Epilogue: Meredith DeLeeuw

Life is a journey, not a destination.  This quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson perfectly sums up my last 8 days.  What started out as a hopeful destination towards a career, led to one of the greatest journeys of my life.  Never did I think I would learn so much, have so much fun, or create a lasting impact in 8 days.  Every day I was surrounded by passionate people who inspired me in so many ways.  I loved nothing more than learning about each and every one of their journeys.  For some, a life of service was a straight path, and for others a long winding road.  I would like to think my path towards volunteering and non-profits was always straight, but yet slightly blinded.  I always knew that I loved helping people, but I was not sure how I could make an impact.  Volunteering was always something I did on the side, but I never thought a non-profit could or should be my life path.  That is until now.  Until Memphis.

Memphis, you have already had a lasting effect on me in 3 short months.  The people of this town inspire you to want to do more.  This city is truly full of grit and grinders.  It is full of wonderful people ready to help you in any way they can.  I never saw Memphis coming, but I am so thankful that God brought us here.  It is exactly where I need to be.

I am not sure why it never occurred to me to consider the non-profit sector to fill the void I felt with other positions.  I always thought I would help people in a more “professional” way, similar to the way my husband does as a doctor.  How could I not see the much more obvious answer?  Take my passion for helping people… and go out and help them.  Not only have I had the chance to help Memphians, even more surprising, I have had the chance to inspire Memphians.  Inspire them to cultivate relationships in their own community.  Sarah Petschonek showed me that with love and a lot of hard work, you can take your passion for volunteering and make a career out of it.

Thank you to every single person I have met on my journey so far.  I am a better person for knowing you.  Thank you to every single organization that opened their doors to me during my volunteer odyssey.  Thank you to Memphis Tilth, St. Jude, Memphis Botanic Garden, UBFM, Fig Tree Food Pantry, Southern Reins, Volunteer Odyssey, and Shelby Farms.  I am so blessed to have been able to help further your missions.  I will continue to shout your praises all through Memphis and beyond!

I have yet to find my exact place in the Memphis non-profit sector, but until then, I am happily continuing to volunteer at Memphis Tilth, UBFM, Fig Tree Food Pantry, and St. Jude.  It is more about the journey than the destination.  I have never been so excited to wake up at 6 am on a Saturday morning to go hand out burritos.  Never have fire ant bites hurt so little as when I am planting sustainable food in a community garden.  I have finally realized my path to happiness is through the happiness of others.  I know the right position for me is out there and I cannot wait to find it!

Is 8 days long enough to change someone’s outlook on life?  I say yes, yes it is.


Day 8: Cultivate Inspiration at Shelby Farms

Meredith DeLeeuw has created her own #VolunteerOdyssey in order to get to know Memphis better and give back to her new community. She’ll be volunteering with 8 nonprofits and sharing her experience through her blog. 

On Day 8 she volunteered with Shelby Farms. Check out her story below!


The last day of my volunteer odyssey was bitter sweet.  How was I already on my last day?  The last 8 days had gone by wimage3 (5)ay too fast and I wasn’t ready for it to end.  Luckily, I got to mend my spirits at one of my favorite spots in Memphis, Shelby Farms.  Most people in Memphis know about Shelby Farms, but forthose of you that are not from here or have recently moved here, Shelby Farms is one of the largest urban parks in the United States.  The park contains more than 40 miles of paved and unpaved trails winding through its 4,500 acres.  The trails are great for walking, running, biking, or hiking.  They aimage2 (4)lso have over 20 bodies of water, perfect for fishing, kayaking, or paddle boating.  You can also find a horse stable, a ropes course, and a huge dog park.  Shelby Farms park is managed by the Shelby Farms Conservatory, a non-profit that runs the park as well as the Greenline.  The Shelby Farms Greenline is a 10 mile paved urban trail that connects MidtownMemphis to Shelby Farms and even out to Cordova.  It is one of my favorite things about Memphis!  I got very lucky that we found a house so close to one of the entrances.  My husband and I love to bike on the shaded trails.  It is also perfect for taking our pups for a run.  If you have not experienced Shelby Farms or the Greenline, you are missing out on something spectacular!

Shelby Farms frequently hosts events at the park.  Some of the amazing staff at Shelby Farms reached out to me and asked if I would be willing to help with their Total Eclipse at the Park event as well as volunteer in their gardens.  I owe a lot of my journey to Natalie Wilson with Shelby Farms, so I was thrilled to give image1 (7)back in any way I could!  Total Eclipse at the Park was a solar eclipse watching party that included educational talks, food trucks, and more.  I arrived mid-morning for the eclipse event and met with Shelby Farms staff.  They explained that I would be helping park cars for the event. I put on my yellow traffic vest and off I went.  I started by directing cars up to the overflow parking lot.  Within 30 minutes, it became very obvious that this event was going to be much bigger than expected.  I moved down the way and started helping the rest of the staff park cars.  I cannot begin to explain how many cars poured into Shelby Farms that day.  Every time we thought it was winding down, a huge rush would show up.  We parked cars all the way up to the time of the eclipse.  Luckily, we had the help of the Shelby County Sheriff’s office and many of the Shelby Farms staff.  We were crazy busy, but I really enjoyed my time at Total Eclipse at the Park.  Everyone I met, from park rangers to park goers, reminded me why I have fallen for this town.  We estimated over 10,000 people showed up that day!  How crazy is that?  I’m so glad that Memphians enjoy and support Shelby Farms wholeheartedly!

My odyssey came full circle on my last day.  The first day of my journey started in the gardens of Memphis Tilth, and my last day started in the gardens of Shelby Farms.  Shelby Farms uses their gardens primarily for community education purposes.  I met up with Jasmeen Plummer, the Shelby Farms Greenline Gardens Intern, and we got to work.  We started by pulling weeds in the 26 beautifuimage4 (2) (3)l raised garden beds, currently filled with beautiful flowers.  We then transitioned to organizing the tool shed.  While we organized, we talked about life, dreams, volunteering, and more. Jasmeen is a senior at the University ofMemphis, who wants to open her own tea shop.  How exciting is that?  She loves gardening and learning all she can about the horticulture of tea.  Her story made my food science heart swoon!  I cannot wait until the day that I get to buy some tea from her.  I shared my experiences of my volunteer odyssey journey so far.  She was so genuinely interested in every non-profit I had volunteered for.  She has always wanted to volunteer, but she did not know where to start.  I told her all about Volunteer Odyssey and how she could use the Volunteer Compass to get started.  I hope I inspired her to reach out and begin volunteering.  I could not have had a more perfect last day.  Spending the day with Jasmeen warmed my heart.  I am beginning to truly see how much my journey affected not only me, but everyone around me.  

Shelby Farms always needs volunteers for their extremely popular events and for other activities in the park.  It is a great way to give back to our community and enjoy the beautiful outdoors at the same time!  A huge thank you goes out to all the Shelby Farms Conservatory staff, especially the programs coordinator Monique Stitts!  They welcomed me not once, but twice, with nothing but open arms and warm smiles.  They are all one of a kind!

On a personal note, the biggest of thank yous goes out to Natalie Wilson!  I cannot begin to fully explain my gratitude to you!  I am so incredibly glad that God put us together on that plane.  You have helped me find the fulfillment I had been missing.  You are such an inspiration.  I hope someday I can pay it forward and support someone else, as you have supported me.  I cannot wait to see where the rest of my journey leads me, but I know you will be there cheering me on!

Go be the light that inspires people to give back to their community!

If you’d like to volunteer at Shelby Farms like Meredith, visit https://serve.volunteerodyssey.com/group/120850-Shelby-Farms-Park



Day 7: Beers for Volunteers

Meredith DeLeeuw has created her own #VolunteerOdyssey in order to get to know Memphis better and give back to her new community. She’ll be volunteering with 8 nonprofits and sharing her experience through her blog. 

On Day 7 she volunteered with us for 901 Day’s Beers for Volunteers. Check out her story below!

901 Day!  What’s 901 day?  September 1st, 9/01, get it?  It’s only the best day of the year in Memphis!  I love a city that knows how to celebrate a random day that matches their area code.  Especially a city that comes together on that day to welcome newcomers.  Enter Exposure Memphis.  Exposure Memphis is a free event celebrating all things Memphis, hosted by the New Memphis Institute.  Over 150 local businesses and organizations set up booths to share who they are and what they do to new Memphians.  Everyone from Shelby Farms to Memphis Escape Rooms to Ballet Memphis were there.  They even had Gibson’s donuts and Mempops.  Sadly, the donuts were already gone by the time I got to them.  I was asked by Volunteer Odyssey if I would be willing to give my time to match newcomers with non-profits needing more volunteers.  Of course, I said yes!  I was very happy to give back to this great organization that has guided me on my wonderful adventure so far.

Exposure Memphis hosted over 50 non-profit organizations in their Beers for VolunteersBeersforVolunteers1 sections.  I was thrilled to see some of my odyssey organizations such as UBFM, Memphis Botanic Garden, and Memphis Tilth with booths set up.  Every person who filled out a card pledging to volunteer in Memphis got a free beer from Wiseacre or Memphis Made.  Genius!  Volunteer Odyssey had a booth set up at the beginning of the section where we introduced ourselves and helped guide people to different non-profits they may be interested in.  It is impressive how quickly people perk up or stop by when they hear the words “free beer”.  Once they moved past the initial excitement of free beer, almost every single person was genuinely interested in helping their new city.

So many people want to volunteer in Memphis, but they do not know where or how to start.  That is why I LOVE volunteering for Volunteer Odyssey.  They are a fantastic organization run by three amazing women.  Their mission is to develop a pathway to volunteering that enriches our lives and our communities.  Recently, they started what is known as the Volunteer Compass.  This is an area of their website where you can go on and see all of the volunteer opportunities in Memphis on one easy to read calendar.  You can sExposure901Dayign up straight through their website for any of the opportunities that interest you.  It is all in one place!  If you are not sure what organizations you want to volunteer for, you can enter any interests you may have such as animals or kids and any matching organizations will pop up.  You can also search by date, skill, or area of town.  Each organization has their own page where you can learn more about what they do and what kind of opportunities they have.  Volunteer Odyssey also hosts VolunCheers, a volunteer happy hour.  Join them each month for an easy way to fit volunteering into your busy schedule.

I know I keep repeating this, but I really cannot say thank you enough to Volunteer Odyssey, especially founder Sarah Petschonek!  She has given me the chance of a lifetime to give back to my new community and meet some inspiring people in the process.  I am so glad that I can now use my own experiences to inspire other Memphians to get out and volunteer.

Happy 901 Day to my new favorite city!


If you’d like to volunteer with us like Meredith, go to https://serve.volunteerodyssey.com/group/119500-Volunteer-Odyssey

Day 6: Miracles in Motion

Meredith DeLeeuw has created her own #VolunteerOdyssey in order to get to know Memphis better and give back to her new community. She’ll be volunteering with 8 nonprofits and sharing her experience through her blog. 

On Day 6 she volunteered with Southern Reins. Check out her story below!


Day six of my volunteer odyssey brought me to a little slice of heaven in northern Mississippi.  Horses, image1 (6)wide open blue sky, green pastures, and miracles.  What more could a person ask for?  Founded in 2015, Southern Reins is an equine therapy center serving individuals with physical, cognitive, and emotional disabilities.  Southern Reins offers therapeutic riding, horsemanship lessons, hippotherapy, and equine assisted psychotherapy.  They serve children and adults from Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas.  All sessions are conducted by certified therapists, PATH certified riding instructors, or mental health professionals.  The also just started a new program, Equine Services For Heroes, which serves veterans as well as first responders who have been injured in service to our country.  All of these programs offer physical, mental, and social benefits to participants.  In the two short hours I observed, it was clear how much a horse can help a person with a disability.

The first session I observed was a riding session.  During these sessions, a partimage3 (4)icipant does all their therapy mounted on the horse.  The motion of a horse’s walk mimics the motion of our own walk.  It takes a lot of core strength just to stay in the center of the horse.  Each team is comprised of one horse leader and two sidewalkers.  The horse leader’s job is to control the horse at all time and yet be very aware of what is going on in the surroundings.  They are responsible to ensure the safety of the horse, equipment, and rider.  The sidewalker’s job is to provide physical and emotional support to the rider.  Their job can vary from having a complete hold on the participant to having very little, if any, physical support.  It was the first day of a new ten-week session, so the teams were just getting to know each other.  My favorite moment of the day was seeing and hearing one of the participant’s true excitement at the thought of getting back on the horse.  He was so overjoyed and kept exclaiming “Walk on! Walk on!” as the volunteers readied his horse to be mounted.  His happiness and joy was so palpable it spread to every single person there.  Once mounted, he instantly settled and got straight to work.  What a sight it was to watch the connection between each rider and their horse.

The second session I observed was a ground work session.  During these sessions, the participants work on emotional and physimage5ical therapy by leading, brushing, and feeding the horses.  The volunteers assist the participants by helping to lead the horse and encouraging the individuals to pet or brush the horses.  Touching a horse provides a lot of sensory therapy for the participants.  The warmth of their breath and the softness of their hair provides a therapy like no other.  Horses are powerful beings, but they also have a kindness and an intuition about them.  These horses were so calm and loving towards each person.

Each volunteer I talked to repeated the same sentence to me, “We see miracles every day”.  Wow, how powerful!  They all had different stories of how these horses have changed each participant’s lives.  Some could barely sit on a horse, and now they can do a full hour session with very little help.  Some were non-verbal, and now will say “walk on” to the horse.  Some were deathly afraid of horses, and now readily feed them in their lap.

image4 (1)Do you want to witness miracles each time you volunteer?  Southern Reins needs a lot of volunteers, especially ones with time during the week.  Anyone can become a sidewalker by attending their training sessions.  Southern Reins is also in need of a lot more horse leaders.  Prior horse experience is needed and horse leaders must possess a basic understanding of horse behavior.  This is hard to come by, so if you have horse experience, Southern Reins would love to have you!  Southern Reins also provides scholarships to participants who cannot afford the therapy session.  A wonderful gift would be to sponsor a rider!  You can also sponsor a horse for the session! A big thank you goes out to all the Southern Reins staff for having us out to see all the wonderful things they are doing!

This piece of heaven really is creating miracles in motion!

If you’d like to volunteer at Souther Reins like Meredith, go to https://serve.volunteerodyssey.com/group/138219-Southern-Reins-Center-for-Equine-Therapy


Day 5: End Hunger, One Fig at a Time

Meredith DeLeeuw has created her own #VolunteerOdyssey in order to get to know Memphis better and give back to her new community. She’ll be volunteering with 8 nonprofits and sharing her experience through her blog. 

On Day 5 she volunteered with Catholic Charities at their Fig Tree Food Pantry. Check out her story below!

I spent my fifth day of volunteering with the wonderful people at Fig Tree Food Pantry.  Fig Tree is one of the many charitable organizations run by the Catholic Charities of West Tennessee.  In addition to the food

image3 (3)pantry, Catholic Charities of West Tennessee offer clothing, a mobile food pantry, rapid housing, immigration, veteran, and other programs.  They serve all people regardless of religious beliefs, socio-economic, or ethnic background.  It is not just for the Catholic community, it is from the Catholic community.  Their mission is to provide help for those facing chronic poverty based on the teachings of Jesus Christ.  The Fig Tree Food Pantry provides fresh as well as non-perishable food for families in need of emergency relief.  Most of their participants are referred to them from MIFA, Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association.  Fig Tree sets its self apart from other food pantries by offering fresh fruits and vegetables, instead of only non-perishable items.  The difference fresh food makes to a family in need is worth the extra money the food pantry spends on perishable items.

image2 (3)After a short tour of all the Catholic Charities facilities, I met all the volunteer led food pantry staff.  The Fig Tree food pantry staff are truly some of the best people!  Almost on cue, the doorbell rang right at 9 and I was thrust into serving my neighbors.  Every person that comes to the pantry has a slip of paper that tells the volunteers their name and how many people we will be serving.  The food pantry makes packages for as many as eight people in a household.  The non-perishables are pre-packaged into bags or boxes and the fresh food is placed in donated grocery bags.  The volunteers image1 (5)help load up the participants cars or carts.  Every household got a set of fresh eggs and a carton of milk.  Fresh fruit and vegetables are packaged based on the how many people will be eating.  I was amazed by the selection of fresh food the pantry offered.  Families received fresh tomatoes, limes, avocados, apples, bananas, potatoes, green peppers, lettuce, and more!  They also received a variety of frozen meat.  In addition to handing out the boxes and fresh food, one of the wonderful long-time volunteers showed me how to make the non-perishable bags.  These are filled with crackers, canned vegetables, rice, pasta, peanut butter, cereal, and more.  The food pantry does its best to make sure that every family is eating a balanced diet.image4

I never knew that food pantries actually buy their food from food banks and/or organizations such as image1 (4)MIFA.  I always figured it was all based on donations of actual food.  The food pantry does occasionally run out of certain food items.  Luckily, all we ran out of were fresh pears, but we were getting close to being out of milk and juice.  This is where our community comes in!  The food pantry runs mostly off monetary donations, which allows them to buy more food for the families in need.  Volunteers are the backbone of the food pantry.  Without them, they would not be able to package up and hand out the food.  They can always use more helping hands!

A big thank you goes out to the volunteers and staff of the Fig Tree Food Pantry and Catholic Charities of West Tennessee.  They gave me insight to an area of the food system I had never experienced before.

I am even more determined to make sure no families go hungry in Memphis!

If you’d like to volunteer for Catholic Charities like Meredith, go to https://serve.volunteerodyssey.com/event/35437-Fig-Tree-Food-Pantry to sign up!



Day 4: Have You Eaten This Morning?

Meredith DeLeeuw has created her own #VolunteerOdyssey in order to get to know Memphis better and give back to her new community. She’ll be volunteering with 8 nonprofits and sharing her experience through her blog. 

On Day 4 she volunteered with Urban Bicycle Food Ministry. Check out her story below!


To say I was incredibly excited, yet nervous, about my opportunity to volunteer with the Urban Bicycle Food Ministry would be an understatement.  Will I be overcome with emotions?  Would it be a tough ride?  How will people react to me handing out burritos?  The more I talked with Lyle Udell, the head of UBFM, the more excited I got.  Urban Bicycle Food Ministry is an amazing non-profit started in 2012 by a student at Memphis Theological Seminary, Tommy Clark.  He had a goal of delivering food to the homeless, instead FullSizeRenderof them coming to the food.  He started making burritos in his kitchen and handing them out in his neighborhood.  Soon the ministry on wheels grew too big for his kitchen and the First United Methodist Church offered their kitchens.  UBFM’s volunteers cook burritos every Wednesday night and Saturday morning.  They ride all around Memphis with backpacks full of burritos.  They have never missed a ride, even in torrential rains and freezing snow.  As Lyle said, “The homeless are out there in the elements, so we should be too”.

With my questions running through my brain, I woke up my amazing husband (who image3 (2)decided to volunteer with me on his one day off) early Saturday morning and we headed to UBFM’s headquarters Downtown.  Once there, Lyle led us to the kitchen where volunteers were finishing up cooking the breakfast burritos.  Once all the burritos were made, we stepped next door and started filling our backpacks.  This is much more than a burrito ministry.  They had tables full of chips, juice, candy, socks, shirts, bug spray, sanitizing wipes, water, and more.  Every single volunteer had a backpack, or even a full bike cart, full to the brim with supplies.  After sayiimage1 (3)ng a prayer for our ride and for the people we were there to serve, we started our ride through downtown.  There must have been a line of more than fifty people waiting for us at our first stop.  They greet each person with a simple phrase, “Have you eaten this morning?”, not “Are you homeless?”.  It may seem like semantics, but asking in this way changes the perspective.  The smiles and thank yous from each and every person that morning warmed my soul.  People were genuinely touched that we were out there serving them.  The regular volunteers know all the regular recipients by name.  Calling someone by their name is a powerful thing.  To UBFM, these people are not just homeless, they are people with names and dreams.


UBFM cannot serve our community without the help of volunteers.  You can help cook burritos, deliver food on bicycle, or both.  They also thrive off donations of chips, bars, juice boxes, water, and more.  The people at UBFM are awe inspiring.  I truly encourage every Memphian to join on at least one ride.  To serve the underprivileged, is to be privileged.  It brings everything into perspective.  Everyone needs to get out at least once and experience this kind of ministry.  I am already planning for my next ride.


image2 (2)I am so blessed to have been a part of a true urban ministry.  Thank you and keep up the good work UBFM!

P.S.  The ride can be done by young and old.  We even had their youngest volunteer ever join us on our ride!


If you’d like to volunteer at Urban Bicycle Food Ministry like Meredith, visit https://serve.volunteerodyssey.com/group/120907-Urban-Bicycle-Food-Ministry


Day 3: Big Bugs

Meredith DeLeeuw has created her own #VolunteerOdyssey in order to get to know Memphis better and give back to her new community. She’ll be volunteering with 8 nonprofits and sharing her experience through her blog. 

On Day 3 she volunteered with Memphis Botanic Garden. Check out her story below!


On my third day of my volunteer journey, I found myself surrounded by nature at the Memphis Botanic Garden.  Boimage2 (1)tanic gardens and arboretums are very near and dear to my heart!  My grandfather has a tree planted in his name at the Clinton, Iowa Arboretum.  Every Christmas memory I have as a kid involved going to the Huntsville Botanical Gardens to drive through the Galaxy of Lights.  My husband even proposed at the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Gardens.  Needless to say, I was very excited for the opportunity to give back to the Memphis Botanic Garden.  The Memphis Botanic Garden comprises 96 acres with 28 specialty gardens.  The mission of the Memphis Botanic Gardens is to teach the next generation about nature and the world around them.  During the summer, the garden hosts Adventure Fridays, where volunteers teach children about many different topics involving the natural world.

Starting next month, the garden is hosting “Big Bugs”, a traveling art exhibit of giant insect sculptures.  The exhibit is traveling all over the country and will be in Memphis for a couple of months.  Everyone who has seen the sculptures say it is a must see!  To promote this exhibit, all the Adventure Friday’s revolved around different insects.  Ants were the topic of my Adventure Friday.  At first glancimage1 (2)e, ants are not the most exciting insect out there.  They certainly do not garner the same response from kids as say a grasshopper or bees.  But ants are a vital part of our world!  (Except fire ants!  I am still not sure why those nasty things exist.)  Did you know that ants live on every continent except Antarctica?  They are extremely adaptable to nearly every climate.  I never realized how much I did not know about ants!  Our table included scientific books, pictures, even a large 3D printed paper model by the great people at International Paper.  All the kids enjoyed picking up the magnifying glass and looking at the different species of ants.  I know each child, and parent, came away with a lot more respect for ants!  It was great opportunity to get to interact with and teach the younger generations of Memphians.  Who knows, maybe we even inspired a child to become an entomologist!

After I was done teaching, Brianna (the wonderful volunteer manager) showed me more of their 96 acre facility.  Wow, image3 (1)is all I can say!  Every area I explored was better than the next.  I especially loved the Japanese and hydrangea gardens.  There is an area of the botanic garden for everyone!  They also host a myriad of events for adults such as Live at the Garden, wine tastings, food truck garden parties, and more!

My day in nature could not have been more perfect, and for that I thank everyone at the Memphis Botanic Garden.  The Memphis Botanic Garden thrives off volunteer support!  They always need volunteers for children activities as well as special events at the garden.  You can also use your gardening skills to help the horticulture staff make the garden beautiful.  You might even get to feed the Koi if you ask nicely!

Go cultivate your life with at the Memphis Botanic Garden!

If you would like to volunteer at the Memphis Botanic Garden please visit