Project provides supplemental groceries to families, and school supplies are provided for children before the start of the school year.  Thanksgiving and Christmas are the busiest outreach days because larger items such as toys, clothing, and turkeys are donated for the families.  Sister Elaine elicited the help from a fellow parishioner, Shona Moore, who helped grow the project into what it is today.  Before Sister Elaine passed away, she asked Shona to continue its mission…and she has!

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Clothes were passed out in addition to all the new school supplies. It amazed me how much was donated!

After setting up all the school supplies, clothing and books in an organized fashion, a local volunteer leader named Janet led the volunteers and residents in a heart-warming prayer of thanksgiving.  She then explained how the morning would go and commenced the start of the project.  Lauren, Sarah, and I were assigned to a table for college students.  Students who turned in an application for a scholarship prior to today were given a $50 scholarship check and a bag of school supplies.  Any extra bags were given to college students who did not fill out an application for a scholarship.  I felt honored to pass out these scholarships and witness their steps toward future success.  Even though the scholarships were very small, you could tell they felt honored to receive them and proud to show off their acceptance letter or class schedule.

I was truly impressed by the amount of young adults in the community who had plans for college.  One girl we spoke to was about to start her last semester of college at UT Martin, and would be graduating in December with a degree in Psychology.  She also had plans to pursue her Masters after graduation!  For an area with so much poverty and a very small number of college graduates, this young lady was definitely making great strides for her community.  I also met a lady who was there to pick up supplies for her two college aged grandchildren.  She told me she raised both of her grandchildren since they were very young, and although they both were able to acquire student loans for college, she was spending her own money to pay for any other expenses involved in their education.  All the extra costs have added up to a lot for her to spend; yet she does it with joy because she knows what college means for their future.  Such a self-less woman and a great example of the gracious hearts in Fayette County.

I truly enjoyed this experience with Project Outreach and would LOVE to return for one of their holiday projects.

What I learned about myself today: I am thankful for every blessing in my life, but my education is by far one of the most important.  It has contributed to who I am and opened the door to many opportunities that I would not have had otherwise.  Outreach that promotes academic advancement is so vital for communities like Fayette County.

With all the college school supply bags!

With all the college school supply bags!

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Week 11, Day 1: Ann-Katherine at Catholic Charities Food Pantry

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My Volunteer Odyssey has begun!   I was super excited to start this week, and what makes it even better is the addition of my wonderful friend Julie Platten.  She will be sharing most of this week’s experiences with me and assisting as my personal photographer when opportunities allow.

We started off the week at the Catholic Charities Fig Tree Food Pantry.  I know Catholic Charities offers a variety of services to support the needs of the Memphis community, but I was unfamiliar with their food pantry before today.  Upon arrival, we were instantly greeted by the incredible volunteers who run the food pantry each week.  It always warms my heart to know there are committed individuals who freely give of their time each week for those in need.  It’s easy for someone (like me) to volunteer a few hours here or there, but to be dedicated to a particular mission of service each week is really admirable.  Melinda, our volunteer contact, gave us a tour of the facility and explained the food distribution process for whenever a guest (or family) arrives.  The food pantry recently moved into their current building and the change was HUGE.  They used to serve completely out of one small room, and now they are in a facility about 10 times the size.  More space = more food = more families = more impact =AWESOME.  It definitely excites me that they have been able to grow and meet the needs of more Memphians.

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The Fig Tree Food Pantry stocks their shelves through donations or by purchasing discounted food items from the Mid-South Food Bank.  Each individual or family is referred by another organization such as MIFA, the Hospitality Hub, Red Cross, or Friends for Life.  When they arrive, they receive a variety of canned goods, frozen meats, breads, and snacks.  The amount of food they receive is based on the number of members in each family, and guests are only supposed to come once a month in order to provide for more families and prevent overload.

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Every person we met was so grateful for all the food pantry was able to provide.  I could not imagine what it would be like to wonder how I was going to feed my family or where my food would come from each week.  I would assume those thoughts have crossed the minds of most the guests I met today…yet every person left with words of thanks and a smiling face.  Every volunteer was so eager to meet the needs of each guests, and you could see how difficult it was for them when they couldn’t fulfill every expressed need.

I really enjoyed my time with Catholic Charities today.  I felt like I was able to truly witness some of the incredible things they are doing for our community.  This week, my husband has challenged me to end each day with identifying something I learned about myself through my volunteer experience.

What I learned about myself today: I hope that one day my life allows me to spend most of my week committed to volunteering for an organization I am passionate about.

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Epilogue: Ellen Bermudez

I am so fortunate to have gotten to participate in Volunteer Odyssey so quickly after moving to Memphis. It was such a great introduction to all the good work being done in this community and to the many people who make it all happen. At each volunteer site the theme was resoundingly similar: restoring people’s dignity. In some cases it was the homeless or hungry being provided a hand up, in others the elderly or disabled practicing developmental skills and lastly, the economically disadvantaged gaining valuable job skills. We all feel better when we feel we have something to do and something to contribute.

Volunteer Odyssey did in fact prove witness of the many people in Memphis who use their free time to contribute to the betterment of our community. Each day I saw volunteers who regularly dedicated their time to serve others. Hospitality Hub’s engine is run by volunteers who routinely show up at 9:00AM several times a week to meet with the homeless and connect them with appropriate services for their situation. Advance Memphis provides lunch to all of their adult students every day there is class through people who are willing to cook or buy a meal enough to serve 30 people. Catholic Charities’ volunteers travel to Jackson, TN on a regular basis to provide food to an immigrant population.

These amazing volunteers were a huge part of my experience during my odyssey. It is proof of the age old adage that “the world is an evil place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.” (I think that particular version of that saying was given to us by Albert Einstein.) If each good person made a regular commitment to make the world a better place, evil would dwindle in the light of good. In the process, volunteering not only enhances a community, it also informs and shapes one’s outlook on life. It particularly helps me see that people who are in situations that I am unfamiliar with and seem so different from me are actually a lot more like me than I realize: a human wanting something to do and something to contribute.

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