The Sweetheart of ADS

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Serving lunch at Dorothy's Place

Serving lunch at Dorothy’s Place

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Mr. Dean thinks I have a lovely singing voice. I think he’s being generous, because it’s hard to sing when you don’t know the song, and I’ve never heard “The Sweetheart of Sigma Chi” before.  It’s sing along hour at Dorothy’s Place, and “The Sweetheart” is one of many classic tunes on the docket. Mr. Dean is the first senior to make my acquaintance, and he’s making sure I have everything I need to join the group. He won’t sit down until he’s sure I have a chair. He’s a fan of fishing, I garner from his shirt, and he tells me a little about the best types of lines and lures to use on bass. It’s a great introduction to Dorothy’s Place, a non-profit day services program for persons affected by Alzheimer’s Disease.

The facility is one of two operated by Alzheimer’s Day Services in Memphis. Opened in 2004, Dorothy’s Place provides a safe and stimulating environment where friends can interact together. It’s a fun place for the participants and a respite for caregivers who typically would need to provide round the clock care for their family member. Here at Dorothy’s Place, the Personal Care Attendants are energetic and encouraging, and leading the sing along with gusto. I’ve made Mr. Dean blush by singing “Cuddle Up a Little Closer” at him, so I sit next to Ms. Mary, who has a beautiful voice. She sounds like a church choir to me, but she won’t let me listen instead of singing. I match her big smile as we begin “She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain”. Finally, a song I know.

Singing my heart out!

Singing my heart out!

Everyone here has big smiles to match Ms. Mary’s, which is exactly the intention of Alzheimer’s Day Services. They know that part of care for this disease includes staying active, mentally, physically, and socially. They love having volunteers to participate in the group activities, and I’m sure that everyone is made to feel as welcome as I am. After sing along, I join the group tossing balls around. Ms. Latice can dribble like a WNBA star, and she makes me laugh by complaining fiercely about the cold weather. The activity is fun for the friends that are playing, but it’s also a great way to practice all of those different skill sets. A small basketball hoop is brought out, and Ms. Mary scores the first goal. She laughs as her friends clap for her, and brushes it aside as a fluke.

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I’m so glad this opportunity is available for these great people and their families. My great grandfather suffered from dementia, and it was not only hard on him, but hard on my family members who were taking care of him. I just kept thinking of the relief that family members must feel, knowing their loved ones are not only safe and well cared for, but having fun. The little details all over the room show the dedication of the staff here at Dorothy’s place. There are small shelves set into the walls that feature personal memorabilia belonging to some of the friends, baseball pennants and cookbooks, cast iron tractor replicas and fishing lures I suspect I know the owner of. There are bright signs, a fish tank full of colorful fish, and pretty patterned cloth napkins I help place on the table for lunch. All of these little markers of the dedication to dignity are the perfect symbols of the mission of Dorothy’s Place. I’m just glad they let me bask in their songs and smiles for the day.

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Brightly colored napkins for lunch

One of the "Memory Boxes" at Dorothy's Place

One of the “Memory Boxes” at Dorothy’s Place

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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Miss Megan Goes to School

3-year-old Paris does not know who Ernie is. I think this means I’m old.
3-year-old Paris does not know who Ernie is. I think this means I'm old.

3-year-old Paris does not know who Ernie is. I think this means I’m old.

Three-year-olds do not ever sit still. They can be sitting, but they are not still. They just don’t ever stop moving.

It’s adorable.

I spent my first Volunteer Odyssey day with five little wiggly, giggly three-year-olds at Porter Leath Early Head Start. It was a slow day in the room run by Ms. Angela and Ms. Patience, due to Veterans Day. The room normally has eight little ones, and I can only imagine the amount of movement when the whole group is there. I’ve honed my reading-aloud skills over years of babysitting and helping out in my Mom’s first grade classrooms, so I felt right at home with my first task, reading “Franklin Goes to a Sleepover”. The kids giggled at the story and shouted words back at me. It was so much fun!

The kids demonstrate how to huff and puff while Miss Patience reads "The Three Little Pigs"

Here, they demonstrate how to huff and puff while Ms. Patience reads “The Three Little Pigs”

Porter Leath began as an orphanage and has occupied the same Memphis real estate, a large compound on Manassas, since 1850. Early Head Start has been providing early intervention and child development services since 1998. Countless studies affirm the benefits of early childhood education, showing that children who receive this intervention are more likely to graduate from high school and own houses, and are much less likely to repeat grades, need special education, or to get into trouble with the law.

Those statistics don’t matter to Issac. He’s just excited to have someone to play the Sesame Street match game with him, and I’m happy to oblige. As he pairs the cards together, he names the characters and counts them, first in Spanish, then in English. He’s all the way to 12 before he’s distracted by my attempt to take pictures.

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Cameras are fun!

What an advantage Issac will have when he begins school – he can count to 12 at three years old! He also, along with his classmates, knows all of the days of the week, all of the months of the year, and his birthdate. The teachers make a game of the knowledge, putting instruction into songs and rhymes during morning circle time. All of the lessons are dispersed in fun play, so these children are learning in age appropriate ways, which is great – but it also explains why they are so excited. Recess might include lessons in fair play, sharing, taking turns, and motor skills, but to them, it just seems like running, jumping, and sliding.

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All of the kids at Porter Leath EHS, from 6 months to 3 years, are either from low income families and neighborhoods or experience some sort of disability. These are children who will benefit most from early intervention because they are traditionally the children who most easily fall behind once they start school.  I was so glad to be a part of the class this morning. Judging from the hugs I got before I left, the kids see me as another friend, but I also know that, without even realizing it, I am another voice supporting them, showing them that someone cares about them and believes they can learn. Hopefully I will be another adult who, just because I will come read a story or play a game, reinforces their value and the value of learning.

The kids won’t think about any of that, they’re too busy having fun at school. I’m pretty sure that’s the best lesson they could learn.

 

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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Bagging Groceries

Sorting chicken fingers
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Sorting chicken fingers

My mom used to pass out sandwiches from the back out our minivan in the parking lot of the grocery store. I’ve donated canned goods to food drives before. I know that, according to polls, the Mid-south area is the hungriest in the nation. That 25% of the children in Shelby County go to bed hungry every night. That 91% of impoverished neighborhoods in Memphis do not have access to a full service grocery store.

I know all of that.

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But shelves upon shelves of canned goods look different when you know that there are real families who depend on them. Suddenly, hunger is right there, laid out in rows of cans and boxes. Catholic Charities Fig Tree Food Pantry serves 20 families per day from their location at Jefferson and Cleveland, and as many as 40 once a week when their Mobile Unit delivers to various Mid-south neighborhoods. As I packed bags with peanut butter, spaghetti, and canned vegetables, I couldn’t help but think of the people who might be on the receiving end. Did they have kids who would be excited about the Pop Tarts that were new this week? Would Mom do something special to the macaroni and cheese? My Mom added hot dogs to mine.

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Helping Ms. Mary pack bags

Melinda has been packing bags for more than two years, beginning when the Food Pantry was just a small room in the basement of the Catholic Charities building. The volunteers are the heart and soul of this place, and it would not run without them. Al, Pat, Mary, and Neal joined Melinda is showing me the ropes and making me feel welcome. The story of how they each found their way to the Food Pantry is different, but the reason they help is the same – they want to make a difference.

Completed bags are ready for families.

Completed bags are ready for families

The whole operation is run by volunteers and one part time staffer, and their hard work and dedication has enabled significant growth in a short time. They now place a weekly order with the Mid South Food Bank, which provides the majority of food for pantries in the Memphis area and beyond, and supplement with direct donations.  It’s a small dent in the huge problem of hunger in the area, but for the families that are served it makes all the difference in the world. As I helped sort boxes of vegetables onto shelves, or tiny hotel shampoos into boxes, I considered all of the things I throw away without thought. That though I consider myself a compassionate person, the reminder of how fortunate I am makes me more so. I should remember not only the families who need my compassion, but the volunteers who will be here tomorrow – because they could use the help.

And more tiny hotel shampoos!

And more tiny hotel shampoos!

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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If you like our work, please consider making a contribution to keep it going!
Want the insider story and more pictures? Connect with us on Facebook and Twitter!
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Donating Isn’t Rocket Science

Note from Volunteer Odyssey:

We’ll be incorporating guest posts about Memphis area nonprofits that are doing great work in the community.

We present Part 2 of a series about food banks from local journalist, Rachel Wilhite:


8224283841_1efe1bacd3Bob Fritchey is a busy man.  His phone is ringing off the hook, having received at least five calls in the last fifteen minutes.  He’s working on a deal to buy 1,500 turkeys for a dollar per pound and he wants them in the warehouse, ready to ship today.  As the Food Resource Coordinator, Fritchey will be the first to tell you that the Mid-South Food Bank in Memphis, Tennessee, doesn’t like to go around with its hat in hand; it prefers to build relationships with donors.

But Fritchey hasn’t always been so busy.  Before the passage of the Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, companies were afraid to donate to food banks because of liability concerns.  Almost a decade ago, a Wal-Mart in Dyersburg, Tennessee had a situation in which their refrigeration system lost power briefly overnight.  Consequently, all of the frozen and refrigerated food was pulled from store regardless if it had thawed or not.  It was then shrink-wrapped and placed into a nondescript box to be shipped to an out-of-state landfill because store managers were worried that news of the incident would get out. They thought that if they shipped the food to a local landfill, someone would go through it and get sick in the process.  This was a normal response to manage a store’s inventory quality back then.  The majority of this food was unharmed and could have been donated to a food bank in need; instead, it was thrown out.

8225340042_2a4cf7f0ccFortunately, this is no longer the case.  “The truth is,” Fritchey stated, “as long as a company is willing to donate food products to a legitimate non-profit and they’re doing it with the intent that the product is still good along with the desire to feed people, there is almost zero liability associated with it thanks to the Good Samaritan Food Donation Act.”  The act encourages food donations by shielding both donor and recipient agencies from liability issues except in extreme cases.  Since its passage, the Good Samaritan Food Donation Act has opened the Mid-South Food Bank’s doors to a lot of major companies such as Sara Lee, Hillshire Farms, Family Dollar, Riviana Foods, Kroger and Wal-Mart.

Even still, the food bank and its associate pantries are often at the mercy of unpredictable donations and overstocked inventory.  Occasionally Fritchey gets a call to pick up pallets of food from a truck driver stuck at a weigh station who is overweight and in a hurry to get back on the road. “I don’t deal with donations received by the bag.  I go after the truckloads,” Fritchey said. Many truck stop managers have established relationships with their local pantry operators, directing their drivers to deliver their rejected merchandise to their doorsteps, no matter what time of night it is.

8224268657_d43c076fd6Businesses competing with one another in order to have a strong public perception of quality will begin pulling produce from their shelves long before its expiration date because it is no longer aesthetically pleasing to the customer.  “We get a lot of stuff from the distribution center in New Albany, Mississippi.  Gary [Hall] will call me with stuff they need to get rid of,” Fritchey said.  “It could be anything.”

Gary Hall has worked at multiple Wal-Mart Distribution Centers for 26 years, 13 of which have been spent in the New Albany facility.  As a Quality Assurance Manager, it is his job to ensure that all products are up to standard regardless of their final destination.  The New Albany outfit stocks 126 dry goods stores as well as 103 perishable goods stores.  It is also currently home to about 200,000 turkeys waiting to be sold throughout the holiday season.  Hall has donated ten turkeys to the Mid-South Food Bank so far, but with this kind of stock, more are bound to follow.

Hall began donating to the food bank five years ago, due in part to its commitment to serving the region to which his store belongs.  New Albany’s local food pantry, the Good Samaritan Center, is supported by the Mid-South Food Bank and also accepts aid from the community—including outsiders who are just passing through.  Many donations are obtained from truck drivers whose loads are rejected.  Recently, the Good Samaritan Center received several cases of onions that had fallen off a pallet.  The onions were not accepted by the grocer for fear that they would be bruised and unsellable.  Left with merchandise to unload, the driver contacted the pantry, where he knew the produce would be accepted without question.  Donations like this are described as “happy accidents,” and thanks to the federal Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, along with the relationships made throughout the supply chain, this food is no longer going to waste.

Hall says his drivers contribute differently.  “Our donations our generally consumer-controlled, not accidental.  All our buyers have to go off of is how much we sold last year.  If there winds up being overstock, it gets donated.”  Items that are store brand, such as Great Value or Sam’s Choice, are a separate story.  Wal-Mart does not allow these items to be donated.  Hall says that the company’s reasoning is that the donation of these goods could have direct, undue influence over individuals.  “We don’t want that kind of exposure,” he said.  “A can of Del Monte tomatoes could have come from anywhere.  A can of Great Value tomatoes can obviously be linked back to us.”

Regardless of how goods find their way to the Mid-South Food Bank, we can be assured that they are benefiting someone in need.  The Mid-South Food Bank distributes about a million pounds of food per month to their associate pantries in eighteen counties in Tennessee, Mississippi and Arkansas.  The local food industry—from warehousing to retail—proves to be a valuable resource for the bank, providing exactly 31 percent of the bank’s annual inventory.  This is one of the crucial sources of donations that Fritchey attempts to secure access to.  “Every year there is over 100 billion pounds of food wasted in this country.  That’s enough to feed every single man, woman and child an extra 1,500 pounds (of food) a year and it’s just wasted.  It’s wasted for cosmetic reasons, people cooking too much…from the field to the table, there are all these places where food is wasted.  If we can recoup some of that and give it to those in need, it’s the right thing to do.  It’s not rocket science; it’s what we should be doing.”  By working to build relationships with food distribution centers, retailers and others in the food transportation industry, Fritchey is helping ensure that’s exactly what happens.

See more of Rachel’s pictures from the Mid-South Food Bank:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/rlwilhite/sets/72157632115374385/

By Rachel Wilhite

Twitter: @rachwilhite

More than Hunger

Note from Volunteer Odyssey:

We’ll be incorporating guest posts about Memphis area nonprofits that are doing great work in the community.

We present Part 1 of a series about food banks from local journalist, Rachel Wilhite:


The Good Samaritan Center in New Albany, Mississippi, is doing more than just providing relief to hungry families.  It’s bringing the community together.  No matter your age or ability, there is something you can do to help.  “It is about so much more than the food,” pantry director Sally Zemek stated.  “We are building relationships.”

The phrase “many hands make light work” seems to be an apt motto for the pantry, with volunteers of all ages filing in and out their doors each day they are open.  They distribute roughly 13,000 pounds of food each month.  That’s around 1,625 gallons of milk or 13,000 cans of soup.  The Mid-South Food Bank provides exactly 4,000 pounds of this food.  The remaining 9,000 pounds is obtained through the Mississippi Food Network and local donations.

Zemek plans a three-day menu with the items she receives and includes recipes.  The pantry operates as an emergency resource for meal assistance, providing its clients with three days’ worth of food depending on the size of the family.  The clients are prescreened to ensure eligibility and are only able to receive aid once a month.   “Only a small percent come every month,” said Zemek.  “I don’t feel like a lot of people lean on this.  It’s not glamorous.  They’re receiving canned goods, not steak and lobster.”

Zemek’s work is hard but is made easier by the wide array of volunteers who join her at the pantry regularly.  Many clients find Wanda Roberts, the pantry’s office manager, to be very relatable.  When Roberts suddenly lost her husband and job three years ago, she also turned to the Good Samaritan Center for help.  Roberts isn’t shy about sharing her story with others.  “The pantry gave me hope,” she said.  “I got a hug the first time I came.  They made me feel good that day and they didn’t have to.  I want to give that encouragement to someone else now.”

Roberts isn’t the only one who returns to the pantry after having been a client.  “At least once or twice a year,” Roberts said, “someone comes back and gives something.  It may not be more than twenty dollars or thirty minutes but you remember their face.  It touches you.”

Heather Ferrell, a teacher at New Albany High School, has been bringing her Occupational Diploma program students to volunteer multiple times a week for almost a year.  The Mississippi Occupational Diploma (MOD) is a graduation option that is available to special education students with mild to moderate learning disabilities.  Her students are able to use this experience to meet graduation requirements outlined by the program.

When Ferrell first told her class they would be partnering with the pantry, they were excited to help the older volunteers.  Trent Jones, a student in Ferrell’s class, said, “We can do things a lot easier than they can.”  Before the arrival of the MOD students, Wanda Roberts, described herself as “one of the younger volunteers” at 61.  “We probably get more out of it than they do,” said Roberts.

Ferrell’s students beg to differ.  The class collectively agrees that they like giving back to the community.  “It’s a perfect situation in which both parties benefit,” Ferrell said.  “My students are meeting their graduation requirements while doing good for others.”  From clerical work to cleaning, the students do a little bit of everything while at the pantry.  “They learn many valuable skills that will help them find employment later,” said Ferrell.  “They keep the books, take inventory, unload shipments and stock the shelves.  But most importantly, they learn how to work cooperatively with other people,” she added.

Matthew Stacy, a Mississippi Occupational Diploma graduate and a former student of Ferrell, says his favorite task is retrieving the cake mix and icing for clients who have upcoming birthdays.  Stacy and his grandmother, Kay Browning, have been volunteering at the pantry twice a week for two months now.  They’ve become the permanent “welcome wagon,” greeting clients as they enter the building and loading their groceries into their cars as they leave.

Ferrell’s students’ involvement with the Good Samaritan Center doesn’t stop at volunteering.  They also connect the high school community at large with the pantry by organizing school-wide food drives.  They request that students in each grade collect specific items that the pantry is always in need of, including peanut butter, jelly, grains, cooking oil, tea and coffee.  “We are grateful these students have decided to do this for us,” Roberts said.  “Sometimes our inventory is so limited.  There will only be three or four items to give out.  This class has been a tremendous help in so many ways.”

Volunteers are crucial to the daily operation of the Good Samaritan Center.  With only three part time employees, volunteers are what keep the pantry’s doors open.  Zemek said “some volunteers come weekly, others once a month.  They get as much out of it as the people receiving the food.”  The pantry’s purpose is to support families in need, but it runs on the support of the family it brought together.

By Rachel Wilhite

Twitter: @rachwilhite

Sweet Potatoes and Hot Peppers

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I have wanted to participate in community gardening since my freshman year at Rhodes. The on-campus organization for all things environmental has always been active. Rhodes opened its own garden on campus and hosted weekly farmer’s markets. When I thought volunteering, I thought gardening, and I was grateful to be able to spend time helping out at one!

The Thomas and Wells Community Garden is a relatively new venture, started earlier this year through a grant from Grow Memphis. The garden is visible from the street. I parked and had some time to walk around before Jessica (one of the site managers) arrived.

Jessica with one of the largest pieces of okra that I've ever seen courtesy of the Thomas and Wells Community Garden.

Jessica with one of the largest pieces of okra that I’ve ever seen courtesy of the Thomas and Wells Community Garden.

There were a variety of veggies growing: okra, eggplant, Swiss chard and a few different types of peppers. The chard was already breaking through the soil. The garden is in transition right now, being re-planted with heartier plants that can withstand the cold.

First we walked around the perimeter of the garden, collecting any trash.  Then we focused on composting. The garden gets a lot of plant refuse from Ms. Cordelia’s grocery store in Harbor Town. This refuse breaks down to create some of the darkest (which I learned means nutrient rich!) soil I’ve seen. Jessica and I dumped the new refuse on broken-down soil and grass, and then “turned it” to incorporate all of the plant materials for more effective composting.

Almost done composting at the Thomas and Wells Community Garden! Whew!

Almost done composting at the Thomas and Wells Community Garden! Whew!

After covering our compost pile with coffee bags, we walked around the various plots to do some light weeding. The gardens are well maintained, we just made sure none of the weeds were getting out of control. Jessica and I removed “chokers” from one flowerbed when she discovered a trove of sweet potatoes that had gone unnoticed the week before. She dug them out, and sent me home with a souvenir.

Near the sweet potatoes were hot peppers. Jessica let me try one, and even though I am a wimp when it comes to spicy foods, I couldn’t resist! It was delicious.

The spicy pepper that I tasted, grown with love in the Thomas and Wells Community Garden.

The spicy pepper that I tasted, grown with love in the Thomas and Wells Community Garden.

The plot we worked was open to the community for planting, and the community was the main force behind its success. I was happy to really get my hands dirty and learn about gardening as well as the role and importance of community gardens.

I was impressed by the dedication of the volunteers and community in establishing and sustaining the garden. I also learned the enjoyment fresh, organic veggies and herbs can bring when you help grow them.

As far as this garden is concerned, you reap what you sow. I was only there for a short time, so I got a sweet potato and a bite of pepper. But this community is getting a lot more.

 

Thank you for reading! I’m searching for a community outreach or partnerships position at a non-profit organization in Memphis. If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com or dsvgdik@gmail.com
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Film Reels and Ransom Notes

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Today I made my way over to Playhouse on the Square to help Indie Memphis with its annual Indie Memphis Film Festival. I was thrilled to check this out.

Indie Memphis brings together local independent filmmakers, film-lovers. artists, and attendees (some big names too!) to the same spot in an incredible outpouring of creativity. They have year-round programming developed to achieve this goal, but their big-ticket event is the annual Indie Memphis Film Festival. They screen a variety of films: major feature releases, old favorites, documentaries and short films. Some of these compete for festival awards.  I know that I am gushing a bit about the festival, but I love films, and think Indie Memphis has such a cool thing going on.

Christopher's beautiful balloon forest decorations for the Indie Memphis Film Festival!

Christopher’s beautiful balloon forest decorations for the Indie Memphis Film Festival!

The awesome group of volunteers, festival staff, and directors at Playhouse was overwhelming. They had so many! Thankfully, Christopher, who manages the bar area, helped sort me out and put me to work. There were a good number of volunteers working in the lounge putting up decorations. My first task was to decorate donation boxes on the bar. Christopher suggested using festival guidebooks to create a ransom note-style sign, and I was more than happy to oblige! Christopher and others worked on blowing up and assembling beautiful red and green balloons in the shapes of flowers that were then trellised through the ceiling. Even the creativity of the volunteers was incredible! When I finished my donation signs, I helped stock the bar with sodas, water and coffee.

My finished ransom notes, I mean donations signs, for the Indie Memphis Film Festival!

My finished ransom notes, I mean donations signs, for the Indie Memphis Film Festival!

The communal atmosphere was kind of intoxicating. Everyone was nice, worked real hard, and was there out of a love of film. I met people of all walks of life, including a German exchange student, a professional psychologist, and even a current Rhodes student. The experience proved to me how important and transcendent “the arts” can be.

I enjoyed it so much that I’m definitely volunteering again next year. Positive reinforcement was everywhere. My decorating was praised, my blogging was asked about, and I even had a few people ask for contact info so they could check the blog out when it’s published! Well here it is people!

Today reminded me of the artistic confluence Memphis has, partly due to its history and culture, and it is something that I need to support.

 

Thank you for reading! I’m searching for a community outreach or partnerships position at a non-profit organization in Memphis. If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com or dsvgdik@gmail.com
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A Place To Call Your Own

A Place to Call Your Own

By: Max Groce

This day started out semi-rough. I had not gotten much sleep the night before then I had to be up at 6 to get ready in time to be at the Habitat-for Humanity build site at 7.  I rise out of my bed like a reanimated body and slowly yet surely get ready and make my way out the door. Eventually, I arrive at the corner of N.Third and Chelsea. I recognize the neighborhood from frequent trips to Tigers game at the Pyramid when it was still open. You can still see little parts of blight, but there are large blocks that have been totally redone and look incredibly good. I park my car in front of an abandoned gas station next to the other cars and make my way out of the car into the cold morning air.

I walk up to the sign in table and meet Mary. She tells me what is going on and some background on the house, which finally starts to compute after I get my first cup of coffee down. Mary explains how Habitat for Humanity isn’t just about building houses it’s about buying as well. The whole point is to allow someone to build and own their home; the logic being that if it’s theirs they will take better care of it and they will have more invested into their neighborhoods then if they were just renting. The program helps them get a loan with a very low down payment and no interest at all, but they do have to qualify, put in certain number of hours for financial literacy, and put in a certain number of houses working on the house.  The house were working on today is a one level handicap accessible three bedroom, and it is for an elderly woman who’s wheelchair bound and her granddaughter, Ms. Jessie and Venita Hill. I meet them and Mary tells me how they have been out here every day the house has been worked on rain or snow.

Ms.Jessie Hill (seated) and Venita Hill

It’s about 7:30 and the other volunteers start to arrive from The University of Memphis and Lynnwood.  Mr. Jimmie gathers us up and begins his speech. He talks about how this house is built in seven days only because of help from volunteers and how what we’re doing really is not only making a significant difference in someone else’s life but that we are giving and building somebody a home. That’s what really resonated with me through the whole experience that day. I’m building somebody’s home. A house where they’re going to live for shelter from the elements and the world. It’s a strange feeling and thought to have but it did make me happy to have it.

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After Jimmie’s speech we broke up into teams and followed the more experienced volunteers who assigned us jobs. Mine was painting all the touchup and trim on the outside of house. I painted literally the whole time I was volunteering all the way around the house. I mean I painted all over that house. It would seem monotonous but honestly they gave such a good speech in the beginning that it didn’t seem that way. You really did feel like you were doing something that made a difference. I finished up the last of the trim work and helped clean up the work site. I made my way over to Mary and Jimmy and thanked them for the opportunity and made my way home.  That trip home made me really reflect on what I truly had. I have a home. It’s not big and it’s not fancy, but it’s everything to me.

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Birds of Paradise

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My day at St. Mary’s Catholic Church Soup Kitchen started early. The rain and my post-biking body aches made it difficult to get out of bed, but my “struggles” were really put into perspective for me once I got downtown and started preparing food for homeless Memphians.

St. Mary’s has been serving the poor and homeless communities of Memphis for 143 years, They host three separate meals: fruit or oatmeal at 6:30, coffee and pastries at 7:30, and then a larger meal including soup, a meat sandwich, a PB&J sandwich, and a granola bar or bag of chips. The Soup Kitchen partners with many community groups to make this happen. Many local schools and religious groups donate sandwiches, while Starbucks generously donates all of the coffee and pastries handed out each morning. The kitchen is open 6 days and week, and feeds about 100 people per day.

Dicing up some yummy cuts of chicken at the St. Mary's Soup Kitchen!

Dicing up some yummy cuts of chicken at the St. Mary’s Soup Kitchen!

I was able to help serve the main meal of the day. I started chopping cuts of beef and chicken into bite sized pieces for the soup. I was joined by Chip and Loretta, who are veteran choppers and would have sunk me in any cooking competition. They both come early in the mornings before work to help prepare the meals. What a great way to start one’s day!

While I worked I also got to meet Martin, who is the new Director of Homeless Ministries at St. Mary’s. He was explaining how he got his start at St. Mary’s through volunteering in the soup kitchen, which eventually turned into a full-time position. His story inspired me to stick with my passion in the hopes that one day it can become my career!

 PBJ, meat sandwiches, and chips just waiting to be handed out at St. Mary's Soup Kitchen!


PBJ, meat sandwiches, and chips just waiting to be handed out at St. Mary’s Soup Kitchen!

I was able to interact with all of the people in line for a bite to eat. Once people made it through the food line, they were invited to sit at one of two long tables available and enjoy their meal. The fellowship I witnessed was incredibly heartwarming. Friends in a dry place socializing with something warm to eat.  One man brought a shopping cart full of equipment. It blew over in the wind, but another man got up from his meal to help the man collect his belongings and right his cart. I was moved by this small kindness.

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Drawing done by one client of the St. Mary’s Soup Kitchen, featuring birds of paradise because being in St. Mary’s is like paradise for him.

The St. Mary’s Soup Kitchen helped me to “check my privilege,” so to speak, and remind me of all that I have. While everyone else was preparing for Halloween spooks and scares, I saw a real fear that people must overcome each day: the fear of not knowing where your next meal is coming from. But I also met a counter to that fear. Loving people who work to replace these fears with hope.

 

Thank you for reading! I’m searching for a community outreach or partnerships position at a non-profit organization in Memphis. If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com or dsvgdik@gmail.com.
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Prelude: Megan Waters

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meganwaters2

“What do you do?”

I hate that question.

I’ve never liked my answer. I always want to add a disclaimer. “I’m a paralegal. But I also write a TV blog! And I also bake cakes! And I’m also studying to be a clown!”

I wasn’t studying to be a clown, although I did take a class once. My point is that I can’t seem to do just one thing at a time. As a result, I’ve tried on several careers at a time, discarding some as too small, others as too big, none as just right. I’m like the Goldilocks of careers.

So here I am, trying on something new again. But this time it makes more sense. I’ve always been a helper. No matter what I ‘do,’ that’s what I end up doing. Helping people, and I love it. I also love having too much to do, which seems to be a requirement in the nonprofit world.

I believe with my whole heart that being a part of a community means being involved, doing for others. So this is what I’m doing now. I’m taking a leap.

Come see where I land!