Finding Refuge in Midtown Memphis

By Lulu Abdun, Summer Programs Associate at Volunteer Odyssey

On a Sunday night around dinner time, Cindy Shainberg pulled into the driveway of a historic Midtown house. The outside this house looked normal but on the inside amazing things were stirring.

IMG_1789In this Midtown house, homeless families find refuge. The Dorothy Day House allows families to stay together to rebuild their lives. Each Sunday volunteers bring a dessert and join the current family for prayer. This special Sunday, Cindy was able to provide a delicious “lemon cake from an old family recipe” for the Dorothy Day families.

The night started off with introductions and small talk then led into prayer and dessert. Cindy says, “My kids and I visited with the family, including talking over mom stuff with the mom, playing ball with the toddler, trying to engage the teenager in conversation and holding the second cutest twin babies ever (mine were the cutest!) We also prayed together and, of course, ate some lemon cake!”ddh blog pic

As the night wound down, Cindy was able to reflect on her experience at the Dorothy Day House. “Volunteering with a family at Dorothy Day House made me feel so blessed and thankful that I could spread some sunshine to another family going through tough times.  It seems like some of us have gobs of extra sunshine to offer and it feels great to have an outlet to share our blessings,” she says.  “We would never have met had it not been for the occasion of volunteering.”

Families at the Dorothy Day House are strong-willed and strive for a better life for their families. For Cindy, volunteering at the Dorothy Day House was an incredible learning experience. “I learned that it doesn’t take much to make someone else’s day or even life a little or maybe a lot better.  I also learned that people can be really resilient,” Cindy shares. With the help of volunteers, “gobs of extra sunshine” can be provided to these families as they continue on their course to a better life.

Watch this 90-second tour of Dorothy Day House to help families stay together and rebuild their lives.

Land Your Dream Job through Volunteering

By Lulu Abdun, Summer Programs Associate at Volunteer Odyssey

Genevieve found her dream job through volunteering. Her teaching job had just finished and she was looking for work in a nonprofit setting. Having interned and worked at a nonprofit, she knew that’s where she wanted to go next; however, because there are countless nonprofits in the Memphis area, she did not know where to begin.

All through June and July, Genevieve was job searching and looking for ways to get involved in the community. Her friend told her about Volunteer Odyssey, and she attended Volunteer Odyssey’s Minute Match event in mid June. She fell in love with World Relief, an organization that helps refugee families acclimate to Memphis.

Genevieve loved volunteering with World Relief weekly and knew she wanted to be in a helping profession, so she continued to search for a job that fit her interests. She joined Volunteer Odyssey’s Job Seekers program, a 7-day volunteering journey that is designed for job-seeking professionals with interests in volunteer work. She met with Sarah Petschonek, the founder and CEO of Volunteer Odyssey, to talk about her skills and interests and to seek out the perfect job.

Having an interest in outdoor education, female empowerment, and social work, Sarah matched Genevieve with Clean Memphis, World Relief, the H*Art Gallery, Shelby Farms, Thistle & Bee, and Dorothy Day House. Each day Genevieve went to a different nonprofit to volunteer and experienced a new part of Memphis which she had not known while also learning more about herself.

When she volunteered at these organizations, it created a sense of community to her. Volunteering allowed her to make connections with people and deepened the meaning of Memphis to her. “Through volunteering I could see Memphis through different lenses,” Genevieve said.

image1On the last day of her Job Seekers journey, Genevieve volunteered at Dorothy Day House, which serves as a haven for keeping homeless families together. She did not know much about the organization, but right when she walked in the door she felt very connected. “There was a unique and irreplaceable culture happening in the home,” Genevieve said. She fell in love with the small, intimate work environment while spending time with the family, playing with the kids, and chatting with visitors over dessert. A couple days later she received a job offer from Dorothy Day House!

Although Genevieve is going to begin working at Dorothy Day House September 1st, she wants to continue to volunteer with World Relief and in the Memphis community. Volunteering is an important part of Genevieve’s life, so she is excited to begin this journey as a volunteer coordinator and educator. She is also is very thankful to Volunteer Odyssey’s Job Seeker’s program. Genevieve describes the Job Seekers program as a great example of the wonderful, sustainable community Memphis has, and she was so grateful to have the chance to make stronger connections with her community.

If you’d like to volunteer at the Dorothy Day House, take a 90-second tour of them on Volio, the world’s first virtual volunteer fair. You might even see Genevieve there!

Volunteer to help Louisiana Flood Victims

Volunteer Odyssey-Louisiana Flood Relief

Southern Louisiana is experiencing devastating flooding and they need your help.

You can be a hero to families in need. Can you travel to Louisiana to help? Whether you have time or money to give, you can make a huge impact starting today.

Take the step today to help those in need. Here’s how to start:


  • Volunteer with the Red Cross. The American Red Cross of the Mid-South is recruiting volunteers from the general public who are willing to deploy to Southern Louisiana to assist with relief efforts in response to unprecedented flooding. Attend a Disaster Service Overview & Shelter Fundamentals class next week.
  • UPDATE (8/24) “Red Cross will be holding a training class related to the volunteer effort on Thursday, August 25th, from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at the Red Cross offices (1399 Madison Ave, Memphis). This training program is required to be considered for deployment in addition to the Volunteer Application Process.  If you have not started this process, please click this link. If you have questions, contact to get started.
    If you are already in the flood-affected area, register with Volunteer Louisiana. There is a dire need of volunteers to help staff shelters, to clean up schools, etc (Note: If you live outside of this area, please do not travel on your own to volunteer. Sign up through the Red Cross. Email
  • If you want to volunteer your time, we strongly encourage you to do this through the Red Cross, Salvation Army, or Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief. Please do not mobilize a grassroots effort. Red Cross is the safest and most effective way to help if you want to travel to this area. As we learn of others, we will add them to this list.


  • Donate to Red Cross. To make a financial contribution go to or call 1-800-REDCROSS, or text the words LAFLOODS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Donations enable the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from these disasters.
  • To donate to a long-term recovery fund visit the Center for Disaster Philanthropy ( or their CrowdRise fund (
  • To donate to a short-term relief fund focusing on shelter and needs assessments visit The Baton Rouge Area Foundation’s Louisiana Relief Fund (
  • For more information on how to donate cash, goods, or your time visit the Louisiana VOAD (Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters) website ( They also have a list of approved organizations if you would like to give directly to an organization rather than through a fund (
  • Donate to Teach for America’s relief fund for impacted corps members and alumni to replace personal belongings and to help them address needs in their classrooms and schools. You can donate to that fund here.

On-going information

We will be updating this list with the most up to date information. To add service opportunities, please contact

Volunteer in Memphis with VolunCheers

By Lulu Abdun, Summer Programs Associate at Volunteer Odyssey

It’s 5pm on a Tuesday night, and you’re just getting off work. You’re looking for a quick bite to eat and a chance to hang with some friends, so you decide to go to VolunCheers, Volunteer Odyssey’s monthly happy hour! Each month about fifteen to twenty volunteers attend this event where they sip on beer, munch on snacks, and socialize with peers while they help complete a task for a different non-profit. This makes VolunCheers the perfect way to take some time out of your month to volunteer. Occurring in

VolunCheers attendees putting together mailers for DeNeuville.

VolunCheers attendees putting together mailers for DeNeuville.

the evenings, volunteers can pack in an hour and a half of helping others while also enjoying drinks and snacks. It’s a great way to “unprofessionally network,” Kenn Gibbs says. his month, VolunCheers was held at the DeNeuville Learning Center on South Cooper in Midtown. DeNeuville is a center for women that has activities ranging from computer basics to English as a Second Language. At VolunCheers, volunteers learned about the many programs that DeNeuville offers and helped put marketing materials together to send out to the community.

Very often, VolunCheers attendees desire to return to the non-profit featured at the event and volunteer on a regular basis. Luckily, this was exactly the case at this month’s VolunCheers!  Kenn Gibbs, a frequent VolunCheers attendee, realized he could use his skills to further his passion for helping others at DeNeuville.  Kenn majored in computer science and has a love for volunteering and giving back, so when he heard that DeNeuville holds computer classes for their students, he knew he had to return to assist with tutoring and teaching these classes.

kenn and lori

Kenn Gibbs and Executive Director of DeNeuville, Lori Bramlett, discussing future volunteer opportunities for Kenn at DeNeuville.

For Kenn, volunteering is important because he’s interested in giving back to organizations that are invested in helping the city of Memphis – “drinks and snacks make this even better,” he says. Kenn, a Memphian for over 20 years, loves the city and has been volunteering in Memphis for four years. In Kenn’s 4 years of experience with volunteering, he has found that people love to give back to Memphis – “even people who aren’t from here. People want great things for this city,” he states.

Even if you don’t currently volunteer but have thought about it, Kenn says there is a volunteer opportunity out there for you. If you like to watch TV, there’s a volunteer opportunity for that; if you like to do art, there’s a volunteer opportunity for that; if you like cooking, there’s a volunteer opportunity for that. In this vibrant city, there’s a way to volunteer for things that you care about. You can even match your current hobbies or job skills to volunteer opportunities.


kenn vc

All the great volunteers at June’s VolunCheers benefitting DeNeuville Learning Center.

Kenn saw a need and took action. You can do the same.

Go to for more information.

Check out the upcoming VolunCheers dates.

If you’re looking for a volunteer opportunity that will fit in your schedule, check out Volunteer Odyssey’s Calendar of Volunteer Opportunities.

All-Weather Servants

By Lulu Abdun, Summer Programs Associate at Volunteer Odyssey

Chicago girl in the 901. Kristin just recently moved to Memphis. Having the desire to get involved in her community, meet others, and give back, she attended Volunteer Odyssey’s VolunCheers Minute Match event this past June. While at the event, she heard about the Urban Bicycle Food Ministry (UBFM) who bikes around town every Wednesday giving meals to those in need. She loved this idea of being active while giving back but was a bit taken aback because of her fear of biking. However, she spent some time thinking about it and decided to try it out. She says, “You cannot live your life in fear. Sometimes in order to make a difference in someone’s life you need to conquer your own fears.”

“You cannot live your life in fear.”IMG_1765

Every week she bikes with UBFM sharing her passion of giving back and her hope to change the world. Here is a story from one of the nights biking:

“One week I had such an emotional night riding my bike and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since it occurred. Prior to riding it was pouring rain and began to thunder and lightning. I honestly didn’t think we would be riding that day. I texted Ellen and asked and she responded with ‘Of course, we are all-weather servants.’ After we finished making burritos I stopped to grab my bike and one of the gentlemen I ride with Frank said, ‘we ride no matter what the condition is outside, there is always a need on the street.’ Here I was, being concerned about myself when there are people on the streets that cannot go inside because of the weather. After Frank said that to our group, a guy came up to us in a shirt that was soaking wet and he asked if we had a dry shirt. Frank went inside the building to get him a shirt, and I asked him if he would like a burrito or water. He politely said, ‘no thank you; all I would like is a dry shirt.’ At that point I could have broken down crying because that day between all my activities I changed my shirt four times. If my shirt got wet from running into my apartment building from the parking garage I would have changed my shirt to stay dry and this gentleman had nothing else to change into. I cannot begin to express how much that put into perceptive on next time I get annoyed with a shirt choice, there is someone who has it was worse IMG_1652than you. We began to ride our bikes and at the end of the night we saw a young girl sitting alone and we decided to give her the food we had left in our backpacks. We pulled up to her and you could tell by her demeanor she was dealing with some type of traumatic situation. She was very hesitant to take the food; barely spoke to us and looked terrified. We asked her if she needed anything and she shook her head no. We told her we would be back with a bag full of stuff for her. Our group rode back to the church, and Frank and I decided to go back to deliver the bag. We thought it would be best if I delivered the bag alone. I slowly approached her, placed the bag next to her and kneeled next to her. I asked her what her name is, explained what was in the bag, who we were, why we were on bikes, when she can expect to see us again and if there was anything else we could do for her. She looked me in the eyes for the first time and said, ‘no thank you.’ I walked away and my heart broke. She was maybe 5 years younger than me and seeing her in that traumatic of a state, I wanted to help anyway I could, but as a social worker I knew I couldn’t force help. There is not a day that has gone by that I don’t think of her and our interaction. Every night the interactions we have are different, but they always leave your heart aching to be able to do more than give them a burrito.”

When Kristin volunteers with UBFM, she “walks away from biking with a heavy heart” and the desire “to continue to make a difference.”

Make a difference by conquering your fears. “Figure out what you are passionate about and volunteer with that population. Whether it is kids, adults, homelessness, cancer patients, etc., there is a place you can volunteer at that correlates with your passion,” says Kristin. There’s a volunteer opportunity out there for everyone.

“My goal in life is to change the world and volunteering is a great way to help me reach my goal.”

Volunteering allows Kristin to make a difference in the world. Furthermore, her life’s goal “is to change the world.” Although passing out burritos on Wednesdays night won’t solve world hunger, it is a small step to making hunger in the Memphis community less of a reality and “is going to allow hundreds of people the opportunity to not go to bed hungry.”

Here are some tips she has for future and current volunteers:IMG_1648

* Conquer a fear of yours if it means you will make a difference in someone’s life.

* Get out of your comfort zone. Don’t turn your head from someone who needs help. Everyone has a story, so take the time to listen to someone’s story who you would normally not give a second of your time too.

*Do a small act of kindness to make this world a better place for all of us.

*LOVE YOUR NEIGHBORS including the ones on the street.

*Give someone the shirt off your back if it means their day or night will be that much better.

How to Volunteer During Elvis Week

By Lulu Abdun, Summer Programs Associate at Volunteer Odyssey

We all enjoy the rockin’ and rollin’ of Elvis Week, so why not rock and roll your way into volunteerism? Don’t be “heartbroken”…Put on your “Blue Suede Shoes” and volunteer! Here are several ways to volunteer during 2016’s Elvis Week (August 10-16).

In honor of Elvis Week, here are some music-related opportunities:roots

Here are other non-music-related opportunities to get involved in during Elvis Week:


A Sweet Spot


Spending my evening surrounded by kids and cookies at the Dorothy Day House was a real treat. I can’t think of a better way to wrap up my week with Volunteer Odyssey. The Dorothy Day house provides temporary housing and support to homeless families in Memphis. Every Sunday night, community volunteers bring baked goods and come together for an hour of reflection and thanks. This weekly event, and organization, two more examples of what a wonderful community Memphis truly is. This particular Sunday evening, multiple families from various organizations brought desserts and shared their evening with the current residents and other volunteers.

Though the dessert event only lasted about an hour, I was so moved by my time at the Dorothy Day House. Families living there as well as other visitors made me feel immediately welcome. As we sat around eating dessert and chatting, kids of all different ages entertained one another. It was a special moment.

Every day my volunteer experiences have been so different, and they have all shown me the value and benefits of serving the Memphis community.

A Garden of Herbs and Love

Volunteering with Thistle & Bee today, I had one of those rare moments where I felt like I was in the exact right place at the exact right time. I feel so fortunate to have connected with this organization. Kudos to Sarah Petschonek who matched us! Thistle & Bee is a non-profit startup that aids survivors of human trafficking through holistic workforce preparedness. As a startup, Thistle & Bee is currently developing their work program for survivors of human trafficking. The organization hires survivors of human trafficking to sell herb and honey products. Eventually their plan is for survivors, in addition to selling the product, to harvest the herbs from gardens and extract the honey from beekeeping. This gives women the opportunity to develop job skills during this pivotal transition in their life. This organization combines all of my passions, outdoor education, female empowerment, social work. I could go on and on, and I am thrilled to get started volunteering with them!

I spent the morning pulling weeds and harvesting mint and bee balm herbs with Eyleen Farmer, the founder, and Kristen Farmer, a member of the strategic planning team. As we kept our hands busy in the garden, we also kept our minds busy by discussing our backgrounds and sharing our ideas of how to best come together to grow Thistle & Bee. I am really excited to continue volunteering with Thistle & Bee as I feel they are at such an exciting point in their development. Every contribution, both of time and money, makes such an impact. With that in mind, I want to share with you all that next Saturday, August 6th, at 10 AM you can volunteer your time with Thistle & Bee. They are hosting an event called the Crumble Rumble where volunteers will be crumbling herbs to create teas and other products to sell. Check out the link below for more information and to sign up!

As my week with Volunteer Odyssey is wrapping up, I feel so fortunate for this experience. Stay tuned for my last day of volunteering tomorrow!


IMG_6725image2 copy 2 2016-05-21 09.07.Annunciation Honey in the works5

6 Ways to Support the Black Lives Matter Movement in Memphis

By Lulu Abdun, Summer Programs Associate at Volunteer Odyssey

Everyone can help support equality. Here are 6 ways you can support the Black Lives Matter movement in Memphis.

The Black Lives Matter Movement came to light in 2012 in hopes to dismantle systems of oppression and to replenish human rights and dignity for black people. In recent weeks, much has been stirring about the Movement from countless acts of immorality and violence toward the black community; political opinions about race, rights, and privilege; and injustice being served toward our black counterparts. From centuries ago to current events occurring in our community, people have been eager to stand up for their civil rights. If you would like to join the Movement, here are some ways you can get involved or volunteer:

  1. Just City: a local budding nonprofit that fights to reduce the amount of people in jail and prison, to reduce contact with the criminal justice system, and to revive people and neighborhoods after incarceration.

Upcoming events:

Just City Dialogues 6: #TopCopTalk, Thursday, August 4 from 6-7:30pm

Plunge to Expunge, Friday, August 12 from 4-7pm

Donate today or learn more about Just City

  1. younifiedBRIDGES: an organization that allows students to grow, learn, and be exposed to diverse people through experiential learning. BRIDGES also teaches students to “build bridges” across racial, cultural, and economic divides.

Upcoming volunteering event:

YOUnified, Friday, August 5 from 5-9:30pm      
Find more info on their website

  1. Official Black Lives Matter Memphis Chapter: Memphis’ own Black Lives Matter chapter aimed to “dismantle the systems that oppress us.”

Upcoming event:blm

Interest Meeting, Sunday, August 7 from 3-4pm    

Find more info on their Facebook Page

  1. Memphis City Council: the legislative body of Memphis, TN

Upcoming events:

Council Meetings, Tuesdays, August 9 and 23 at 3:30pm

Find more info here 

  1. Black Love Block Party: celebrates the spread of love, unity, food, and musicblack love

Upcoming event:

Black Love Block Party, Saturday, August 13 from 11am-8pm

Find more info on their Facebook page 

  1. Mid-South Peace and Justice Center: a center that “engages, organizes, and mobilizes communities to realize social justice through nonviolent action.” MSPJC also houses G.O.T. Power, a training group for rising grassroots organizers, H.O.P.E., a group made up of homeless or previously homeless to fight for equal rights, Memphis United, a local coalition made to challenge structural and institutional racism, and Memphis Bus Riders Union, which pushes MATA and city officials to improve public transportation for all Memphians.

Calendar of Events

Find more info on their website

Join the Movement today.

The Missing Piece of the Puzzle: Behind the Scenes at Shelby Farms

Volunteering today at Shelby Farms Park Conservancy provided me with a new environment in more ways than one. For starters, Shelby Farms was my first opportunity volunteering outside of midtown. While the drive was a little longer this morning, the change of scenery made it worth it. Not only was the scenery different but also the type of work that I did. Other days I have been interacting with people in various types of educational settings. Today, I worked in an office assisting Irene Montanez, Jasmin Mayen, and Natalie Wilson with three mini research projects to help prepare the Park for its upcoming expansion. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the creativity and solitude that I had while doing this work. This was my first experience working “behind the scenes” this week and I loved it.

Prior to this volunteer experience, I had frequently visited Shelby Farms, both in my role as a teacher accompanying my students on a field trip and as a runner using the Park’s many trails. Through all my experiences with Shelby Farms, I have been so impressed by its many programs and spaces. Today was no exception!