Day Six: Mid-South Spay and Neuter Services

Today I volunteered for an organization Memphis needs. In 2010 Memphis city council approved a mandatory spay and neuter ordinance for cats and dogs.  Since 2005 Mid-South Spay and Neuter Services have performed over 31,000 procedures and counting. Despite huge strides, the entire state of Tennessee still experiences pet overpopulation. Mid-South Spay and Neuter Services is a non-profit clinic dedicated to reducing pet overpopulation and high euthanasia rates. They offer affordable spay and neuter surgeries to the public. As mentioned before, it is the law in Memphis to spay or neuter your pets. We were a very popular booth at the Cooper-Young Festival.

Holding down the fort.

Holding down the fort.

Leading up to my Saturday with Mid-South Spay and Neuter Services, the fuss about the Cooper-Young Festival was reaching a fevered pitch. When I said I would be volunteering at the festival with an organization, the consensus was this was a great way to see Memphis. The Cooper-Young Festival definitely delivered! I got to talk to a lot of people about an important cause AND do some of the greatest people watching in the world.

BIG crowd at the Cooper Young Festival.

BIG crowd at the Cooper Young Festival.

Weaving through the enormous crowd, I met Stephanie Bennett, Mid-South Spay and Neuter Services’ Executive Director. I was introduced to some board members and given a rundown of the agency and the services they provide(Spay and neuter hours). Simple enough! Then I started talking to booth visitors. Nothing gets a person chatting like asking about their pet. (As if my dog fever was not prevalent enough!) People told us about the puppy they just got, the first pet they had neutered, different ways their pets show affection, and made donations in memory of their deceased pets (tips for snips). We even had a family ask about having their potty trained pig come in! These responsible pet owners love the work of this organization.

My three hour shift flew by with good company and a steady flow of people making donations and asking questions. There were a lot of concerned citizens relieved to know they could even bring in a feral animal to be treated at an extremely reduced rate. I feel confident the message we delivered at the Cooper-Young Festival will bring in many new clients to “spay away the strays”.

Thank you for reading! Like what you read? Megan Banaszek is searching for a job in the non-profit sector where she can use her Family Services degree and public service experience to make a positive impact in Memphis. …. Contact her at meganbanaszek0123@gmail.com or jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com.

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Day Five: Ave Maria Home

If you are in need of a great time, look no further than the Ave Maria Home. When I walked in the door, there was a parade of seniors being led by a gentleman celebrating his birthday in a crown. “I am the king today!” he proclaimed as walked around the corner to the Social Services office.

I was met by Sam, a social worker at the house and a Volunteer Odyssey alum. Sam reaffirmed my feelings about the entire Volunteer Odyssey process: you will meet the right connection if you are putting yourself out there during the week of volunteering. When she found herself at a crossroads, this was the networking boost she needed.

Sam gave me a tour of the facilities while we discussed her line of work, her experience with Volunteer Odyssey, and how she found herself in this job shortly after. We stopped and talked to different residents as we walked through, all eager to show off their living quarters. This was aging with pride. Sam explained they can be as independent or dependent as they wanted (or needed). There were people who lived in apartment style rooms, and those who lived in a more traditional nursing home setting. No single person being treated the same. The care I saw from the nurses and staff was all individualized, not to mention, everyone knew each resident’s name. When family visits become few and far between, these familiar faces become the resident’s family. The staff takes that to heart.

Lunch is served!

Lunch is served!

My tasks for the day were simple, yet meaningful. First I had the chance to visit with a resident as the rest of the house returned from the parlor. A beautician came in to the house today and the ladies were lined up. It was a nice to see some pampering for the residents limited to the facility.

The first resident I visited with was a well-traveled woman who had a story for every single photograph in her room. She looked longingly at the photo of her husband and told me about his time in the Air Force. When possible, he would bring her to the places he was flying, and she reflected on the time they spent seeing the world together.

After lunch of a “spot on” grilled cheese provided by the amazing staff, I sat down to do manicures for two women who may as well have been on vacation. They talked about going to the salon in the morning and making jewelry in their room. One went out to lunch with her daughter earlier in the week, and they shared their excitement to hear the live music from the block party happening at the neighboring church. As I painted their nails, they told me about the roads that led them to where they are today. Every single resident in that story has decades of timeless experience to share with those who make the time to listen.

Time for manicures.

Time for manicures.

If you want to hear a great story, visit the generation who have lived it all. Stories of flying around the world or playing sports as a professional athlete abound. One resident told me how she came home from winter break at secretarial school and told her dad she was never going back. Instead, she enrolled in a business course and had an opportunity to take a job typically held by a man when people were drafted for war. She spent her entire career at that same company and retired as a department head..

My time spent at the Ave Maria Home today gave new meaning to the phrase, “Respect your elders.” I should be so lucky as to have such rich life experiences to share with the younger generation when I’m their age.

 

Thank you for reading! Like what you read? Megan Banaszek is searching for a job in the non-profit sector where she can use her Family Services degree and public service experience to make a positive impact in Memphis. …. Contact her at meganbanaszek0123@gmail.com or jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com.

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Day Four: LeBonheur Children’s Hospital

To anyone who has ever had the treat of volunteering at the LeBonheur Children’s Hospital beverage cart: can we all agree that Gordon is the greatest? I found myself getting emotional this evening preparing to write this blog, reflecting on my day working with Gordon, the staff and families.

When I hopped off the elevator at LeBonheur Hospital, I was greeted by Volunteer Coordinator Timorie. She generously contacted me bright and early this morning in the midst of the monsoon that took place in Memphis today, to give me an insider tip about a parking ramp that would keep me from taking a single step in the elements on my way to her office. As a first time volunteer, and a former Volunteer Coordinator, I greatly appreciated her going the extra mile.

I was introduced to Gordon, a regular volunteer at the hospital, and we hit the ground running. Gordon explained to me his routes as he serves coffee faithfully Tuesdays and Thursdays at the hospital. The beverage cart, decked out with all the bells and whistles, has been Gordon’s project over the last year. The cart is equipped with all the fixings for coffee, tea, hot chocolate and the “LeBonheur Special” (a hot chocolate and coffee combo). In addition to the complimentary beverages to families staying in the children’s hospital, the beverage cart delivers smiles. While I know this is corny, it is no less true. I can’t tell you how many people were waiting for the beverage cart, or chasing us down through the rounds for a LeBonheur Special.

The beverage cart making rounds every Tuesday and Thursday morning

The beverage cart making rounds every Tuesday and Thursday morning.

In three hours we covered six floors of the hospital. Each floor was designated to a different type of treatment. While the appearance of children changed floor to floor, every family had the common bond of being there for a child they love and desperately wanted to be healthy again.

My interest in volunteering in this setting hits close to home. Throughout college, I spent endless hours at medical appointments, waiting entire days in the hospital for the doctor to give me a three minute update, and spending the night on hospital couches. It does not take moving mountains to brighten your day in this environment. A smile can make your day…a smile AND a cup of coffee? WEEK MADE! Every cup prepared at the cart is done with love.

Hard working RN Evan gets a Le Bonheur Special boost.

Hard working staff get a Le Bonheur Special boost.

While the beverage cart is not delivering lifesaving medicine at LeBonheur, it certainly boosts morale where it counts. Whether it’s a staff member with wet shoes from their 5am commute in the rain looking for a morning boost, a parent on empty looking to try the infamous “special” in the midst of their endless coffee runs, or a child who lights up asking their parent if they can pretty please have a hot cocoa: Volunteer Services provides an invaluable asset to LeBonheur Children’s Hospital.

Thank you for reading! Like what you read? Megan Banaszek is searching for a job in the non-profit sector where she can use her Family Services degree and public service experience to make a positive impact in Memphis. …. Contact her at meganbanaszek0123@gmail.com or jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com.

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Day Three: Urban Bicycle Food Ministry

While everyone back home has been curious about my different Odyssey Forward experiences, Urban Bicycle Food Ministry undoubtedly sparked the most questions.

“So you’re riding your bike around downtown Memphis? Delivering burritos? To homeless people?”

Kind of.

When Volunteer Odyssey asked if I would be willing to join UBFM on their weekly bike ride, I agreed, admittedly terrified. My first week as a Memphis resident the local news was flooded with violent stories that made me wonder if I had made a mistake leaving the safety net of my hometown in the mid-west. Ironically, riding my bike at 10pm through some of the poorest neighborhoods in Memphis reinforced taking this plunge.

As soon as I walked in the kitchen door, I was put to work. We had 200 burritos to make! I took the rookie job of stirring the mixture of beans and rice for the burritos which was made less painful by the give-and-take of the regulars. When we got on the topic of high school rivalries, I realized I had a rival of my own in the room! One of the volunteer cooks who relocated to Memphis when serving in the armed forces graduated from a high school in my home town in Iowa. The world is small, go Warriors.

The Wednesday night  crew showing me a thing or two about rolling burritos.

The Wednesday night crew showing me a thing or two about rolling burritos.

After rolling the burritos, we packed up small “care packages” to distribute while on our ride. The lobby of the church slowly filled with more people loading their bags with burritos, bottled water, toiletries, etc. This is a social ministry, as volunteers greet one another with hugs upon arrival, catching up in the last week. Before we headed out on to the streets (I was on the Poplar route) we were reminded this ride is not for the homeless, this ride is for those in need.

Urban Bicycle Food Ministry founder, Tommy, getting the group pumped up and reminding the group why we ride.

Urban Bicycle Food Ministry founder, Tommy, getting the group pumped up for the ride.

One of the first groups we approached was sitting outside of a gas station. Not only does UBFM share tangible goods, they engage literally every single person they encounter. High fives, hand shakes and introductions. One gentleman told me he lays flooring and asked about my Habitat for Humanity shirt. I told him of my time working there and my (minimal) knowledge of construction. After our brief exchange, he asked if I was afraid to be out here riding around at night ‘talking to people like us’. At this point in the experience, I could sincerely answer that I was not afraid, because people like him made me have confidence in this experience. We wished safety on each other and our crew headed out.

As we rode on there were ‘regulars’ that the long term volunteers recognized and could catch up with. Moving through the neighborhoods some individuals would literally holler out “burritos! Hey, burritos!”. In case you are reading this and are 1) not currently living in Memphis or 2) not someone I have complained to at home, Memphis is HOT. Like, really hot. Relentlessly muggy to the point I’ve mostly given up showering. That being said, ice cold water and a spray down of bug repellant were just as popular as the burritos. This goes back to the idea of not just serving the homeless, but spreading kindness to someone in need.

At one point on the ride we met a gentleman that was getting off work for the night, talking about his anticipation for the weekend. He is currently building a garages for an apartment complex downtown full time. He said the last time he received burritos from UBFM he ate them throughout lunch that entire next week. We gave that gentleman five burritos.

Riding back to the church with no stops was very tranquil, allowing the riders to reflect on their evening of “seasoning the city”. Every single person in this group is committed to making their home a better place. Urban Bicycle Food Ministry allowed me to see Memphis in a way many never will.

All smiles at the end of the night....I'll be back!

Successful ride….I’ll be back!

 

Thank you for reading! Like what you read? Megan Banaszek is searching for a job in the non-profit sector where she can use her Family Services degree and public service experience to make a positive impact in Memphis. …. Contact her at meganbanaszek0123@gmail.com or jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com.

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Day Two: Carpenter Art Garden

I went home with a full heart today after volunteering at the Carpenter Art Garden.

When I arrived just before three, I met with Erin, the program coordinator. Erin she showed me around the property where every Tuesday, volunteers work with approximately 40 children in the Binghampton neighborhood. She explained the success the program has seen with the children, and the community as a whole. When school lets out for the day, children flood the small garden space to work on permanent art installations, craft projects, and tending to the garden boxes. As the program grew with students at Cornerstone Preparatory and Lester Middle School, parents began to take more interest in the program.

In the two years of the program, the Carpenter Garden has expanded to four lots including gardens, picnic tables for crafts, a stage for performing, outdoor mosaic sculptures, and “the purple house”. The purple house is new, and students are eager to see the interior. As an investment for the program, the children participated in the fundraising by selling their art. Erin led me over to the students’ best seller: a large plywood heart with the Memphis Grizzlies’ logo. In my short time in Memphis, this was a familiar sight: my next door neighbor proudly sports the Memphis Grizzlies heart in their front yard.

The Carpenter Art Garden

The Carpenter Art Garden

As a camp counselor for over six summers, my role today of overseeing one of the craft stations at the garden came naturally. There were four activities to choose from, in addition to snack, free reading and general play on the grounds. While I offered loose guidance to the craft, I had the chance to talk to a lot of children about their participation in the art garden. A reoccurring theme was the appreciation of having an ‘art class’. This is unlike any class offered in their standard school day, so students look forward to a chance to create something on Tuesdays after school.

Making signs for the growing garden.

Making signs for the growing garden.

As parents filtered in at the end of the day, many sat down at a picnic table and worked on a craft with their child. A few children lingered as we cleaned up, explaining they lived near the garden so they liked to stay as late as they could. “Maybe since I’m good at this and I’m young, I could keep painting when I’m older?” one student proposed, looking up from her garden project very unsure. I assured her that anything was possible.

Carpenter 2

Our final work!

Our final work!

Carpenter Art Garden is a place for growth and rejuvenation. Watching children ease in to their projects at the end of the school day, anyone can identify the confidence cultivated in this unique environment. I feel privileged to have been able to work with the children and faithful volunteers at The Carpenter Art Garden so early in my odyssey.

Thank you for reading! Like what you read? Megan Banaszek is searching for a job in the non-profit sector where she can use her Family Services degree and public service experience to make a positive impact in Memphis. …. Contact her at meganbanaszek0123@gmail.com or jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com.

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Day One: Gaia Community Table Garden

As a recent transplant from the mid-west, I was raised in the heart of land cultivation aka farming. We learned about the responsibilities and rewards associated with caring for a garden, and a lot of our family’s produce came from our own backyard. This morning I had the opportunity to witness sustainability in a different light at Midtown’s own Community Table Garden.

The garden on Madison.

The garden on Madison.

 

Daia 2

Sarah, from Gaia Movement Memphis, met me bright and early at the lot-turned-garden where she is the project manager. We walked me through the garden highlighting the plots with an abundant overflow of produce, as well as the plots that were winding down after a successful season of giving. This is, simply put, a labor of love. There is a continuous flow of seasonal produce and with that, constant upkeep required in the garden. Sarah explained that last week they pulled summer crops to begin transplanting crops for fall and winter weather.

Today’s seasonal task at hand: sunflowers. Flourishing in the summer, their time had come to an end and we were going to uproot the plants and harvest the seeds. Sarah and I cut down each plant one by one while discussing her role with Gaia. Gaia is an international organization that works to create examples of sustainability combined with economic development and social responsibility. The Community Table Garden is just one of those moving pieces. They also have clothing donation centers set up throughout Memphis where individuals may donate used clothing to be reworn, reused, or recycled.

Green donation boxes located throughout Memphis.

Green donation boxes located throughout Memphis.

As I plucked every individual seeds from the huge flower, I couldn’t help but think of how many seeds I’ve chewed through sitting in a single baseball game. I will never take that for granted again, as this was no simple harvest! Sarah explained that once the food is transported to the local food bank, a variety of agencies may benefit from the donated produce. I thought back to times I had volunteered at a local food pantry in college, and the lack of fresh produce. While food might be available, there is a lack in nutritious and fresh options. Community Table Garden is part of the solution for the malnourishment those in poverty face daily.

Gaia 2

Harvesting the HUGE sunflowers.

Harvesting the HUGE sunflowers.

My final task for the morning was to plant beets and cabbage in a single plot for the fall. As I laid the seeds, I imagined the different uses for either crop once they were fully developed. Getting my hands dirty in the garden this morning was an ideal volunteer fit for me, and provided a connection to home. I look forward to seeing where the rest of my odyssey will take me this week and the different memories or emotions they may evoke.

 

Catch you in a few weeks, cabbage and beets!

Catch you in a few weeks, cabbage and beets!

 

Thank you for reading! Like what you read? Megan Banaszek is searching for a job in the non-profit sector where she can use her Family Services degree and public service experience to make a positive impact in Memphis. …. Contact her at meganbanaszek0123@gmail.com or jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com.

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Searching for my Grit and Grind

Look who I found.

Look who I found.

There might not be anything more exciting to a ten year old then an inflated bounce house. The laughter from the Grizzlies’ play place competed to drown the sound of the event’s music. On this overcast day I was assisting the Memphis Grizzlies “Claw Crew” at the 8th annual Church Health Center’s fundraising Rock For Love concert. This was a crowded event, both in participants and volunteers, and unlike the other days of my odyssey, I had to hunt for parking. This was the first large event I had volunteered at, and instead of being short staffed, the magnitude of the concert along with the prominence of the organization, made for many helping hands and an overabundance of volunteers.

I was directed to my volunteer station staffed by the Claw Crew, the NBA organization’s field marketing team. They are an affable bunch, along with being hardworking. I had recently read that Tennessee is one of the hardest working states, and it seems that the “grit and grind” play of the Grizzlies is a rallying force in the city. The members of the Claw Crew each had full time jobs, and worked part time with the group “for fun.” I was humbled telling them that after my week of volunteering I would be officially unemployed. I can relate to the sentiment as I didn’t leave my full time job because the work was too difficult, in fact, I desire a challenge like the residents of my new state.

Band getting warmed up.

Band getting warmed up.

After familiarizing with the guys on the team I went over to check on the kids in the bounce house. I was surprised to find a fellow Volunteer Odyssey participant working the same day as me. Krista was just beginning her adventure on the day mine was coming to a close. She was excited to start, smiling ear to ear and interviewed me on how my week had gone. I explained to her how great it was to meet so many people in the city while helping multiple organizations and those in need. We shared a new feeling of connection to the city. Having just completed my week of working and writing, I was able to give her some insight that was fresh in my mind. I told her to heed our instructions and express your emotions instead of simply sharing the details of each day. Explaining that for me, one of the biggest challenges was breaking the idea of a narrative in my memory and instead presenting what was on my mind throughout the day. I assured her that approaching the recaps this way, she would have more than enough each day. Krista and I shared in the excitement of the Volunteer Odyssey program, and we spoke about our respective job hunts. In the past three weeks I’ve been surrounded by my girlfriend and all of her first-year teacher friends; it was a relief to share with someone the stress of craving a full schedule. I appreciated hearing a parallel concern for wanting to start a new job promptly, while not sacrificing the desire to find something you love; which is one of the paramount reasons we joined this program.

People enjoying the festival

People enjoying the festival

Today’s volunteer experience didn’t require a lot of sweat like many of the other organizations I had helped this week, but like all the other non-profits I aided, Church Health Center needed volunteers in order to assist the community. The profits raised at the concert would fund the center’s mission to promote wellbeing by providing healthcare to those working uninsured. While the relief was less tangible at this event, I know my presence helped the organization fundraise in order to work towards a healthier Memphis; a mission I can certainly rally behind. During the festivities, the rain began to fall; Memphis proved itself relentless as the band played and people danced through the rain shower. I still haven’t discovered if soul music makes Memphis or Memphis makes soul.

Real Food and Real Men

Trunk full of groceries.

Trunk full of groceries.

It took me six days of volunteering and driving to new parts of the city on my odyssey, but the Memphis roads finally got the better of me. Despite getting turned around, I entered my destination only a few minutes late. I felt concerned that my tardiness may delay the food drop today, but upon arriving I was relieved to discover we would still need to organize most of the food into bags allotted for families. The Dozier House serves those in need in a variety of ways, and our current mission was to drive to a low-income area and deliver a mix of fresh and packaged food. On my tour of the facility I saw real food everywhere, and this excited me. While there were also plenty of canned fruits and vegetables, the boxes of fresh produce outweighed the prepackaged items.

Stick to the plan.

Stick to the plan.

The process of packing bags was simple and structured, but I was surprised by the amount of time it took. Although I made sure I worked as efficiently as possible, a great deal of time was required to create these packages, as there were no helpful shortcuts. When the task of packing bags was completed we loaded the vehicles with food and clothing. As we drove south to deliver the food I began noticing numerous out of state license plates. Our South Memphis destination was only three miles from the Mississippi border. In the expansive states of Texas and California, that I previously called home, the idea of commuting from another state was impossible, but here in my new home, it is a common practice to cross state lines.

The pantry.

The pantry.

The three men I worked with for the deliveries were of varying ages; all much order then me. Despite my best efforts to do all of the heavy lifting they continued to participate with ease. I hope that after I’ve seen a few more decades come and pass I am both as active in the community, and have the ability to physically participate as these men did. Many of the volunteers had already retired from their respective careers. I can see the potential difficultly of continued engagement with the community once I have a new job and other commitments in my new city. That is why hope to find a career in Memphis that allows me to support the community I live in. This hope is idealistic and I know that I may need to make an extra effort to help enact positive change in my new home. During those times I hope to look to the men and women I met today as community role models.

Took less than a day for them to find this guy a home.

Took less than a day for them to find this guy a home.

Following the initial rush I was able to chat with my fellow volunteers. The small talk moved from food to up coming trips, but it would inevitably return to what the men could do to continuously help the community. Just this morning one of them had found a puppy near the Dozier House, picked it off the street and found it permanent home. Collectively the group helped homeless families in their parish, aiding them in finding jobs and a place to live. They even tried to determine how they could help me with a job while committing their own day to delivering food. I could not find one thing unlikable about this group.

Unlike some of the other beneficiaries I have had the opportunity to help this week, I don’t have immense pity for the group I helped today. Not because I thought that they deserved to be hungry, but because they had a community that supported them. Carpooling was the standard amongst food recipients. The son of a church volunteer was willing to deliver bags those who were working during the pick up time. I discovered the families of many men and women that picked up food were still in the countries they emigrated from; however, they were not alone, they had this tight-knit community. Being new to Memphis I often feel isolated. The experience this week has provided had expedited my integration and helped dissolve my seclusion. Assimilating into a new community often takes thousands of baby steps, but I’ve taken a giant leap forward.

Bean Cheese and Bikes: A Burrito Deliver Service

Burrito's eye view

Burrito’s eye view

Bikes, tattoos and Mexican-style food are all effects I associate with my former home of Austin, Texas, much more than I do with Memphis. To the contrary, the kitchen I worked in tonight might have given ATX a run for their money in these regards and I was glad I hadn’t shaved since the beginning of my Volunteer Odyssey. When I arrived downtown it was already getting dark, but this did not slow the pace of everyone pitching in for Urban Bike Food Ministry (UBFM ); despite each person’s own full day no one showed a post-work lull.

BBQ style burrito

BBQ style burrito

Although I was among the newest faces volunteering, there were many others who had only been involved once or twice before, and immediately I hopped in the assembly line to help. We wrapped burritos in tin foil holsters, and conversation jolted back in forth in the room. Between the chatter of new bike wishes, and burrito-count records, I was given additions to the seemingly endless stream of Memphis BBQ opinions and suggestions. I had realized within days of arriving to Memphis that the Grizzlies are a community unifier, but the slow cooked flesh of swine might be able to defeat even the fierce NBA team.

While everyone worked in unison to churn out as many burritos as possible the rest of my fellow riders filed in for our eight o’clock departure. We wrapped the last of the meals, and it was announced that we had hit a new output record. In an attempt to get the overwhelming supply out we stuffed the food into our bags to the brim. I had brought a hiking backpack with a massive volume, and secretly won the unofficial packing contest. Throwing my pulsing bag over my shoulder and I joined the circus of bikes leaving the church.

Packed full of burritos

Packed full of burritos

Prior to rolling out a UBFM organizer gave us some advice in offering food, “you don’t have to be homeless to be hungry.” I recognized that sentiment from articles I’ve read about hunger and food deserts. When we started our ride the group split and I joined the downtown route with three other riders. We weaved our way through the cityscape and I tried to keep my eyes peeled for anyone that may be hungry. The group had a good idea in what parts of the city people congregated, and so we tried to bike towards the busy areas. Being only a few blocks from the soup kitchen I worked at earlier in my week, it came as no surprise that many beneficiaries didn’t fit the typical hungry mold.

The breeze while riding kept all of us riders cool as we made our way along the old trolley tracks of downtown. We rode down the boozy drag of Beale Street stopping along the way to hand out dinner. The elaborate motorcycles out on the famous street were setup for “bike night,” which stood in contrast to the people we were helping tonight. We pedaled as the motorcycles throttled their engines in an intimidating fashion, and we soon escaped the bright lights of the bars and trekked further on our route.

My have slipped a post-birthday cake taste

My have slipped a post-birthday cake taste

Further into our journey we found some people looking for a meal and stopped to talk to them. The UBFM crew was able to enjoy a burrito with the hungry folks, and unlike the pedestrians we offended by offering a meal to earlier. Only moments later a police car appeared, and the officer asked us, “Do y’all know where you are?” This was in reference to the neighborhood we were in and all my confidence I had around the vibrato of the motorcycles vanished. Now lights became refuge as we rode past boarded up windows and dark alleys. I meekly followed the group on the route until we got back to familiar territory where we dropped off the remainder of our burritos. It was late by the time we got back, but that didn’t stop the group from lingering together before parting ways.

All the volunteers treated tonight as more of a social or group bike ride in spirit than an obligation. We happily rolled burritos, stuffed our bags, and then distributed the food. While all the charities I’ve visited has if nothing else, been a great source of exposure to inequalities, UBFM added a fun social element to the service to encourage participation. And like the Austin breakfast tacos I was reminded of earlier tonight, these burritos are a potential cure for an empty stomach.

Working through Wasp Stings

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Making new friends

I welcomed the sounds of nature that accompanied leaving the city of Memphis behind; arriving at my destination I heard birds chirping along with the ever-present hum of the South’s cicadas. All of the murmurs of the city had vanished, and I welcomed the relative tranquility. When I arrived at the house, located in Shelby Forest, I was welcomed by a man with a smile and an outreached hand. This was Charlie and he had already started cleaning up the property in anticipation of guests tomorrow. My volunteer task for the day was helping to improve the grounds of Charlie’s household which works with Habitat for Hope. They provide an outdoor retreat for families with children being treated in Memphis area hospitals, allowing them to visit a place outside of the city, to unwind, and enjoy nature.

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Right before I got nailed by the wasps

Within minutes of arriving I was trimming bushes. The peace of nature that had quickly come vanished as two wasps planted their stingers into both of my hands nearly simultaneously. The venom radiated across my skin as I let out an embarrassed shriek. The pain in my hands faded as the sensation of perspiration and heat took over. Growing up I had always helped with yard work, but my responsibilities, like lawn mowing and buckeye collecting were always mindless labor. Charlie entrusted me with the aesthetics of the hedges and I cautiously cut the obtrusive limbs, pausing every few minutes for reassurance. Our next task took us to the big red barn. Inside was a play place a child could only dream of. It was equipped with bikes, wooden toy trains and a jungle gym. Charlie gave me cleaning supplies including a brush to remove spider webs. I entered the maze of plastic obstacles and I contorted my body through the steps and tubes. While I scrubbed the play place clean I realized what extensive effort goes into institutions like this one, and how a little bit of my elbow grease would help the operation run a little more smoothly for Habitat for Hope.

No detail overlooked

No detail overlooked

Following a midday meal with Charlie’s family I felt the self-conscious feeling that slowed me down earlier in the day began to fade away as I worked toward my goals. The work itself became therapeutic and the day drifted by faster than it had before. After we completed the transformation of the yard, Charlie singled that the effort was done for the day. We put the tools in the shed and continued on the land leading to the stables. As we checked on the horses the two of us began to banter, it was the start of a conversation that became seamless and seemed unending. We discussed Tennessee history, and places to visit in the mid-south. When the conversation came to an an end I said my farewells to the family and Charlie, he offered me something to quench my thirst before I got in my sun roasted car.


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While the day began with an annoying trial, it could hardly qualify as suffering, and I was content to work hard throughout the day. I was helping an effort today that served to supply others with the same sanctuary I felt when I arrived. I felt harmony at this place, before and after the chance encounter with wasps, and can image the magnified effect for families in need of a retreat. As I drove back to Memphis I felt the satisfaction of a day’s work in the heat. My face was red from the sun and my lip salty from evaporated sweat. I had felt the pride of doing physical work to help a great cause. I realized the most important gift that Habitat for Hope provides is a sense of community. Between eating lunch with the family, sharing work, conversation and interests with Charlie, I really left feeling like I had new friends, and a place I could go to connect with both people and nature.

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