7 Days of Service

Epilogue from Sarah Beth Jarnagin

I encountered a lot of different types of people and situations during my Volunteer Odyssey Week. I was blessed by a young Ethiopian boy’s grateful heart after I helped him with his geology homework; and a woman whose heart has gone out to families divided by homelessness. It all caused me to realize that instead of simply not doing enough “good things” in my life, I had been robbing myself of so many life altering people and experiences. The people I met, in need or meeting needs, appeared to me as courageous. Whether they were a young girl living life joyfully with only three swollen fingers on each hand, or a man excited to wake up early each morning and serve starving people breakfast, our city is full of people working hard to meet it’s needs. I was humbled to learn about the many creative ways people have cultivated to begin solving our issues. When one gives, more is required than time or money, sacrifice is necessary.  The individuals I served beside each made the decision to sacrifice something in their own lives.

A great reward of service is to receive love from those you have given it to.  People are grateful for the little things and those who share get to reap the benefits. Every volunteer experience was special in its own way, but there were a few people and places I can’t seem to get off my mind. There are images of children’s smiles that have stuck in my mind, people’s voices, their stories, and struggles. One eight year old African male who could barely read, without the help of his afterschool refugee program he might not ever have the chance to learn. After my week I had the chance to go back to Advance Memphis and volunteer again, there wasn’t one person that didn’t remember me. The students were so happy to see me even though they had only met me one time. I was moved to see such genuine love from people that I had only given a day’s time. I have been challenged to view people differently and to love them the way Jesus Christ has loved me. The people I encountered taught me so much. They have shown me courage. They don’t see color or poverty. I want to understand better and I want to see people as people. I know that the more time I spend with people who are different than me the more I will be able to relate to their way of life and the obstacles they face everyday. Living on the streets, living in dangerous places, being born into poverty, being treated differently because of where one is from or the way they talk and dress, all these things are normalcy to some.

I can’t relate to that. I don’t have any idea what it feels like to be treated differently because of how I look or how I’m dressed. I didn’t come from wealth, but I didn’t come from poverty either. I came from a middle class white family that had enough money for food, tv, and occasional extra things. As far as middle class I was never at the top. I didn’t own expensive things or go on lavish vacations, but I learned how to fit in with everybody else. People didn’t know the difference between my penny and their dollar. My clothes looked just as nice or better, I knew things, I spoke well. You see, the higher paid and lower paid middle class citizens all run together there is not much distinction. Yet, for people living in poverty there are always clear implications. I can’t imagine walking around with a sign on my back that said,” I have less money than you, my opportunities are more limited, my education wasn’t as good as yours.” I may not know anything about being treated differently, but I am aware of what it’s like to look at someone else and know that financial status makes one different; it means people don’t fully understand each other and the personal circumstances experienced. It causes my pride to swell up inside, and arrogantly it says they’ll never fathom a way of life that requires one to work hard for what they want and sometimes need. That pride causes dissension and resentment. I have come to realize that maybe if I looked to people who have less instead of more, then some of that pride might fade and I might begin to relate to people who live a lifestyle far different from my own means.

The majority of organizations I had the chance to serve depend solely on volunteers and support from people around them. It gave me much pleasure to see all the ways our city is being built up. I met numerous people that have answered a call on their lives. I definitely plan to revisit my volunteer sites and build relationships with the people serving and the people being served.

The Stairmaster

20131222-100324.jpg

On my last day on the Safari Odyssey with Ari I was also introduced to a new form of CrossFit – The Turkey Stairmaster. Don’t worry, I’ll explain later but I think I’ve found the secret to staying svelte during the Holiday Season!

Charities at a glance

Charities at a glance

Today’s venture brought me to the Catholic Charities of West Tennessee and more specifically, the Fig Tree Pantry. On an average day the Fig Tree Pantry helps many homeless and impoverished with food services. Today was not an average day –  it was Day 3 of the Christmas Basket hand out. A program that started about 20 years ago to help provide provisions and toys to refugee families. Since then, the program has grown into serving over 300 homeless and immigrant families. Since I was a part of Day 3, previous volunteers had already sorted the food into boxes and Day 2 had given away about half of the them.

As I drove up behind the Dozier House I pulled up next to a huge refrigerated van and found a few people lugging frozen turkeys. Aha, I think I have found my fellow wranglers. truck turkeys

After taking the turkeys out, we placed them in bags with a pack of hotdogs. Each basket would have an assortment of dry goods, paper goods, a turkey weighing between 18-22 pounds and a pack of hotdogs. Thank goodness we had the muscle crew because we had a lot of loading to do! After being warmly greeted by Neal and Al I was sent to help finalize the organizing and receive a brief breakdown on how the whole procedure works.

Like any good assembly line, all the parts need to be moving together and in the correct order. When a client checks in they are given a number. There number is then called up to the toy room and some one brings down there bag of toys.* The client may then get some coffee, water and a cookie and if they have a child with them, get a picture taken with Santa. The picture also gets printed out right there and then thanks to the lovely Alie! Finishing the assembly line, the wrangling crew brings a box and turkey to the client’s car that gets pulled up, almost drive through style. My role was to bring the boxes and turkeys up the stairs and prep them for the people putting them in the cars. Pshhh, easy peasy. Then I got to carrying turkey and box number 30 and realized my idiocy.

My domain

My domain

 

These are the stairs that I got VERY well acquainted with. I am not even going to pretend like I didn’t work up a sweat. The rest of the assembly line was working so well I was barely able to keep them stocked and ready to go! It was awesome though – it allowed me to fully indulge and enjoy the pizza that they so graciously provided for lunch for the volunteers.

 

 

 

Someone is going to be a happy camper this Christmas!

Someone is going to be a happy camper this Christmas!

*Back to the toys. So, even separate from all the food organization, each client has extensive paperwork giving background to the family so we can make sure things are appropriately tailored. If the family is not living somewhere with access to cook the turkey, alternative options are provided. This really blew me away. I mean, yes, it seems extremely logical, but it also takes a lot of additional prep work but it ensures that everyone who is receiving is receiving items and goods they can use. That is some beautiful foresight. The paperwork also details what kind of kids they family has so the toys can be tailored as well. Going up the toy room was beautiful! There were tons of donations from the community of really really great items.

Although my interaction with clients was limited, I could hear many “Merry Christmases,” “God Bless Yous” and other thank yous floating down to me and my stairs. Albeit it being about 65 degrees, the season of giving is definitely in full effect.

And I even got to have my first ever picture with Santa!

me and santa!Stay tuned for my final thoughts about Volunteer Odyssey and a wrap-up of this week!

Love,

Ari

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

Snowy Nights!
My lovely Snowomen

My lovely Snowomen

Team, I know this is absurd coming from someone in their twenties, but I really wish I was a kid again. Not so much to experience the growing pains and awkwardness but so I can go to places like the Memphis Botanic Garden and experience Snowy Nights in My Big Backyard for all its glory. Since I was blown away as an adult* I can only imagine how much fun I would have as a child!

Snowy Nights!

Snowy Nights!

*I don’t necessarily consider myself an adult though I understand that it is a title that society expects me to hold.

 

 

 

 

So, Snowy Nights! ‘Twas beautiful! ‘Twas rain free! ‘Twas not too cold! ‘Twas a great experience! It really was a wonderful way to spend my Saturday evening. Before heading over there, I was at my friend’s house. Pretty much everyone was on the couch. Coming back to that same friend’s house later, everyone was still on the couch. I, however, had played with real life Light Brights, hung out in a snow pit, drank hot cocoa, gave away pink snow and watched little kids run in joy to take a picture with Frosty the Snowman. I’ll let you decide who had the better time.

Part of the backyard all lit up!

Part of the backyard all lit up!

On a normal day, the Big Backyard is awesome in its own right. When it is all lit up and decorated for the holidays, photographs really can’t do it justice. I was there a little bit early and got to walk around and I WAS SQUEALING WITH DELIGHT. THIS IS AWESOME! THIS IS AWESOME! See, adult is not a correct term for me.

 

When I was finished with my self-guided tour it was time for all the volunteers to line up and hear more about Snowy Nights from volunteer coordinator Rosemary. There were about 25 of us volunteering and we were all assigned different posts. A few were sent to the cookie dough ornament making station. A few more were sent to the fire pit to help with s’mores. A few got to man the various costumes et cetera. I landed the lucky position of greeter!

Throne Chilling

Throne Chilling

Although I would’ve loved to be the Snow Queen, I really loved my time welcoming everyone, handing out pink snow, then getting to see people exit with their little ones tuckered out from all the great things they got to see and do. When talking to one child leaving she said her favorite part was “everything!” then, looking up at her mom exclaimed, “Mom! Can it be next year now so we can come again?!” I died. That was the cutest.

It truly was a magical time. Even though I won’t be having a white Christmas this year, I was proud that Memphis really brought the holiday spirit to life. The Botanic Garden was a great way to mediate the rest of this week. Although I have been in high spirits with all the volunteer work I’ve been doing this week, it was great to remember that there are super easy ways to bring a smile to a child’s face while having some fun yourself. There is certainly a balance that needs to be maintained. I’m slowly figuring out that I need to mix in joy to provide balance. Snowy Nights was a great way to tilt the joy factor a little higher.

Stay tuned for more updates from the 901.

Love,

Ari

Thank you for reading! I’m searching for a job in community outreach or partnerships position at a non-profit organization. If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com.
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Ready, Set, ACT!

my motivational speaker

Happy Friday, Internet friends!

Today’s volunteerism is brought to you by the letter R. And E. And P. OK, today’s lesson is brought to you by the letters REP – Refugee Empowerment Program. REP is an awesome program that helps 200-400 refugees annually across age groups. A major focus of the program is continuing education including after school enrichment, adult ESL classes and a summer educational program.

REPresent! Get it?

REPresent! Get it?

I was actually asked to give some words of encouragement to some seniors that were taking the ACT exam the next day. OY. What was I going to tell these kids? I remember taking the ACT but English is my first language. My next thought was candy. Candy makes everything better, right? OK! I’ll make little goody bags! Smarties, for obvious reasons, peppermints help to trigger good vibes in the old noggin and a little good luck index card. At least that’s a start, right? Still struggling with coming up with compelling words of wisdom I decided that I would offer three simple pieces of advice:

1) Get plenty of sleep!

2) Eat breakfast!

3) Trust yourself. You know more than you think you know.

I figured those were solid pearls of wisdom. If nothing else, keep it short and sweet would help them to relax instead of freaking them out more. So, instead of me grandstanding, I was simply going to instead try and talk to each kid about what they’ve been struggling with and offer suggestions to help. If worse comes to worse, the candy will do the talking, right?

my motivational speaker

my motivational speaker

So i’m parked outside of REP nervous as can be and there is no one here. I checked all the doors, no one is home. I tried calling the contact number I had, it goes to voicemail. Hmmm. This is weird. I hung out for another 15 minutes or so, then I texted Sarah letting her know what was going on. Definitely not helping my nerves! Luckily a bus finally pulls up and a bunch of kiddos pile out – both Moonas, Ahmed, Serfa, and Nahmin. A woman named Ashley, one of the regular volunteers, and was in charge of wrangling the kids up after school and bringing them to REP. The delay was because of an after-school Student Council meeting.  No sweat, lets get down to business!

Only three of the students were seniors taking the ACT on Saturday. Oh, I thought to myself, this was much chiller. I had visions of me standing up on stage with 25 kids in front of me expecting a song and dance. Thankfully none of the above was required! If you were at my Bat Mitzvah you’d be agreeing, my singing didn’t do anyone any favors!

We all ended up just gathering around a table and talking. First there were jokes, of course, and the need for immediate candy gratification. After the dust settled, we had a great conversation about the test. First, we discussed what the test meant to them. All the students are first generation immigrants. Being able to do well on the ACT was certainly a great credential to possess. I was trying to balance a difficult line of stressing the importance of doing well while keeping the test in perspective. A bad score does not equate to a bad life. In no way, shape, or form should this test shape their plans. I think (and hope) that this resonated with them. I shared my mom’s story with them. She never graduated high school, was able to get a nursing degree, work internationally and start her own business in the States. Although she was in France and this was 50 years ago, life provides many paths to success. Funny that I am learning that same lesson now.

From there I sat one on one with each student and asked about their practice exams and how they went. For Moona, she becomes disinterested in the readings then doesn’t do well on the analytical questions. We tried working on reading the questions first and then reading the passages. That way she can really be reading for answers that are already keyed into her mind. Nahmin was worried about time. When I asked how long he took on each question he said “too long” so my suggestion was to move to the questions he knows he can do quickly and then circle back. At least this way, his probable percentage of correct answers has a chance to be relatively high in comparison to questions answered.

Since our time was somewhat shortened, we didn’t get to do much tutoring. I hope I can go back next week and continue talking to the students and hearing their stories. They are all amazing. Although I was supposed to be coming in to give them words of encouragement, I think the roles were reversed. It would be impossible not to be impressed and motivated by these students. They have had, and will have, experiences unbeknownst and unparalleled to any of my own. They continue to want to do well for themselves and organizations like REP can enable them to do so.

I don’t think I could ask for a better Friday.

Catch you on the next safari stop.

Love,

Ari

Thank you for reading! I’m searching for a job in community outreach or partnerships position at a non-profit organization. If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com.
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Thank You for Being A Friend

Dorothy's Place

Friends, I’m not going to lie, when I woke up this morning I was pretty tuckered out. It has been a long week of volunteering. I really didn’t think I would be affected this way – a couple hours a day at a different spot? No problem! Boy was I wrong. The stories I’ve heard, the people I’ve met and the love that I’ve been putting into everyday has caught up with me. That coupled with a slightly irrational apprehension towards my location today: Dorothy’s Place.

Dorothy’s Place is a part of the Alzheimer’s Day Services of Memphis, a non-profit 501(c)3 that provides day services for members of the Memphis community affected with an aspect of dementia. Dorothy’s Places provides extremely affordable, in comparison with hospice or hospital care, and inclusive activities for their “friends.” Friends is the term used for those that come to Dorothy’s Place. The function of the center is to enhance the quality of life and to recognize their capabilities, not disabilities. Development Director, Jon Burchfield, puts it as sustaining the dignity of their friends, who are, after all, our elders. Even as I was talking to Jon and receiving all this information, I felt my nerves. How was I going to cope if someone asked me if I was their niece? Was I going to be awkward and mess up? Was this just going to be too sad?

the many facets

the many facets of dementia

 

Now this is something that my friends and family will never believe I am saying. I loved being proven wrong. My time at Dorothy’s Place and the friends that I have helped alter my perspective of people with dementia.

Small disclaimer: I did a pretty poor job with my photographs today. I got really caught up with time at Dorothy’s Place and the HIPPA requirements not to show friend’s faces. Apologies.

Prior to meeting Jon and getting a fantastic education about dementia, I received a joyful greeting from Tanya. She mans the front desk and so much more – she provides sunshine and laughter for everyone who walks in, that is, if she lets you in.

entranceway

entranceway

Following my overview of the program, I was shown around the facility, which is beautiful. Everything is painted with beautiful murals not only to make the facility more aesthetically pleasing but also with great intent to guide friends around the facility with walking paths and signs above each room and alcove. I was immediately introduced to Norrell (a personal care assistant), Ms. Greta and Ms. Ellen. We were tasked with making sugar cookies that would be later given to the firefighters and policeman as a thank you. Even with my nerves, I was immediately put at ease by Ms. Greta.

cookie making!

cookie making!

We dove right into those cookies as she regaled me with stories of her childhood and how her mother taught her how to cook and bake. It took us a couple tries to get the dough consistency just right but she and I taste tested for quality control. We cut Christmas trees, reindeer and snowmen that we would later decorate with icing.

Post cookie making, I helped with jingo time, a bingo style game, and exercise time. I was not only impressed with the clarity that the friends possessed and the relentless energy of all the personal care assistants that were there.  They are tireless. They know the idiosyncrasies and particularities of each friend all while being incredibly relaxed within those interactions.

busy busy bees!

Busy, busy bees!

Everyone that works at Dorothy’s Place is amazing. Not only are they great with the friends but their energy knows no bounds – take a look at the schedule, it’s packed! I am so happy I got the opportunity to go to Dorothy’s Place and meet the friends, personal care assistants and staff. Although I was there with the idea that I would help to have a positive affect on their lives, I think the role was really reversed. They helped to not only prove me wrong but also changed my outlook completely.

Thank you for being a friend.

Catch you on the next safari stop.

Love,

Ari

Thank you for reading! I’m searching for a job in community outreach or partnerships position at a non-profit organization. If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com.
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All Paws on Deck

Kisses from Mandalay
cat kisses

cat kisses

OK team, confession time:

1) Just made the connection between living in the Volunteer State and doing Volunteer Odyssey (oy vey)

2) I am a sucker for any and all animals

3) This post is going to have a lot of gratuitous animal photos like…

Edy pup or imposter?

Desk pup, Edy

THIS ONE

Thank you, Memphis Humane Society, for giving me the quality animal time I needed.

I was very blessed as a kid to have pets. Though the random turtle or fish made an occasional appearance our family is very much a dog and cat family. The dogs are referred to as grandchildren and are given birthday parties. Is that excessive? Probably. Have you ever snuggled with a dog? Have you ever felt the warmth of a cat as they twirl between your legs showing you that they actually care? OK, I get it, I’m a sucker but at least I can recognize it.

Anyways, back to the start of my day.  Memphis Humane Society just celebrated their 80th anniversary!

Love paws

Love paws

They provide a range of services for the community such as spaying/neutering programs, adoption, investigating neglect and providing sanctuary for numerous animals that need foster care. Needless to say I was pumped to be a part of the team for the day.

Upon meeting Katie Pemberton, PR/marketing specialist, I was introduced to the facilities, the volunteer training program and some of the volunteers. Everyday there are a number of volunteers that help with the various tasks. Most importantly, for the pups, they come in to take the dogs out for walks. There was some fierce competition for those jobs. I met a number of ladies that have specific days that they come in. One volunteer is coming close to her ten year anniversary! The volunteers aren’t the only ones that get to cash in on the animal time. Almost every office I walked into had an animal counterpart to the human within. Some of the animals were pets and others were just adopted for the day. My heart is melting.

My first task was to “interview” the pups that were out on their walks. Each pup has a small bio up online and on the premises to let the potential adopters know more about them. I would go in to area where to dog was, talk to the person with them and observe and/or play with them trying to get an idea about them. It was amazing how much you could gather just from spending 10 minutes with them. Each pup definitely has their own personality and character traits. It’s amazing how they’ve evolved over time. I heard numerous stories from the different walkers about each dog and their transformation during their time at the Humane Society. In total I interviewed 11 pups including Othello, Bandit, Mandalay and iPhone. Yes, iPhone the dog.

Kaiju

Kaiju

The picture wasn’t always this pretty for the pups. Many of them were victims of abuse and neglect, like my boy Kaiju (left). He is missing his right eye and is still the happiest pup you’ve ever seen. He loves people and chasing balls. A number of the dogs also have serious burns. Apparently there is a trend of using motor oil on dogs to prevent or kill ticks and other ailments dogs may pick up. The volunteers and employees of the Humane Society have done such a great job working with and rehabilitating both the dogs and cats that you quickly forget your sadness once you get kisses from the furry ones.

thank you!

thank you!

After my time in heaven outside with the pups I went inside to help with the labeling and stuffing of thank you notes to donors.  The Humane Society operates solely on donations. The generosity of so many is amazing. It is so important to thank those donors, and so I feel like I’ve done a little bit of my part by helping.

Being at the Humane Society was great. I absolutely loved my time with the animals and humans alike. It is a small miracle that I did not come home with one pup in particular, Mandalay. I will definitely be making my way back to the Humane Society soon.

Mandalay

Mandalay

Stay tuned for more updates from the 901.

Love,

Ari

Thank you for reading! I’m searching for a job in community outreach or partnerships position at a non-profit organization. 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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Room for All

My boy Mark

RITIHow does one describe the feeling of family? Safe? Comforting? Being at ease? These and more are the sentiments one feels when walking into Room in the Inn (RITI). This is all done intentionally.

I had the great pleasure of being able to work with Sarah, Volunteer Odyssey’s founder, this fine evening. First, let me provide some background on RITI. RITI started in Nashville in 1986 with four congregations committing to sheltering the homeless through the winter and spring. Since then the Nashville program has grown leaps and bounds while the Memphis chapter started in 2010. RITI’s mission is to help provide a sense of hospitality for the homeless. In order to achieve this, RITI provides a number of guests with a hot dinner, a hot shower, warm clothes and a warm bed for the evening. It is all provided with the good company of those who run and volunteer. The piano will be played, songs will be sung and, if my experience is any indicator, a good time will be had by all.

Sarah and I started our evening by helping Laura, the on-site coordinator for RITI at Colonial Cumberland Presbyterian Church, prep the beds. We stripped the beds and remade them with fresh sheets, pillow cases and blankets. When the guests leave, they are allowed to take the blanket with them.

great technique

great technique

We then moved into the best part of the evening; dinner time. On the menu tonight was homemade chili. Not only was the chili delicious, it was quite the conversation starter! Everyone there had an opinion on not only the best style of chili, but the best toppings and even the best kind of tomatoes to use! One of the guests, James, is a chili connoisseur. We had a great conversation and traded recipes which I hope to be trying out soon.

Another friend I made at RITI was a gentleman named Mark. Mark is just full of smiles. We became fast friends when he complimented my red cowboy boots. Compliments are always the quickest way to my heart.

My boy Mark

My boy Mark

Although Mark liked my boots, he preferred his own black boots. Originally from Nashville, Mark loves country music. He actually had the opportunity to stand in the ring onstage at the Grand Ole Opry. He had great stories about his time in Nashville. I’m so glad I had the opportunity to learn more about Mark and his story.

After dinner, Sarah, Laura and I proceeded up to the clothes closet where we not only helped to sort a large quantity of clothing donations we also helped guests find new clothing and accessories they needed. Sorting through the clothes I was struck with two sentiments. First, I should never work in retail. Second, on a more serious note, the quality of some of the donations were laughable at best. Some of the clothing we went through had holes, stains or maybe seemed dirty. That is completely unacceptable. However, Laura has no qualms about what is appropriate and will readily deny clothing in poor conition. It is a true testament to her success and the high standards that RITI holds for their guests that she makes such distinctions.

digging for gold

digging for gold

Friends, I’m not going to lie. At first, I was a little nervous about volunteering at RITI. I’m not sure why but I think I was a little anxious about the role I would play. Those feelings quickly dissipated upon entering the church and talking to everyone there. I felt surrounded by love, warmth, and friendship. It was like going to a family member’s house and getting to meet people from all over with the best stories. These kinds of experiences help to clarify that “doing community service” is so much more than being a body that can help make beds, cook food or even provide clothes; it’s all about connections. The connections that you can make with someone just by having a conversation can be life changing. There are very few feelings that are better than being heard and feeling as though your voice is important. There is certainly room in the inn for all when the conversation is open to all.

Until next time,

Love,

Ari

Thank you for reading! I’m searching for a job in community outreach or partnerships position at a non-profit organization. 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!
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Chicken Soup for the Soul

A regular at the Soup Kitchen created this portrait of Ron Bezon
A regular at the Soup Kitchen created this portrait of Ron Bezon

A regular at the Soup Kitchen created this portrait of Ron Bezon, Soup Kitchen Manager

Cliche title but the sentiment is 100% real. And it may not always be chicken soup but there is never a shortage of the key ingredient; love.

This frigid Monday morning I woke up in somewhat of a daze. My alarm was set for 6:15 am? AM? When was the last time I woke up that early? I stumbled around for a bit deciding if the rumbles in my stomach were from hunger or from loud bodily protests against being awake. I finally got dressed and headed towards my destination – St. Mary’s Soup Kitchen. Upon arrival, I see a large tattooed man repping the Steelers and ushering me inside; it’s Martin, one of the directors of the Soup Kitchen. He’s been with them for almost 10 years and is one of the most joyful people i’ve met. Not only does he regale you with positive energy but he has a great voice and sings along with many of the praise songs playing outside to greet those coming in for something to eat.

The schedule for the Soup Kitchen, which has been running every week, Monday-Saturday since 1870, is broken down into three parts. At 6:30, coffee is put out. At 7:30, coffee and pastries are handed out. At 9, a cup of soup, one PB&J, one meat sandwich, and a different treat are passed out. In between those times volunteers are participating in various efforts like cleaning, doling out soup, making sandwiches, organizing donations, and cutting potatoes.

yup, I got the taters

yup, I got the taters

Of course when Martin saw me he deemed me a good fit for the taters. I was tasked to dice them to put into soup for the next day. Although he was impressed with my skills I was joined by another volunteer, Alex, who is a junior at the University of Memphis. He has volunteered at St. Mary’s a few times and enjoys meeting everyone there. I quickly saw what he meant. After meeting Martin, I met a volunteer named Lynn. She is full of energy and has a ready smile. Lynn is a Monday/Thursday regular and is an east coast transplant like myself. Today there was also Brittany and Katie. Both lovely ladies that did a NUMBER on cleaning the kitchen. The health inspectors are due for a visit and even though the kitchen proudly boasted a 98 (better than many restaurants) from the last visit, these ladies made it their duty to make this kitchen shine.

Back to those potatoes; as Alex and I were chopping away, I heard some whistling and looked up to see Ron Bezon, kitchen manager at St. Mary’s. Now Ron has maybe one of the most heartbreaking yet uplifting stories I have come to hear. Not only is he willing to share that story with you but his positive outlook on life and ability to really see his work with a holistic view is amazing. And he’s got jokes! After 5 minutes of speaking with him I already decided that I would be coming back the next day so I could hear more about him and, hopefully, absorb some of his wisdom.

Lynn and Ron

Lynn and Ron

Post-potatoes, Alex and I were tasked at ladling soup in 16-oz cups. As we were doing so, Ron scooped himself some and deemed it “quality control.” I then asked him what happens if they don’t like it. He replied, “well, its a money back guarantee, if you don’t like your soup, you can come back tomorrow and get another free cup.” Brilliant, just brilliant.

After we had finished with our soup it was time to start handing out the goods. Now I had worked at the Community Soup Kitchen at my college and loved it. We had regulars that knew me and I knew the system. Here was something different but still filled with the same kind of love. Although I was nervous there really wasn’t anything to be nervous about (except after I dropped a cup of soup -_-).

soup on soup on soup. literally.

soup on soup on soup. literally.

Everything was gravy. The volunteer crew worked well together, filling in for people when they needed to move on to a new task. Every visitor is greeted with a smile and loud “Good Morning,” per St. Mary’s tradition, because it maybe the only good morning they hear. Although it was a little chilly, we still saw a good crew and I talked with a few people that were on their way to try and get a job today.

Not to sound too sentimental but my heart was just overflowing this morning. I have a new found appreciation for what a warm cup of coffee or what a smile can do for someone. It can literally turn a day around. The power of food can never be underestimated and, in my opinion, is the universal language. Everybody gets hungry and every body needs nourishment. At St. Mary’s they aren’t only providing nourishment of the body but of the mind as well. Every person is more than willing to chat about whatever crosses your mind, offer wishes of well being and is absolutely genuine in their sentiment.

Monday Morning Team

Monday Morning Team (yes, a self-timer selfie)

I can’t wait to go back tomorrow – my alarm is already set. I think today was a great way to kick-off the Volunteer Odyssey Safari.

I’ll keep you posted !

Love,

Ari

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

yes, I generally do (poorly) photobomb my own snaps

yes, I generally do (poorly) photobomb my own snaps

Hello, web world friends, my name is Ariana Glantz and I am a recent transplant to the 901 community. I came to Memphis straight from college hoping to join a vibrant community full of thoughts, actions, and people ready to shake things up. All of the above are definitely present in Memphis and now its time for me to find where I fit in! Due to a man that was probably born networking, I had the great fortune to meet Sarah and learn more about Volunteer Odyssey (VO). For a recent resignee, the chance to make the newly freed time I have mean something more than catching up on shows on Netflix was like a godsend. I leapt at the chance. So, friends, here we are. Getting ready to embark on a Volunteer Odyssey.

My cousin Benji is always thrilled with me

My cousin Benji is always thrilled with me

The butterflies in my stomach are doubling every minute but I am beyond pumped. I can’t wait to see parts, people and programs of Memphis that I probably would have never had the chance to see. By participating in VO, I not only hope to find my where I belong in the community but to learn as much as possible so that I can turn the favor around and help others trying to figure out how they can contribute to the grit and grind of Memphis.

Megan Waters – Epilogue

vo2 016

Jump in.

That’s the best advice I can give you if you’re thinking about doing a Volunteer Odyssey week.

Actually, that’s the best advice I can give you about life, too.

It shouldn’t be hard, should it? There are people who need help. We have the ability to give it to them. It should be the easiest thing to do, but somehow, we don’t do it. We sit at home, warm and dry and fed, with kids who have books to read and backyards to play in, and worry about ourselves.

Sister Maureen from the Dorothy Day House doesn’t do that. Neither does Al from Fig Tree Food Pantry or Ms. Tonie at Room in the Inn. They jump in, when it’s cold, when it’s raining, when they are tired, when there’s too much to do and not enough resources, which is of course, always. There are good people all over Memphis who are working, day in and day out, to help those who need food, who have no home, who just need a place to learn.

It’s worth remembering in light of last week’s heartbreaking Pre-K vote. Even when Memphis went to the polls to refuse to pay a tiny amount of money to educate children who need it, Ms. Angela and Ms. Patience went to work. They went to Porter Leath’s Early Head Start the next day, and they sang songs about numbers, and played games with letters, and read books to Isaac and Paris and the other children.

The Volunteer Odyssey week is eye opening for those who have not experienced the vast need in Memphis, and for those who have, like myself, it serves as a reminder. That it is my responsibility to pay attention to those in need, and to help where I am able. I’m sending needed supplies to Room in the Inn and to Fig Tree Food Pantry, and I’m hoping they will let me don the Snow Queen robe at one of my nights on duty at Snowy Nights in My Big Backyard at the Botanic Gardens. All of these places, and the numerous others that are making a difference in our city, need your help too.

So jump in.