Meeting the Shelby Farms Bison!

First of all, I love Shelby Farms. It is one of the first places that I discovered in Memphis. Even though I have really only explored the off-leash dog area because I have a dog and I feel an irrational sense of guilt for not letting him run around when we are outside, I truly am in awe of all the park has to offer. So, it was with excitement, and a little bit of guilt for leaving my dog at home, that I set off to Shelby Farms this morning. I was not disappointed.

I pulled up outside of the park’s temporary Visitor’s Center, which is basically a large trailer with a few offices, a conference table and the all important coffee room. I was greeted by Irene Montanez, the Volunteer Coordinator, and a charismatic ranger named Butch. While Irene handed me a form to fill out, Butch asked if I was there to relieve him and informed me that his truck was parked right out front for me. I enjoyed the playful banter in the office and felt welcomed from the first moment I stepped inside.


A quick picture with the bison!

Irene pulled out a flyer for the kid-centered Eco EGGStravaganza celebrating Earth Day on April 4th. She asked me to find contact information for people in charge of employee volunteerism at places like Walmart, Target and Kroger. As she worked on getting the internet up and running on the computer in her office (the challenges of working in a temporary office-trailer), Irene told me how she came to Memphis for 3-5 years over 20 years ago. She told me the secret to learning to love with Memphis is to get out and get involved. About a half an hour later, we decided the internet was not going to work, and I could do the work at home. After a quick picture next to the bison in the front room and Butch telling me I had overstayed my welcome, I headed for home.

It turns out that sometimes you can volunteer from your couch while snuggled under an electric blanket. I spent hours looking for information that I felt like should be easy to come by – a few names, some phone numbers and maybe a couple email addresses. It is surprising to me how hard it is to find contact information and how little I felt I had accomplished after a few hours. I can truly appreciate that locating information is an art. For Irene to run what can only be massive a volunteer program, she must be something of an artist.

20150225_111628Working from home.

While my time at Shelby Farms was very short today, I have a slightly better idea of how the organization works. As I was walking out the door, Irene was headed into a day of meetings. She told me I should come back and hang out another day and I can’t wait for that to happen because I am going to take her advice. I’m going to jump in and get involved.

P.S. Volunteer at Eco EGGStravanza on April 4th!
Contact Irene Montanez at


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Imagination Running Wild

As I drove home from the Carpenter Art Garden today, I noticed paint under my fingernails. After a day spent with kids painting pictures of trees, making paper snowflakes and chatting about life the way only a kid can see it, I wasn’t surprised. The Carpenter Art Garden is a magical space – a purple house with craft supplies from floor to ceiling, an outdoor space to play and a community garden for kids to connect with the earth. I can understand why kids line up outside the door every Tuesday after school to get a chance to come inside.

20150224_164837Carpenter Art Garden

I always enjoy spending time with children – listening to them laugh, watching their creativity and talking to them about their lives. I love being surrounded by the barely controlled chaos that always happens with kids.

20150224_160640Lovely artwork

I got to spend some quality time with a special little girl today. I was drawn to her beautiful smile with one newly missing tooth and the pink tree she was painting. We talked about how both our birthdays are in October, how she just turned seven and the fact that she wants to be a singer when she grows up. She said her favorite song is a Hello Kitty song she made up. I commented that it was incredible that she had written a song and that was the first time she told me “You just have to let your imagination run wild.” The second time came when she told me that she had never seen a pink tree, but she wanted to paint one. And that is why I love talking to kids – they remind me of the important things in life.

20150224_154306Aaliyah, a little girl with a big imagination

Before I left, I helped another girl make her first paper snowflake and dodged the play attacks of a stuffed dog. I will always be in awe of places like the Carpenter Art Garden that inspire such creativity in kids, and by the passion of the people who run them.

So when I saw that little bit of paint under my fingernails on my way home, I smiled and knew that little bit of paint meant that I had a really good afternoon. Isn’t that what the little seven-year old singer with the big imagination would have thought? A little paint under your fingernails means you let your imagination run wild. And I think all of us adults need a little more of that in our lives.

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Making Memphis Beautiful

I admit to being a little nervous this morning as I got ready for the first day of my Volunteer Odyssey at Memphis City Beautiful. In fact, that may have been the reason that I lost my keys inside of my car before I even made it in the office. This led to a few panic-filled minutes, worrying that I would be late, as I frantically searched my car, which was parked only a few hundred feet from the front door of the office. Finally, keys firmly in hand, I walked into the office and was met by Cyndy Grivich Tucker, the Program Coordinator.

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Stuffing envelopes with Cyndy Grivich Tucker, the Program Coordinator.

Cyndy turned out to be my chaperone for the morning as she led me to a table piled high with letters and flyers to be folded, and envelopes to be stuffed and taped. The envelopes would then be sent to schools around the city to promote the 25th Annual Beautify Your School Contest. I think sometimes those of us on the outside of an organization forget just how much work goes into every event, program and project that the organization hosts. We see the finished products – the beautified schools, the bags of garbage from a lake clean up, the magical flowers created from children’s imaginations and some trash, the trees planted by hundreds of elementary students, the pictures of volunteers working together to make Memphis a more beautiful place. We fail to grasp the number of hours put in behind the scenes.

As I readied myself for a morning of folding, stuffing and taping, I took the opportunity to gaze around the room. My attention was immediately drawn to a number of flower pots lining the wall. Each pot boasted its own beautiful, creative flower made out of random items of trash. Cyndy explained to me that these were the centerpieces made by kids for their annual Trashion Show in which local artists and designers create outfits made of trash. How much more fun could it get to educate people about recycling and waste reduction?!

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Centerpieces for the Trashion Show.

As Cyndy told me more about the awesome things that Memphis City Beautiful does throughout the year, the time flew by and the finished envelopes began to pile up. Cyndy was quite the font of information, filling me in on the upcoming events in which I can get involved, telling me the history of the organization (Did you know it is the oldest local chapter of Keep America Beautiful, started around 1930? Did you know the office is actually a house built in the 1840s?), helping me understand the local geography and giving me directions to the best international farmer’s market! When it was time for me to leave, I had a mountain of finished envelopes, a stack of flyers of my own about upcoming events, new places to visit and try around Memphis, and an appreciation for the passion and hard work of the Cyndy and her two teammates that comprise the staff of Memphis City Beautiful.

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