Have A Heart!

Located in the lower level of Brinkley Plaza, you’ll find an organization that provides hope and opportunity for children in developing nations. At International Children’s Heart Foundation (ICHF), staff members plan and organize medical mission trips to cure and care for children with congenital heart disease. Before last week, I had never heard of ICHF. Through Volunteer Odyssey Founder Sarah, who continues to be a wonderful resource, I met Randa Blenden and learned more about the organization and its mission. Randa, the ICHF Volunteer Medical Trip Coordinator, was actually getting ready to leave for a medical mission trip in the Dominican Republic. To be able to meet with her and discuss the possibility of volunteering at the ICHF office was such a treat! Also, I underestimated just how many people are affected by heart disease. Approximately 1% of the world’s population is born with heart disease, making it the most common birth defect worldwide. While the United States and other developed countries can properly care for children with heart disease and repair congenital heart defects, developing nations do not have the medical centers with trained specialists to better care for these children. Randa, who is also a registered nurse, accompanies the ICHF team to provide direct care, medical supplies and equipment, and training for the surgeons and medical staff in these countries. These surgical interventions are structured to correct congenital heart defects, whether simple or complex. At ICHF, they offer hope and support for the patients’ families and help children with congenital heart disease lead longer and healthier lives.

At the meeting, Randa asked if I’d be interested in working on the layout and design of an ICHF trip report. I’m always eager to take on a new challenge, so I was excited to put my skills and knowledge to the test with this assignment. For the fifth day of my Odyssey Week, I enjoyed learning even more about the ICHF mission through this creative, hands-on project. Terry Carter, the ICHF Executive Director, provided me with a wonderful workspace at the office. Before she left for her trip, Randa sent me images and documents that would help in the development of the trip report. Through the stories and pictures of families who were helped, I gained valuable insight into the how the ICHF program has given each patient a second chance at life. With the proper treatment, each patient has the chance to live a life with possibilities never imagined – a life that wouldn’t be possible without the medical care provided by ICHF. Their commitment to providing support to the children and families in developing nations reminds me that anything is possible through hard work and dedication.

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Spread The Love.

It’s the fourth day of my Volunteer Odyssey, and I continue to be impressed with how our city’s charitable and nonprofit organizations provide education, awareness, and funding for human rights initiatives. Today, I visited the Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association (MIFA) and learned more about their efforts to support the independence of vulnerable seniors and families in crisis. This amazing organization offers an array of services tailored to meet the needs and challenges in Memphis neighborhoods. In the first part of the visit, I met with Kristi to help deliver meals to residents. The Meals on Wheels program provides 1,200 hot, nutritious lunches each weekday for clients who are either homebound elderly or seniors at congregate sites. Yes, you read that correctly – 1,200 prepared meals are delivered by volunteers each weekday! It’s an incredible effort to ensure that the nutritional needs of seniors are met. Also, it serves as a connection with the outside for those who are homebound.

The meal route with Kristi took place in an area that really isn’t too far from more affluent parts of Memphis. In fact, we visited one boarded-up apartment complex that remains within the view of the FedEx Forum. When you notice such a contrast, you can’t help but connect it to our city’s concerns with poverty and violence. Before we began our route, we packed a good supply of warm trays with food, rolls, milk, and fruit for our stops. During the drive, Kristi shared with me more information about Meals on Wheels and how the program enables seniors, who live at or below the poverty line, to remain in their homes and continue to be an integral part of the community. You could tell how these special deliveries enhance and improve the quality of life for seniors in Memphis. Just seeing smiles on clients’ faces was enough to show how MIFA has truly helped clients maintain independence and a peace of mind. I admire how MIFA continues to address issues of poverty, hunger, and isolation by pursuing both immediate relief and long-term solutions through their programs and services.

After assisting Kristi with the meal route, I met with the communications team to learn more about their work in branding, fundraising, and marketing for MIFA. Imagine being part of something that brings hope and opportunity to so many people! Ellen, Terrie, and Jim reminded me the importance of teamwork for building morale and achieving goals. With the organization’s collaborative work environment, there are opportunities for members of different skills and interests to learn, grow, and make a difference. Who wouldn’t love that? My appreciation for MIFA and its programs grew exponentially as I heard and saw how their work continues to strengthen the lives of seniors and families in crisis.

A pep talk from Ellen, Terrie, and Jim was just what I needed as I look for meaningful work and ways to gain more experience in creative design. While sharing their experiences, Ellen, Terrie, and Jim made it clear that you can expect excellent results when team members’ roles are clearly defined. In order to achieve goals and objectives, you must be flexible and open to new ideas. It’s no wonder MIFA has done well in their efforts to alleviate hunger and suffering. Everyone is there to educate and train the public, as well as make a difference in clients’ everyday lives. One Team, One Goal – making Memphis a better place.

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Life: A Great Bundle Of Little Things











It’s easy to overlook those small moments of joy in life when you’re constantly working toward something bigger and better. Rather than appreciating what you have, you wish for more and remain dissatisfied. Unfortunately, there have been too many times when I’ve taken simple pleasures and gestures for granted. Today reminded me to appreciate those things.

For the third day of my Odyssey Week, I joined Gordon for a morning of special deliveries for patients, their families, and the employees of Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital. Gordon, an all-star volunteer, is in charge of the beverage cart. The famous beverage cart, which includes a nice selection of drinks and condiments, visits the twelve floors of the hospital several times during the week. It’s a hit! From tea to the Le Bonheur Special (a hot beverage with a mocha-esque flavor), the beverage cart is designed to quench any thirst. While the beverage cart does have quite the fan-base, so does Gordon. His small meaningful acts of kindness are remembered and appreciated by different people at the hospital. Rather than retire, Gordon decided to look into community service opportunities several years ago. His daughter Timorie Belk, who is Le Bonheur’s Volunteer Services Coordinator, invited Gordon to contribute his skills at the hospital. With the beverage cart, Gordon provides hope and encouragement to those facing tough challenges. Every cup is truly made with love, as Gordon carefully pours and stirs the ingredients for each drink. Through this experience, I am reminded that we should never underestimate the power and impact of the small things in life. With this seemingly small service, Gordon is able to help make people’s lives so much happier.

All morning, Gordon and I travelled from room to room to see if patients or family members wanted anything to drink. We had an awesome system! Gordon would typically enter each room to collect drink orders, and I would be ready to prepare the drinks in the hallway. There were instances when we’d switch, and I’d ask individuals what they’d want. During my visit, I noticed how recipients benefited from the beverage cart’s convenient pick-me-ups. Staying positive is sometimes easier said than done but through this service, patients and employees are reminded that there are people who really care about them. At Le Bonheur, it could be a friendly smile from a staff member or reassuring words of a doctor that make the biggest impact on a patient’s day. These ongoing small gestures allow people to create deeper, more personal connections with others, as well as, enjoy fuller and more satisfying lives.

If people missed the cart during our stops, they’d ultimately follow us until we’d stop again. Like I said, the beverage cart is a hit! No one wants to miss out on a cup of hot cocoa with extra marshmallows! We only had enough hot water and coffee for four floors, but I was ready to refill the urns and restock the cart for more visits. I understand why Gordon’s beverage cart has been successful and appreciate how small acts of kindness can heal, inspire, and help make life better. It’s important to find the joy in every little thing, as well as, share those special moments with others. I admire what Gordon has done with the beverage cart, bringing comfort and happiness to the Le Bonheur community. It inspires me to find little ways to help others and simply slow down to enjoy life to the fullest.

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Art For The Heart!

The second day of my Odyssey Week made me flashback to fun summers at camp! At the Carpenter Art Garden, children are invited to explore and discover new things through ongoing art and garden projects. This once empty lot serves as a wonderful meeting spot for the children and adults in Binghampton, a neighborhood lacking in safe community spaces. In addition to the garden, they offer tutoring, small group art lessons, a studio space, and after school clubs every day at their Purple House. The organization hopes to acquire additional property for expansion and to add an indoor workshop. While exploring the importance of creative expression, I also gained valuable insight into how collaboration can be a powerful tool.

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, the children constructed rainbows attached to pots of gold and leprechaun beards and hats for the look o’ the Irish. Each piece was unique – and that’s why I love art. Art and creativity play such important roles in the human experience, helping people not only respect themselves but also others. In Carpenter Art Garden’s mission statement, they mention the desire to promote each child’s creative potential and self-worth through art. I could see that the children have the freedom to express themselves and build upon their strengths. While Destyne colored her leprechaun hat green, Chinita didn’t hesitate to use all of the colors of the rainbow. I appreciate how the Carpenter Art Garden celebrates individualism and diversity through their projects.

I was really looking forward to a crafty afternoon (a.k.a. crafternoon) at the art garden. Art has helped me make meaningful connections with others, as well as, observe and describe the world around me. When I was a summer camp counselor, I enjoyed organizing and managing art activities and sharing my love for self-expression. I’ve learned through my mom’s teaching career in music how the arts can have a profound effect on children’s development. Studies have shown that children can develop important thinking, problem-solving, and language skills through creative activities. Though arts programs are often the first to go in school districts’ budget cuts, I’m happy that we have organizations like the Carpenter Art Garden to step in and make up for the deficit in arts programming. The garden is a unique place that offers opportunities for all children to learn and engage. It’s hard to believe that this space of hope and opportunity was once an abandoned lot! My afternoon with the children and volunteers at the art garden reaffirmed everything I knew about the benefits of the arts and reminded me that so much can be achieved through collaborative efforts. As they say in the garden, “Teamwork makes the dream work!









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Smile! Happy Looks Good On You!

When I first learned I would be volunteering at SRVS (pronounced serves), I was nervous yet excited about this unique opportunity. SRVS supports people with developmental disabilities and offers a variety of services for personal growth and development. Since I had never worked closely with people with developmental disabilities, I knew it was important to enter this experience with an open mind. My visit began with a neat tour of the facility from Lindsay Weaver. When she described to me what the clients do in each area, I couldn’t help but wish to be part of the fun. The clients are encouraged to explore their interests and develop new skills through innovative activities. Before this visit, I was concerned that I would hear sad stories regarding the challenges of living with or caring for someone with a disability. However, the chance to see and hear what clients love doing during the week put my mind at ease.

I understand why the people they serve are genuinely happy. With its equally warm and supportive environment, SRVS enables each person to make choices and enjoy more of what life has to offer. The agency’s services, which include residential, employment, clinical and learning center services, help people live, work, and learn to their fullest potential. Throughout my time with the clients and staff at SRVS, I was constantly reminded that so much could be achieved with the proper support system.

Throughout the morning, the clients were kept busy and satisfied with a variety of tasks and crafts. Honestly, I underestimated the number of enjoyable activities offered each day. From planting a garden to creating beautiful works of art, clients have many opportunities to make and experience special moments with others. Art continues to be my go-to creative outlet, so I was excited to make greeting cards with clients. I felt like I was being invited to the ultimate Arty Party! The creative space is dedicated to the clients’ creative processes and includes a wide selection of art supplies. I gained valuable insight into the clients’ personalities and interests through their pieces. After assisting with a couple of art classes, I had the chance to learn more about the Montessori method of education in a classroom. This method enables people to pursue their natural interests and hone their skills through exercises that promote the development of their individual selves. I can see why there are many supporters of the Montessori philosophy. You would have been impressed with how fast Gary matched images of seashells with their names. Also, Barbara beautifully demonstrated her advanced skills and techniques in ribbon weaving. I appreciate how the daily activities are structured to build upon the strengths in a way that is meaningful to each client at SRVS.

There was no reason for me to be nervous before my visit. Like any other human being, a person with developmental disabilities wishes to explore and enjoy what life has to offer. At SRVS, clients can simply be themselves. Isn’t that what we all want?


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Prelude: Bonnie Hopkins

Explore. Embrace. Learn. Live!!

Explore. Embrace. Learn. Live!!

“Every story has an end, but in life, every end is just a new beginning!”

I honestly didn’t know what to expect after my college graduation last May, but I knew the key was to keep an open mind. I want to be creative and persistent during my job search while continuing to do what I love! Art serves as a wonderful outlet for personal growth, providing opportunities to experience and create special moments with others. When I was a child, I had dreams of being an artist of some kind. That “Bohemian” dream will always live in part of my soul! While I want to use my skills to teach and entertain, I also feel that art can be a spark for optimism and gratitude.

With my Odyssey Week, I want to get out of my comfort zone while learning more about how to use my creativity for good. During my years working as a summer camp counselor, I enjoyed leading art activities and noticed how the children benefitted from the projects. In college, I volunteered with various non-profits in New Orleans and led the TOMS Campus Club at Loyola University. I even went on a Giving Trip to Peru with TOMS Shoes and gained valuable insight on how social entrepreneurship works. My own Bonnie Company Greeting Cards has served as a meaningful and unique way to connect with others. More importantly, I enjoy putting that extra pep in the recipient’s step with the nontraditional, wacky holidays that each card honors! I can’t wait to begin a new chapter with Volunteer Odyssey! I eagerly anticipate exploring my skills and interests while learning how to use them to give back to my hometown.

Adventure awaits! I encourage you to join me as I turn the page on this story of transition!

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Just People Helping People

I have probably driven past the Dorothy Day House of Hospitality at least once a week since I moved to Memphis. I’m sure I noticed the 100-year old house at least once, but I had no idea what a truly special place it is.

Tonight I volunteered with Tracy Burgess, the Fundraising and Volunteer Coordinator, to set up for their annual Soup Supper at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. The Soup Supper is a chance for volunteers, donors and friends of the Dorothy Day House of Hospitality to meet and share stories. One woman told me that the volunteers don’t always cross paths, which makes the dinner a chance to get to know others who are passionate about the organization.


Tracy Burgess setting up.

My job was fairly easy tonight – moving tables and chairs, unfolding tablecloths, setting out flyers and getting to know new people. In fact, the whole set up took about 20 minutes because of the great teamwork.


Setting up for dinner.

Since we finished our set up so quickly, I had the opportunity to talk to Tracy more about the Dorothy Day House. Did you know that every night in Memphis about 149 families are living on the streets or in unsuitable conditions (like their cars)? Many of us might think that the easy, short term solution would be to find a shelter, at least for the night. What I did not know is that most shelters require an application and will split up families if they are allowed to stay. Dorothy Day House of Hospitality is one of two shelters in Memphis that keeps families together. They accept married couples, families and single parents as well as preteen and teenage boys. I had no idea that on top of all the problems that have led to a family’s homelessness, they also have to worry about being split up when turning to shelters. Keeping families together is just one of the many reasons that the organization is so special.

Dorothy Day House can house up to three families at a time and the organization’s staff works closely with the families to help them get back on their feet. The families can stay for as long as they need while the work toward their goals and find stability in their lives. As Tracy described the organization and all of the special things that they do, she humbly summed up with “It’s really just people helping people.”

I took a moment to look around the room as it began to fill up with people who pour their passion and their love into the Dorothy Day House. There seemed to be people from all walks of life filling the tables and talking to one another. I know that there are some people in the world who don’t take the time to help others out, and here was a whole room filled with people who spend their lives helping others.


Before I left the event, Tracy invited me to stop by the Dorothy Day House one night to meet the families and some of the other volunteers. I am excited to meet more of the wonderful volunteers and get to know some of the families they help.

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Biking with Burritos

The worst things about getting up early during the winter is the fact that it is still dark outside and that I have to put my bare feet on the cold wood floors in our house. Besides those two things, I actually like being up in the mornings. I like the quiet, driving on the empty roads, and observing who else is outside early on a Saturday morning. Volunteering with the Urban Bike Ministry gave me the opportunity to enjoy all of the things I love about mornings in addition to a cold, yet satisfying bike ride. I also got to meet new people and the feeling that I made a difference in at least one person’s day.

Early every Saturday morning, the volunteers of the Urban Bike Ministry make their way to the First United Methodist church to cook hundreds of breakfast burritos to pass out to the homeless and hungry on the streets of downtown Memphis. As soon as I walked into the building at 7am, I was ushered into an already bustling kitchen. Eggs were being cracked and whisked, sausage was being fried and rice was being cooked. I was given the job of prepping tortillas and was happy to have my hands busy. As the regular volunteers cooked, I listened to their easy conversation and laughter, enjoying the warmth of the kitchen as well as the people. Once everything was mixed into a giant pot, we formed an assembly line where our many hands made quick work by assembling over 200 burritos.

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                                                  Busy kitchen!                                                                           A whole lot of burritos!

Once the burritos were ready to go, we pulled on our layers and loaded our backpacks with all of the candy, gloves, socks, hats, hand warmers and burritos we could carry. We put on our helmets, hopped on our bikes and headed out into the cold morning.

This was my first opportunity to bike in Memphis and I enjoyed riding through the streets of downtown. It always amazes me how much more I notice from a bike than when driving in a car. As I biked with my group of volunteers, I watched as folks who had become regular burrito recipients greeted them by name. It was powerful to observe the relationships that have formed between people whose paths would not have crossed without this organization. I also had the chance to hand out a lot of burritos and hopefully start on my own path to forming those special relationships.


Biking downtown.

As we biked around the city, I had the chance to talk to some wonderful people who told me some of the reasons that they love Memphis and recommended places that I must try and events that I should attend. I truly value the advice I have gotten from people that will help me explore Memphis and discover its many hidden gems.

After about an hour of biking, I arrived back at the church with cold fingers, an empty backpack and a happy heart. I am in awe of the individuals that dedicate their Saturday mornings to providing a warm meal to the homeless on the streets of Memphis. I plan to keep dragging myself out of bed on those cold, dark mornings (at least as many that I can!) so that I can join the volunteers of the Urban Bike Ministry to bike with burritos.


Back at the church.

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A Happy Place Filled With Music

I love children and Porter Leath Early Head Start is definitely the place to be to get my kid fix. When I arrived, I had the opportunity to stick my head into all seven brightly decorated classrooms, filled with children aging from a few months to 3 years old. In each classroom, I was greeted by huge grins, waves and sometimes, even a little dance from the kids. How could I not instantly fall in love with this place?


Regis and I playing the drums!

There is no place in the world like a happy classroom, especially one full of toddlers. As I sat on the floor in classroom 3, I was immediately swarmed by kids. I had one little girl crawling into my lap, a boy grabbing my hand and another boy playing with my hair. I felt my whole being relax as I found my happy place.

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Dancing like jumping beans!

During my time at Porter Leath Early Head Start, I sat in on the weekly music sessions for each class. Led by the music teacher, the kids sang, clapped, played the drums and danced. There was nothing for me to do, but join in wholeheartedly! I was only too happy to sing about making cookies, building snowmen and drinking hot chocolate.

In each class, I watched a few kids particularly shine and glow with the chance to make some music. As I listened to these kids sing and play their instruments, I thought about how lucky they are to have these music classes at such an early age.

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Singing and drumming.

Throughout the morning, I always had at least one child leaning against my side and I basked in the closeness and the unconditional affection of them. Looking around the circle of little music makers, I realized that I was truly the lucky one to be a part of this experience. I walked out with a huge smile on my face and lightness in my step. I can’t wait to go back!


Leaving with a smile on my face!

I want to share one last image. As we were cleaning up after the last class, the fire alarm went off. The music teacher and I helped lead little ones out of one of classrooms. As I walked toward the grass with a little hand holding mine, I looked back to see the teacher from the infant room walking out the door. She was rolling a crib. As she passed me, I saw the bewildered faces of six babies looking up at me. I couldn’t help but smile.

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Clean Memphis on a Mission

Clean Memphis is a small organization with big dreams for Memphis. They are located in a tiny office with walls covered in maps of Memphis to try to keep up with ever changing schools and neighborhoods. Their mission includes providing environmental education for all children and cleaning up the city of Memphis. This past year, they started a new program called the Sustainable School Challenge, which aims to improve energy efficiency in schools (which will save money on the energy bill!) and promote good energy practices in everyday life. The hope is that students will take home these energy saving habits that they learned in school and in doing so, teach their family and friends about energy conservation.

20150226_135858Andrew Murphy explaining how to use the device to measure light output.

During my time with Clean Memphis, I had the pleasure of tagging along with Andrew Murphy, the Education Coordinator, to Grad Academy where he has started teaching 9th and 10th graders about energy usage. On his first day with the classes, he taught the students about electricity and the major consumers of electricity at their school: heating/cooling systems and lights. Today, we took the students around to the different classrooms to begin to assess the actual energy usage at their school by measuring temperature, the amount of light output, and counting the number lights. With this data, the students will be able to determine the total amount of energy used and the amount that is essentially being wasted. The goal is for the students to come up with no cost or low cost solutions to improve energy efficiency. These could be as simple as turning lights off when leaving rooms, changing the types of light bulbs and turning down the thermostat. The students are encouraged to come up with to be creative with these solutions and take ownership of the project.

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        Measuring temperature and humidity.                                           Measuring heat loss.

Since we broke up into groups for each class, I had the opportunity to work closely with a few students. I enjoyed spending time with such enthusiastic students who were invested in their task and clearly having fun. They were excited to be out of the classroom and doing something tangible. One student eagerly explained to one of her teachers what we were doing and why we were doing it.


Team Temperature!

As I have seen so many times in the past, students truly love to learn about conservation and they want to know how they can be involved. Clean Memphis is trying to use this interest and passion to teach energy efficient practices that will permeate throughout the community. In addition, they want to empower these students to be responsible for their schools by helping out in a tangible way. Based on the reactions of the students I worked with, I think Clean Memphis is at the beginning of a successful and long-lived program that will affect many students, schools and the community at large!

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