Daffodils by Spring

Today, I planted daffodils at Overton Square Park. While it was a little cold and windy, the park will be filled with colorful flowers by spring. Volunteers and employees at the Overton Park Conservancy sacrificed a warm Saturday morning by the fire to dig through the mud and plant some seeds. The non-profit organization was started by a man who saw a need for extra care and attention at Overton Park. Since the organization began two years ago, they have built several new restroom facilities, a dog park and planted a variety of flowers and trees. The conservancy attempts to plant new life about every six months.

photo-21Employees of the organization recruit volunteers from the city of Memphis and the all over the country. They post volunteer opportunities and advertisements for their organization online. Recently, a group from Michigan searching for volunteer opportunities in the field of conservancy contacted the organization to set up a time to come visit Memphis and volunteer at the park. Several of the volunteers I worked in the soil in other areas of the park. Other people who came to dig held a love for plant-life and were excited to better the park in their city.

The organization draws their funding from individuals, foundations, various grants and a large scope of fundraising. You may learn about the various Overton Park Conservancy fundraising events on their web site. Employees purchase the majority of their plants from a local nursery. The conservancy has taken over some of the management duties the city originally held. In 2011, the Memphis City Council approved a 10-year management agreement with the conservancy. The OPC has been given authority to manage 184 acres of public parkland. OPC and the city are working together to improve the park’s amenities and cleanliness.

Aside from attending a concert at The Levitt Shell, I had not previously visited Overton  Park. After a couple of hours at the park, my eyes were opened to its many great benefits, walking trails, playgrounds and bike trails. Many Memphians might not be aware of all the extra work and funds that the conservancy puts into the park. I was impressed to learn of all the improvements completed at the park within only two years.

OPC has made Overton Park more enjoyable for all its visitors. Go for a walk and take advantage of the park’s amenities. It is located off Poplar Avenue just past The Levitt Shell and The Memphis Zoo. If you would like to volunteer or donate to the conservancy, you may sign up online.

Thank you for reading! I’m searching for a job that allows me to provide public relations for a faith based non-profit or Christian organization using my strengths in relationship development, social media, and writing.  If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com or sjarnagi@mc.edu.

 

Serving the Neighbors of Memphis

I had the opportunity to learn about a few of the many services the Neighborhood Christian Center provides. The organization has several different locations that serve various purposes. They assist individuals in specific residential areas, such as Chikasaw, Greenbrior and Robinhood. They are meeting the needs of women in the Orange Mound community where they recently opened “The House,” a women’s resource center. The organization serves 41 zip codes throughout the city of Memphis.

The staff at the center stays busy year-round. They offer a variety of family and child centered programs, which include classes, afterschool programs, nightly events and assistance for mothers of newborn babies. The holiday season is an especially busy time of year for NCC as a result of their large donation of Christmas gifts to the community. This year, NCC will be providing 9,500 Christmas tubs to families all over the city. The tubs will feed a family of four for four days. Churches, individual donors and foundations make the work and gifts provided by the center possible.

The Vesta homes show is hosted by a group of realtors and business owners in the Memphis area each year around Christmas time. As a token of gratitude for their work toward the communities of Memphis this year, Vesta has chosen the Neighborhood Christian Center as their charity The home show includes six houses that guests may buy a $12 ticket to view. A percentage of the profits from the home show will be given to NCC. I was able to celebrate Vesta’s generous offer by volunteering for NCC at the home show. I collected tickets and greeted guests as they entered the tour. I was excited to see the organization gaining support.

A woman named JoeAnn Ballard was behind the inspiration of the Neighborhood Christian Center. She and her husband expanded their home in order to house a large number of people when they were out of a home. Other members of the community began to open their eyes to a need for a community center where people could find hope and refuge. NCC has done just that for the communities they serve. Volunteers are needed in every aspect of their work. There is work with children, young adults, and parents. The organization serves thousands of people in the city of Memphis, and they depend on a large number of volunteers to continue their service.

Thank you for reading! I’m searching for a job that allows me to provide public relations for a faith based non-profit or Christian organization using my strengths in relationship development, social media and writing.  If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com or sjarnagi@mc.edu.

Head Start to a Making a Mark

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 Lunch Time

After opening a colorfully decorated door to a small classroom, I was greeted by small, smiling faces. The class of eight was putting on their coats and hats to go to the playground. I followed the line of swiftly moving two-year-olds outside. When we arrived, they were eager to play with me. I pushed them on the see-saw; they practiced their hula-hooping skills and went down the slides as many times as possible in a 45-minute period. They were excited to see an unfamiliar face and eager to be loved by a new friend.

 

Funny Kids

Funny Kids

Porter Leath has several programs throughout Shelby County, including early head start, head start and preschool. They offer their programs completely free of charge to children of families in low-income brackets. All programs are based on educational fundamentals and structured in order for children to receive quality development and school readiness. Porter Leath also works with children’s families to obtain goals and assure that the child continues to receive a high standard of education.

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After learning about Porter Leath’s free of charge policy, I was impressed to find that the education and structure of the program appeared to be equal, if not better, than any costly preschool or head start program I ever attended. The children have structured meal times and schedules for various forms of education presented each day. I had the opportunity to volunteer at one of Porter Leath’s early head start schools, which services children from birth to age two. I assisted a class of eight two-year-olds. Each class is allowed no more than eight children. With only eight children, the teachers can provide more attention to each student and classroom space is more useful with less children.

 

nap time

nap time

The staff was very welcoming and grateful for my help. As I assisted the children with their lunch and read a few books to them, I quickly noticed that what they enjoyed most was my attention and affection for them. I enjoyed showing them affection as much as they liked receiving it from me. The kids took turns sitting in my lap throughout the day and were not reluctant to come up to me to ask for help. I found that the time passed by very quickly. When the day was nearing an end, I felt that I had barely enough time to get to know the kids. Several children hugged me as I was leaving; at that moment, I was sure I would have to come back and visit them. I was sad to leave. I hoped that I would make time to return and play with them again, and wondered how I would build a relationship with them if I didn’t. I became attached to the toddlers I spent time with after just a couple of hours. They were easy to love because they loved and trusted me so quickly.

I couldn’t help but notice one little girl in the class with special needs; she was missing a thumb on both of her hands. Although her needs made a few activities difficult for her, she seemed just as joyful as the rest of the children. She came up to me several times with no words–only a smile and a hug. My heart went out to her because she brought joy to others when she needed it the most. Without Porter Leath, children like her might not have the opportunity to receive extra attention or care. All she wants is to be loved, and she receives that when she goes to school every day.

I definitely have intentions of returning to Porter Leath to build real relationships with the children I spent time with, and hope to meet other children in the program. This volunteer experience was enjoyable all around, as a result of working in an organized environment, having the company of a great staff and being around the entertaining children I had the opportunity to spend time with. Porter Leath appreciates volunteers for the many services they render to the communities of Shelby County, and they welcome any newcomers willing to help or donate to their cause.

Thank you for reading! I’m searching for a job that allows me to provide public relations for a faith based non-profit or Christian organization using my strengths in relationship development, social media, and writing.  If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com or sjarnagi@mc.edu.

 

R.E.P. The Globe in Memphis

Students from a variety of Memphis city schools seek support for school work from loving volunteers and employees at the Refugee Empowerment Program. The program serves an average of about 250 elementary, middle and high school students in their afterschool tutoring sessions Monday-Thursday. The program provides tutoring and other forms of support for students who have come from various countries around the world.

While helping a ninth grade boy with his geography homework, he shared with me how he moved to the U.S. from Ethiopia with seven of his eight siblings. His eldest sister was unable to leave the country, and he has been unable to see her since his move. He explained how the Refugee Empowerment Program came to his school to tell new students about the services they provide. He attends the afterschool program almost every day. When it was time for students to leave, he told me, “thank you for helping me, will you be back to help?” The students involved in the program need tutoring, but they also need love and encouragement.

As I helped one young boy with his spelling homework, it came to my attention that the fifth grader could barely read. An employee had informed me that he had only been in the program several weeks and would need extra help. Without my help, it would not have been possible for him to complete his homework. It is most likely that his parents would not have been able to help him finish the work either. R.E.P. has made it possible for children like this one to receive support every day. It is inevitable that his, as well as, many other students’ skills will improve due to the constant support and hands on learning.

I even found myself realizing that these children were already destined to be better students in a few subjects than I was. One boy was doing mental math at age eight; I could hardly use it at twenty-two. I was reluctant to show them how to add, for fear I might teach them the wrong way. To my surprise, math did not seem to be a problem for most of the students. While the students might have language barriers, they are very intelligent, and only need words sounded out and spelling corrected.

The students I was able to help during my short time spent at the program showed me their humble hearts, and it gave me great joy to help them finish simple worksheets and math problems. When I arrived, I was greeted with the faces of curious children eager to ask for my help. Before I left, more than a handful of girls and boys had come up and asked my name and if I would be able to help them. Unfortunately, I could not help all of them.

The program has been in existence for 11 years now. Since the non-profit only holds three full-time employees and such a large amount of students after school each day, they are in need of more volunteers to help with tutoring. Volunteers are needed during the hours of 3:30 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. If you would like to volunteer, please contact 901-725-3103, or sign up online at http://www.repmemphis.org/#!contact/cudb. R.E.P. is located at 258 N. Merton Avenue, Memphis, TN 38112.

Thank you for reading! I’m searching for a job that allows me to provide public relations for a faith based non-profit or Christian organization using my strengths in relationship development, social media and writing.  If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com or sjarnagi@mc.edu.

Feeding Memphis

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A long line of bundled up men and women stand behind the tall gates of St. Mary’s Catholic Church soup kitchen waiting to be served a meal. St. Mary’s Catholic Church serves food six days a week to anyone who is hungry. The volunteers and workers at St. Mary’s find joy in providing a meal for those in need. One woman explained to me how she found St. Mary’s for her son to volunteer as part of his confirmation, but then she decided to continue serving after her discovery. A warm cup of soup and a smiling face is enough is to give a hungry man hope. Many people come to St. Mary’s for their only meal that day. As they sit at the picnic tables staring at the familiar faces of volunteers and workers, they listen to uplifting Christian music and are given encouraging Bible verses and notes with their food. “I am blessed to be able to get to do the work I do every day.” Martin said. Martin is on staff at St. Mary’s Soup Kitchen and also attends St. Mary’s Catholic Church.

I was privileged enough to be given the task of serving the 9:00 a.m. meal to a little more than 200 people.  Many of the men and women waited in line with smiles on their faces. Anticipating the sandwich and chips they would receive, they stepped up to the stool I was sitting on.  People greeted me with a hello and several thank you’s before walking away. Ron Bezon, the manager at the kitchen, stood outside greeting regular faces and sharing conversation.

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I was privileged enough to be given the task of serving the 9:00 a.m. meal to a little more than 200 people.  Many of the men and women waited in line with smiles on their faces. Anticipating the sandwich and chips they would receive, they stepped up to the stool I was sitting on.  People greeted me with a hello and several thank you’s before walking away. Ron Bezon, the manager at the kitchen, stood outside greeting regular faces and sharing conversation.

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The food and drinks handed out from St. Mary’s are bought with money from generous organizations and members of the church. The church has been operating the soup kitchen since 1870, approximately 143 years. The kitchen averages more than 300 servings a day and reached a total of 91,000 in 2012. More than 50 volunteers from the tri-state area serve the ministry. Additional volunteers are welcome and needed Monday through Friday from 7:15 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. It is a blessing to be able to provide such a simple necessity to those in need. As one man reached up to grab a cup of soup I noticed his battered hands trembling in the cold. I was sad to see he was missing fingers and struggled to grip the cup, but it gave me joy to know he was smiling because he was being handed a warm cup of soup.

St. Mary’s serves three times each day. At 6:30 a.m., they open the doors with a prayer, praise songs and warm air from a heater blowing into the outdoor picnic area. The first meal of the day includes either hot oatmeal, peaches, a salad, or yogurt and ice water. At 7:30 a.m. Starbucks coffee and a pastry are provided. The largest meal of the day at 9:00 a.m. includes a meat sandwich, a peanut butter sandwich, a 16 oz. cup of soup, and either fruit, candy or chips. If you would like to volunteer or donate to St. Mary’s soup kitchen,  visit http://www.stmaryssoupkitchen.org or email ronbezon@yahoo.com.  St. Mary’s is located in downtown Memphis on 155 Market Street.

Thank you for reading! I’m searching for a job that allows me to provide public relations for a faith based non-profit or Christian organization using my strengths in relationship development, social media, and writing.  If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com or sjarnagi@mc.edu.

A Day in the 38126

Spending some time with Advance Memphis students as we toured The Mid-South Community College
Tis the Season. Stamping Christmas cards from Advance!

Tis the Season. Stamping Christmas cards from Advance!

My volunteer experience at Advance Memphis brought many revelations as well as blessings. An energetic employee greeted me when I arrived and introduced me to each member of the staff. The staff extended me a warm welcome and supplied me with an array of information about the program.

If you don’t know about Advance Memphis, here is the scoop: they serve the community of South Memphis, specifically the Cleaborn area of 38126. The 38126 is one of the poorest urban zip codes in the nation. Advance Memphis is working to revitalize the community by creating economic opportunities for the residents. They provide a variety of Biblically based job skills courses. The main course is a 6 week job readiness program that allows candidates to go out into the work world prepared with professional resumes, interview skills, and motivation to reach their goals. Advance Memphis saw 145 graduates hired for positions in 2012, and 18 students received their GED. The facility is located right in the heart of the 38126, making it convenient for residents to participate. The program is making a serious dent in economic development for the neighborhood of Cleaborn and Foote public housing developments. Their philosophy follows, “We believe adults can be empowered to change their lives and their community. Advance Memphis provides Biblically based programs that bring hope, knowledge, resources, and skills to the neighborhood, adding these to the assets and strengths already present in the community.”

During my volunteer day, I had the opportunity to travel with several staff members and a current jobs for life class to Mid-South Community College in West Memphis. Staff members take each class on a tour of MSCC on the third week of their course. I was able to get to know some of the students involved and learn why they have chosen to participate. A few students are hoping to receive higher paying jobs to support their families while; others have dreams of bettering their lives by adopting a trade. One man reminisced to me how he once worked at a hospital, but later in life could not keep the job because they no longer accepted employees without a high school diploma. One woman comes to Advance Memphis every day for class while keeping her four children in daycare. The most exceptional part of my day was hearing about the students’ inspiration after visiting the college. Many left with new dreams and the hope of completing a degree or receiving a trade license in order to pursue a career in the field of their choice. Their lives are changing as a result of the opportunities that have been presented to them.

Stamped, sealed and ready for delivery!

Stamped, sealed and ready for delivery!

The staff at Advance Memphis are not seeking simply to help students graduate and move on; they make it part of their job description to invest in the lives of the students participating. Staff members help participants gain self-confidence and motivation to believe it is possible to reach their goals. The staff works hard to develop and maintain relationships with students. They are seeking to help participants move toward financial independence. They have two licensed counselors on staff and encourage their students by sharing the Biblical principles of love through Jesus Christ. It is the goal of Advance Memphis for their participants not only to leave with job skills, but also with life skills.

The majority of students involved at Advance Memphis were born in the same economic state they are currently in–living below the poverty level. Records indicate that 70% of residents in the 38126 are unemployed. Limited businesses and disfigured homes overshadow the alliance and historical marks of the community. If a handful of people get hired for jobs paying above minimum wage, they could change the dynamic of their entire community, motivating others to do the same. From an Advance Memphis graduate, “I am a grad of the jobs for life class and I have never felt better about myself. I have learned so much about God and the Bible. I have also learned about budgeting, perfecting my resume, and how to properly speak and act during an interview.”

As a volunteer, I was able to hear about people who have dreams and families to provide for and are coming to find that living beyond simple survival is possible.  I was very happy to help stuff and stamp envelopes with Christmas cards, but it was my privilege to spend a couple of hours with some people who were very grateful because I showed a little interest in their career paths. The day as a whole was very rewarding for me.  I won’t forget their faces, so I will remember to go back and find out if they followed up on meeting their new and exciting goals.

Thank you for reading! I’m searching for a job that allows me to provide public relations for a faith based non-profit or Christian organization using my strengths in relationship development, social media, and writing.  If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com or sjarnagi@mc.edu.

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Family Matters

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“Put a pot of coffee and a pot of soup on the stove, open the door, and God will take care of the rest.”

 

That Dorothy Day quote is the motto of Sister Maureen, the only employee of the Dorothy Day House of Hospitality. The House provides temporary housing and support services for homeless families in Memphis. It is the only shelter in Memphis where families including both parents or teenage boys are allowed to stay together, and the only one without a time limit on how long a family can stay. In addition to the immediate needs of food, shelter, and clothing, the Dorothy Day House works with each family to set goals of self sufficiency. Educational resources, job training, financial planning, childcare assistance, tutoring, transportation, and permanent housing assistance are just some of the holistic services offered by the House to support and prepare families for the transition to self sufficiency. Even after the family leaves the house they are supported by the staff and volunteers, who offer assistance with any issue threatening the family’s independence.

Fellow Volunteer Odyssey blogger Dorothy joins me at the house

Fellow Volunteer Odyssey blogger Dorothy joins me at the house

I met Sister Maureen at the house’s Sunday evening prayers, where she hosts volunteers and family members that wish to join. Over spice cake and coffee, she tells the story of how the house began. In 2002, a small prayer group began to conceive of the ministry they wished to create to serve the city of Memphis. Through much discernment, they came to the writings of Dorothy Day, a pioneer in social justice, and founder of the first House of Hospitality in the 1930’s. With Peter Maurin, Day was co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, a completely volunteer based organization that provided food, clothing, and shelter to the poor and homeless. Now, there are more than 200 institutions nationwide providing social services in accordance with the catholic Worker principals, including many “houses of hospitality.” The prayer group decided to open one in Memphis and through charitable donations was able to purchase a house on Poplar in 2004. The house opened to residents in 2006, and has served three families at a time ever since.

Me with volunteers Madeline and Caroline

Me with volunteers Madeline and Caroline

As Sister Maureen shows us the family portraits that line the walls of the dining room, it is clear that she and the volunteers she relies on have saved lives with the work they do. Families make their way to the house in different states and through different circumstances, but whether they are dealing with generational poverty, trauma, a lack of education, or some other difficulty, the house provides a safe place for the family as a whole to recuperate and re-establish their independence.

 

Thank you for reading! I am looking for a position with a non-profit that will allow me to use my communication, fundraising, and special event planning skills to impact development at an organization making a positive difference in Memphis. If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com.

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Nature Meets Imagination

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I want to be six years old. I think it was the Once Upon a Time House that did it. Or Storybook Corner, which has it’s own Little Free Library and giant throne for storytime. It might have been when I heard the words “Snow Queen”. As in, “The Snow Queen hands out candy during Snowy Nights.”

It’s possible I want to be the Snow Queen.

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I spent my Saturday morning marveling at the Botanic Garden’s My Big Backyard. Despite the overcast skies and cooler autumn temperatures, there were lots of children running back and forth, their patient parents jogging to keep up. There were lots of excited faces, and rightly so. The Botanic Garden has created a children’s paradise, combining nature and fantasy to great success. There are mazes and swings, slides and creeks, themed playhouses and a giant treehouse. The area is designed to be fun, of course, but also to teach. In Home Sweet Home, plants grow out of furniture and appliances. The area is designed to show how plants can be used in different rooms of the house, and signs show tips on conserving energy. Kids are encouraged to sample the mint leaves and figs from the trees that line one side. The Bee and Butterfly Patios are up next, explaining the importance of pollinators to plant life and lighting the way to Playhouse Lane.

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Local artists designed the differing playhouse structures, and it really is a fantasy wonderland for little ones. In addition to the fairy tale house, there’s playhouses devoted to scientific exploration, full of magnifying glasses and other instruments of discovery. There’s a music house with built in musical instruments and a country farm house with a chicken coup in the back. The giant tree house offers rope bridges, facts about birds, and an eagle eye view of the whole area. Volunteers are encouraged to read a story, put on a puppet show, build up the giant bird’s nest, invite kids to sample the edible plants, whatever and wherever they feel most at home.

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It’s really, really cool.

And it’s about to get cooler. With winter comes Snowy Nights in My Big Backyard, a holiday lights show with music, games, beautiful holiday displays, and the aforementioned Snow Queen. There’s always an educational piece, of course, and I got a terrible case of scissors fingers cutting hundreds of paper corn kernels for the “Holidays Around the World” class that will teach kids about Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Diwali, and more.  They can learn, and then explore the winter wonderland waiting just outside. I, for one, can’t wait to see the magic.

I might even wear a tiara.

 

 

Thank you for reading! I am looking for a position with a non-profit that will allow me to use my communication, fundraising, and special event planning skills to impact development at an organization making a positive difference in Memphis. If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com.

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Breaking Bread

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It wasn’t as cold as it had been the preceding nights, but it was still wet and dreary and I was fighting a cold, so I took a long hot shower before I left to spend my evening with the guests of Room in the Inn.

It’s one of life great pleasures, isn’t it – a long hot shower when you’re cold and wet and tired? When you’re sore down to your bones and you just want to feel warm and clean and climb into bed?

That’s what they provide at Room in the Inn. A meal, a shower, a bed, one night a week, to those who don’t have it.

In 2010, Colonial Cumberland Presbyterian Church began their homeless outreach ministry based on the successful Room in the Inn model used in Nashville. During the cold winter months, from November to March, a time when thousands of homeless people die each year, the congregation would offer a safe place to stay once a week. Since that time, many churches have joined together to offer shelter to the city’s homeless population on a weekly basis. It’s possible you’ve read in the newspaper or seen on social media that one church has been issued a citation for hosting an evening, and several more have received complaints from neighbors.

I think if those neighbors were to spend the evening at an Inn, they’d feel differently. I arrived at Peace Lutheran to the raspy laugh of Ms. Tonie, the coordinator for the evening. Her big personality seems to be both world-weary and optimistic at once, and she made all of the volunteers feel right at home. We set up plates and warmed rolls, putting the finishing touches on dinner while waiting for the guests to arrive.

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We served dinner, handing out seconds on chicken and the delicious greens brought by Ms. Tonie’s mother. Guests and volunteers chatted and ate, and joked about the food and the weather. Marcus introduces himself with the beaded wares he sells, and explains to the unfamiliar about the work of other groups that support the homeless in Memphis, like Manna House and H.O.P.E. (Homeless Organizing for Power and Equality). Octavius reminds me of my brother, long and lanky and mischievous. He and his buddy Antonio are quite the pair, and have me laughing at stories of their escapades and hijinks all night. Keith is a flower seller, and he gives me his last rose, since I’m the youngest volunteer. We might need to look into whether Keith needs glasses.

Antonio, Keith, Kari, and Sarah

Antonio, Keith, Kari, and Sarah

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Keith and Me

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Antonio, Me, and Octavius

Marcus displays his wares

Marcus displays his wares

Guests excuse themselves upstairs to shower, where Ms. Tonie has laid out fresh towels, underwear, and socks next to little bags of soaps and shampoos, and come back to the tables, eager to rejoin the lively conversation for a little while before they give into the siren song of clean sheets and warm blankets upstairs.

It is communion, in the truest sense of the word.

Who could have a problem with that?

 

 

Thank you for reading! I am looking for a position with a non-profit that will allow me to use my communication, fundraising, and special event planning skills to impact development at an organization making a positive difference in Memphis. If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com.

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Hold the Mayo

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The demonstration kitchen at the CHC Wellness Center reminds me of the set of a cooking show. There’s lots of gleaming stainless steel and a seemingly endless supply of prep bowls. My first task is grating reduced fat cheddar cheese, brick after brick. Nutrition staff Carolyn Nichols and Jimmy Hoxie will do their healthy cooking demonstration four times today, at 9:00, 10:30, 4:00, and 5:30, so they need lots of ingredients prepared ahead of time. All of the healthy recipes demonstrated in the kitchen are developed by the staff here at CHC, and designed to show participants healthier ways to prepare old favorites and new ingredients to introduce into their diets.

I crushed up the crackers too. I know, I'm quite the chef!

I crushed up the crackers too. I know, I’m quite the chef!

For some of the participants, healthy diets are a matter of life and death. It is estimated that 1 in 4 deaths in the U.S. result from preventable diseases, often referred to as “lifestyle diseases”. This number increases drastically among low income individuals, particularly between the ages of 45 and 64. Diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, stroke, liver diseases, and some forms of cancer are largely preventable or manageable with a healthy lifestyle. Carolyn and the rest of the nutrition staff are an important resource for the clients hoping to maintain a healthy lifestyle. In addition to the cooking classes, the wellness staff consults with patients recommended by the medical staff, giving them personalized advice about how diet and exercise can affect their health.

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Today’s class is all about ways to maintain health goals during the holidays. Carolyn stirs the cheese I grated into a béchamel made with skim milk, preparing the sauce for a healthy broccoli casserole. The traditional thanksgiving staple has more than 300 calories per serving, but Carolyn’s slimmed down version clocks in at a mere 120. She’s also done a recipe makeover on traditional southern squash casserole using light sour cream, reducing the cheese quantity, and subbing in whole wheat crackers. While the casseroles bake, the participants go over a handout featuring tips about staying healthy during the holidays, and the lively discussion keeps the onlookers engaged until it’s finally time to taste Carolyn’s efforts. I can verify that the slimmed down casseroles are delicious!

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Yum!

The Church Health Center is dedicated to providing healthcare for low income working families in Memphis, a population that is woefully uncared for medically. Because of this lack of healthcare, more than 13,000 patients in Shelby County are admitted to area hospitals with symptoms and conditions that could be prevented by healthy lifestyle choices. The staff at the Wellness Center knows this statistic well, and are helping to educate and encourage the behavior change in those who seek their help. This issue is particularly important to me because for years I worked processing disability claims for an attorney, and I saw firsthand the significant damage that an unhealthy lifestyle and irregular medical care can cause. We can all learn to take a little better care of ourselves. I’d recommend starting with Carolyn’s Broccoli Casserole!

 

Thank you for reading! I am looking for a position with a non-profit that will allow me to use my communication, fundraising, and special event planning skills to impact development at an organization making a positive difference in Memphis. If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com.

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