Epilogue: Ann-Katherine Stukenborg

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photo 4I cannot say enough great things about my Volunteer Odyssey week.  Since that week, I have recommended the experience to multiple young professionals eager to network, volunteer, or just learn more about the Memphis community as a whole.  I did not realize the experience would spark so much curiosity in close friends and family.  I received numerous calls, texts, and comments on Facebook asking how the process worked and how to go about signing up, as well as compliments on my choice to serve the Memphis community for an entire week.

Through the experience I have learned about so many services available to Memphians.  This information is super beneficial to me, a social worker, whose job will always entail connecting clients/patients to resources in the community.  Not only do I see the experience as valuable to my career, but it has also opened my eyes to volunteer opportunities for the future.  I am a volunteer youth minister at my church as well as a member of the young adult leadership committee.  Both ministries are always looking for new services opportunities in Memphis to do as a group.  There are definitely some places I went during my Volunteer Odyssey week that would be PERFECT for future service days.

A wonderful blessing that happened right in the midst of my volunteer week was a job offer I received.  I had been searching for a job ever since I graduated with my Masters in Social Work in May, and the call came somewhat unexpectedly.  I was hired by a company called Alpha Maxx Healthcare Inc. as one of their Population Health Management Specialists.  Alpha Maxx’s goal is to help high-risk pregnant women in the community have healthy and full-term pregnancies through the provision of services by social workers and nurses.  With the one-on-one care provided to each mother, the hope is to see a decrease in the rate of infant mortality in Memphis (which has already happened since the company’s beginning in 1999).  I will be doing a combination of providing social worker services and helping the director expand the services provided by Alpha Maxx.   I’m very excited!

I’m truly thankful for this volunteer experience.  It’s always a reminder to me to be thankful for all that I have, and to give of my time and resources whenever I can.  Unfortunately, with a new job comes less time to volunteer during the week, but I hope to take advantage of every opportunity I can.  Thank you Volunteer Odyssey!

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Week 11, Day 7: Ann-Katherine at the Dorothy Day House of Hospitality

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Tonight was a perfect end to my week with Volunteer Odyssey.  I spent the evening at the Dorothy Day House of Hospitality (DDHH) for their “Sunday at Six.”  My husband John was able to join me tonight, and my friend Julie was accompanied by her fiancé, Reed. The Dorothy Day House of Hospitality is a non-profit agency committed to serving homeless families in Memphis.  When a family is accepted, they are able to stay at DDHH while they are assisted in finding stable employment and housing.  While housed at DDHH, the kids resume their lives at school and adults are assisted with their job search.  They are also helped with any other immediate needs they may have.  One of the greatest things about DDHH is that the families can stay together under one roof.  Sister Maureen (who helps run DDHH) explained that every shelter in Memphis has strict rules about who can and cannot stay in their facilities.  Most facilities that accept women and children do not accept young males over age six.  DDHS is one of the only options for these families to stay together during this period of instability.  The hope of DDHH is to one day expand to more houses and create more opportunities for families in need of a stable home while searching for stable income. “Sunday

 

With Sister Maureen

With Sister Maureen

at Six” is a service held every Sunday night that consists of a group prayer and dessert with the residents of DDHH and anyone who would like to join in fellowship with them.   My favorite part of the prayer was when we were welcomed to share personal intentions and what we were thankful for.   A few residents mentioned their thankfulness for the opportunity to stay at DDHH and the wonderful people who help run it.  You could tell just how much it meant to them to not have to worry about where they would stay for the night.  They could commit to getting their family back on their feet without the extra stress of finding housing.

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After prayer we had peach pound cake and ice cream, courtesy of a sweet family who joined us for the evening.  We then had the opportunity to chat with the residents a bit.  Since school starts tomorrow for most of the kids, we talked a lot about where they were going to school, the fun new school supplies they had, what instruments they wanted to play, and other exciting aspects of starting of a new school year.  John and Reed then went outside to play with the kids while Julie and I spent some time chatting with Sister Maureen about the history and future of DDHH.  Before we left, one of the little boys, Jay Jay, asked John to read him a story.  It was such a precious sight since half an hour before, Jay Jay wouldn’t say more than two words.

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I really enjoyed this end to my week of volunteering with Volunteer Odyssey.  The Dorothy Day House of Hospitality is such a blessing for families struggling with the stress of unemployment and homelessness.  It’s my sincere desire that DDHH can expand its mission to more homes in order to reach more families in the community.

What I learned about myself today: I am thankful for the feelings of stability and safety.  I could not imagine the stress and worry that accompanies homelessness, especially when it comes to providing for a family.  I am so happy for places like DDHH who are committed to keeping the family unit together while assisting them on their road to stability.

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Week 11, Day 6: Ann-Katherine at Indie Memphis at the Levitt Shell

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Today’s volunteer experience was a little different than the rest.  I volunteered with Indie Memphis at the Levitt Shell movie concert series where they were sponsoring a documentary film called Big Easy Express.  The film is about the cross country train tour of Mumford and Sons, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, and Old Crow Medicine Show in April 2011.  My volunteer responsibility was to chat with people who came by the merchandise table and answer any questions they may have about purchasing t-shirts, obtaining an Indie Memphis membership, or sponsoring an event.  There was definitely an impressive number of people present for the film.  You would think that a concert film would not be as appealing to people as a live concert, but there certainly seemed to be a comparable number of people present to those who attended the summer concert series.  And the film was great!  All three bands are ones I am familiar with and actually enjoy, so I knew I would love the music played throughout the film.  I was able to enjoy the event with a group of friends who joined me once the film began.

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This picture is actually from a few months back because I completely forgot to take pictures while I was volunteering. Still a great picture from the Shell!

The Levitt Shell is one of those gems of Memphis that I love to share with visitors.  Not only is it wonderful because it’s free entertainment, but every event I’ve attended there has been fantastic.  There’s something about being with people from all over the city, sitting on blankets, enjoying the weather, and listening to some great tunes.  It’s a very unifying experience.  Better yet, every event is sponsored by individuals and businesses in the city which really emphasizes the community aspect of each event.  It’s rare you find fun things to do in a city that are free.  The Levitt Shell brings back opportunities for fun that were a common occurrence for my parents and grandparents.  With movies now at a whopping $10 a ticket, my husband and I rarely make the decision to go.  We’re always looking for unique, fun, and cheap things to do in Memphis with friends.  The Levitt Shell is, and will continue to be, one of those places we hope to enjoy for years to come.  I enjoyed this opportunity to give back to a place that has given me wonderful memories and fun times with friends.

The Levitt Shell would be nothing, though, without sponsors for each event.  Indie Memphis sponsored this event, so I have them to thank for a wonderful night of music.  Through this volunteer opportunity, I was able to learn a little more about what Indie Memphis does and the awesome events they have throughout the year.   They connect and inspire indie filmmakers and film-lovers through the all the unique opportunities they bring to the community.  Thank you Indie Memphis for sharing such a fun documentary with Memphis!

What I learned about myself today: I love being a Memphian.  The people, the environment, the enthusiasm:  all are aspects of Memphis that make it so unique.  I can truly say I’m proud to be a part of the Memphis community.

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Week 11, Day 5: Ann-Katherine at Alzheimer’s Day Services

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I’ve been looking forward to this day ever since Julie and I found out what we would be doing at Alzheimer’s Day Services (ADS).  ADS is a non-profit organization dedicated to serving individuals with dementia and their families.  Each new guest is referred to as a “friend” and they spend time at ADS anywhere from a few days a week to every weekday.  Not only does it give caregivers an opportunity to continue working and take a break from caregiving duties, but it’s also a stimulating environment for each friend.  Activities are meant to keep their brains and bodies active, and provide a safe and fun place to spend the day.

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Today, ADS had their “Senior Prom” and we had the honor of helping to set up and participating in the event.  Upon arrival, we were greeted by the enthusiastic receptionist, Tanya, adorned with sash and tiara.  We then met the Development Director, Jon Burchfield, who was sporting a classy suit and bowtie.  By this point we knew we were going to have a fabulous day.  Jon gave us a mini orientation where he discussed how the facility operates, what all they offer for individuals with dementia and their families, and how to respond appropriately to each of our new friends.  He then proceeded to give us a tour of the building and introduced us to all the staff.  Julie and I were very impressed by how much thought had been given to the arrangement of their facility: fun artwork on the walls, areas for activities, a learning kitchen, a quiet room, a beautiful courtyard, a row of lazy boy chairs for relaxing…they had it all.

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Our first task was to help with decorations for Prom.  We blew up balloons and attached them to strings to hang on the walls; then cut out white paper squares to act as tablecloths.  Once lunch was cleaned up, Julie went around the room and helped spice up the tables with tissue paper flowers.  The Activities Director, Norrell, had his microphone and speakers set up, ready to kick off the event.  Not only was the room set, but each friend was prepared for the fun too! All the women were wearing tiaras and most men had on a suit (SO cute).  Once they were guided to the decorated tables for a seat it was time to for Prom to begin! A few volunteers sang songs before Norrell invited guests to come up and dance.  I was honestly surprised that some of the guests voluntarily got up to dance! For individuals impacted by the unfortunate realities of dementia, it amazed me that some of the guests could dance like they really were at their high school prom.  It had to be one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen.  But what really warmed my heart was the announcement of the Prom King and Queen.  Norrell requested a drumroll as his reached his hand into the hat of names.  The man announced for Prom King had the most priceless face when he heard his name called.  You would have thought he just won the lottery.  He was overcome by so much joy and honor that it brought him to tears.  He just kept saying “Wow! Oh my goodness! Me? Really! Wow!” Every staff and volunteer was touched by his reaction and I definitely got tears in my eyes.  When the Prom Queen was announced, a similar reaction ensued.  At first I don’t think she understood that she had just been named PROM QUEEN.  But after a few staff reiterated “You won! You’re the winner! You’re prom queen!”…she cried too! It was the sweetest moment I have seen in a long time.  There they were, the new prom king and queen, with their sashes and crowns, wiping tears from their eyes. So adorable.  We stayed for a few more songs, passed out refreshments, visited with our new friends, then our volunteer shift was over.

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The Alzheimers Day Center is such a wonderful place for loved ones with dementia.  I know how stressful it has been for my mom ever since my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and I realize how important places like ADS are not only for the caregiver but also for loved ones.  It’s important for the caregiver to be able to resume his or her life in the workplace or to receive a break from caregiving responsibilities a few times a week, but it’s also important that the loved one is in an environment where every ounce of their brain is being stimulated.  At ADS, there are a variety of activities offered for their guests: cooking classes, exercise, bingo, singing, art, and MORE.  Every activity works the brain and helps to slow the memory loss process involved with dementia.

I had such a fulfilling day at ADS and definitely plan to return with friends in the future.

What I learned about myself today: The simplest things in life can bring so much joy.  My new friends are an amazing inspiration and reminder about how the little things in life can mean so much.

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Week 11, Day 4: Ann-Katherine at SRVS

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I’m still smiling about my wonderful day at Shelby Residential and Vocational Services (commonly known as SRVS).  SRVS is a nonprofit organization that provides programs and services for individuals with disabilities and their families.  Some individuals live at home and just go to SRVS during the day.  Some live in residential homes (run by SRVS) with other disabled individuals and a staff member who assists them.  SRVS is available for all ages, but most are middle-aged due to the fact they can go to public high schools until they are 22.  They offer a variety of programs such as employment training, family support, clinical services, and community living.

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As soon as Julie and I sat down with our first group of friends, we knew it was going to be a great day.  We helped the volunteer coordinator, Allison, with her art class who was painting coffee cups to be sold at the Germantown Festival in September.  Each cup would be baked (to set the paint) and a tag would be attached with the picture and name of the person who painted it. So cool! When a few friends were done painting, they started working on little bead projects that were very time consuming.  My new friend LaQuita reminded me multiple times that it was going to take us forever to finish hers.  Julie and her friend Tommy were working on one as well and they were having just as difficult of a time getting their beads to stay on the board.  When we finally finished, Allison placed wax paper over them and ironed them until the beads melted together.  LaQuita had hers made into a necklace, and Tommy’s became a keychain.  Although they took forever to complete, the outcome turned out great!  They were very proud to show off their melted bead projects when we ran into them again at lunch.

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After art, Julie and I joined in on a class in the Learn Center.  I sat with a young man named Clifton, and he seriously made my day.  He immediately stated that we would be best friends and expressed to me how much he loves Mountain Dew.  He was pretty disappointed to hear that I was not a Mountain Dew lover like he was.  He had been in the process of writing a story about a snapping turtle when I arrived, so we finished up the story and drew a few pictures to go along with it.  I could have chatted with Clifton all day long.  He was so full of expression and really just loves everyone.  Before he headed to lunch, he reminded me that I was his best friend and then gave me a hug.

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We then moved on to help another class that appeared to have friends with more severe disabilities than the last class.  I helped my new friend Ernest finish a puzzle while Julie helped her friend Richard string some pasta-shaped beads onto string.  Both Ernest and Richard amazed me.  They were so quiet and pensive when they were doing an activity, but then they would become so full of life with smiles and laughs whenever they found something funny.  Neither of them were very verbal and both had difficulty with hand coordination and walking, yet they seemed so happy to be spending the day with their friends.  We followed the class to lunch before moving on to the teaching kitchen.

In the teaching kitchen, we met back up with our friends from art class and watched them make chocolate chip muffins.  The kitchen has an area with a stove and oven that is surrounded by counter space where everyone can participate in meal preparation and cooking.  Each of our friends got to pour water into the muffin mix, shake the container with all the ingredients, spray the muffin sheet, and pour the batter.  Tomorrow they get to eat the muffins for snack!

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I could go on and on about my day at SRVS because I really just loved it that much.  It truly is a wonderful place and it makes me SO happy to know it exists.  Families of individuals with special needs go through many moments of stress and anxiety over the years.  There are so many factors to be considered that most families never think much about: What schools have a special ed program? Will they have the ability to work? Will they live with me forever? What happens when I’m gone? Do I ever get a break? I’ve worked with a girl with special needs named Annie for about two and a half years; helping teach her new communication skills and providing her parents with respite care when needed.  One of her mom’s big questions is what will Annie do when she finishes high school in a few years.  Spending the day at SRVS made me so excited about the possibility of Annie being a part of their program in the future.  These families want to know that their loved one is being cared for, learning new things, and feeling happy.  At SRVS they are just that! I definitely plan to return to SRVS in the near future when I can.

What I learned about myself today: I LOVE the special needs population.  I actually already knew that about myself, but this experience just affirmed those feelings.  They have hearts of gold and so much love to give.

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Week 11, Day 3: Ann-Katherine at Hospitality Hub

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Today on my Volunteer Odyssey, Julie and I had the opportunity to spend some time with the wonderful volunteers and guests of the Hospitality Hub.  I’ve seen the agency’s name posted around my church before, but I never knew their mission.  Hospitality Hub is literally a “hub” for homeless to go for assistance in meeting their needs.  New homeless guests meet with a volunteer counselor to receive an intake assessment, help identify needs, and discuss possible solutions in the Memphis community.  Each guest has a certain day of the week they can return to speak with their counselor, but they can return other days to use the phone or computers.  The Hub offers assistance for 90 days, with the goal that each individual will be off the streets and working by the time the 90 days are up.

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Julie and I folding brochures for all the new guests

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With Mike, one of the volunteer counselors

Julie and I were able to sit in on a few assessments and offer any additional suggestions and advice we had to share.  Although I definitely wasn’t the expert when it came to assisting the guests, I really enjoyed seeing their process unfold and learning about job and housing options in the community.  You can tell the volunteers truly care about the welfare of each person they meet.  One man I met, Charles, has had a difficult time finding a job since he has a felony on his record from 10 years ago.  The Hub is aware of most of the opportunities in Memphis that hire individuals with felony charges.  It’s unfortunate that an incident so long ago can impact a person’s ability to be hired, but it’s a struggle that many homeless have experienced.  Organizations like the Hub are so instrumental in connecting these individuals with employers, and they can identify options in a fraction of the time it would take each person to search and apply until someone says “you’re hired.” Luckily for Charles, he had an interview later today for a temporary position that he hoped would give him a chance.

Listening to Charles tell his story.

Having a social work background, it really excites me to see an outreach agency making such impactful changes for the Memphis community.  It pains me to see so many people on the streets, and there are some who just need a little guidance to get their feet back on the ground.  For someone to sit down with them and spend a little time assessing their situation and discussing options, means the world to them.  It warmed my heart to see how confident Charles felt about his interview today after his assessment.  He knew that even if he was not offered the position, Hospitality Hub was committed to finding him another option.

It was another great day with Volunteer Odyssey.  I’m loving every opportunity to expand my Memphis resource directory!

What I learned about myself today: I can really help someone in need by just sharing my knowledge with them.  I take for granted knowing how to set up an email account or create a resume.  Although they seem like such simple tasks to me, sharing that knowledge can make a world of difference for someone who was never taught it.

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With the wonderful volunteers and staff at the Hub

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Week 11, Day 2: Ann-Katherine at Project Outreach

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My day with Project Outreach started bright and early (6:20 to be exact)!  I was joined in this adventure by Sarah (Founder of Volunteer Odyssey) and our friend Lauren Ready who helped take pictures and video during the day.  We made our way to the Collierville Walmart parking lot where we met up with the other excited volunteers.  Project Outreach is a ministry committed to the support and empowerment of the poor in Fayette County.  Most of the volunteers we met in the parking lot were from Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church, where Project Outreach began its mission.  The group’s leader, Shona Moore, prepared us for what the day had in store before we caravanned over to Fayette County.

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Project Outreach began through the efforts of a woman named Sister Elaine Wicks.  Sister Elaine was a Franciscan Sister who responded (with other sisters) to a bishop’s appeal to set up a health care facility in Fayette County.  At this facility, she saw other needs in the area and decided to devote her time and energy to providing food, clothing, and support to this rural community. Twice a month the Project provides supplemental groceries to families, and school supplies are provided for children before the start of the school year.  Thanksgiving and Christmas are the busiest outreach days because larger items such as toys, clothing, and turkeys are donated for the families.  Sister Elaine elicited the help from a fellow parishioner, Shona Moore, who helped grow the project into what it is today.  Before Sister Elaine passed away, she asked Shona to continue its mission…and she has!

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Clothes were passed out in addition to all the new school supplies. It amazed me how much was donated!

After setting up all the school supplies, clothing and books in an organized fashion, a local volunteer leader named Janet led the volunteers and residents in a heart-warming prayer of thanksgiving.  She then explained how the morning would go and commenced the start of the project.  Lauren, Sarah, and I were assigned to a table for college students.  Students who turned in an application for a scholarship prior to today were given a $50 scholarship check and a bag of school supplies.  Any extra bags were given to college students who did not fill out an application for a scholarship.  I felt honored to pass out these scholarships and witness their steps toward future success.  Even though the scholarships were very small, you could tell they felt honored to receive them and proud to show off their acceptance letter or class schedule.

I was truly impressed by the amount of young adults in the community who had plans for college.  One girl we spoke to was about to start her last semester of college at UT Martin, and would be graduating in December with a degree in Psychology.  She also had plans to pursue her Masters after graduation!  For an area with so much poverty and a very small number of college graduates, this young lady was definitely making great strides for her community.  I also met a lady who was there to pick up supplies for her two college aged grandchildren.  She told me she raised both of her grandchildren since they were very young, and although they both were able to acquire student loans for college, she was spending her own money to pay for any other expenses involved in their education.  All the extra costs have added up to a lot for her to spend; yet she does it with joy because she knows what college means for their future.  Such a self-less woman and a great example of the gracious hearts in Fayette County.

I truly enjoyed this experience with Project Outreach and would LOVE to return for one of their holiday projects.

What I learned about myself today: I am thankful for every blessing in my life, but my education is by far one of the most important.  It has contributed to who I am and opened the door to many opportunities that I would not have had otherwise.  Outreach that promotes academic advancement is so vital for communities like Fayette County.

With all the college school supply bags!

With all the college school supply bags!

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Week 11, Day 1: Ann-Katherine at Catholic Charities Food Pantry

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My Volunteer Odyssey has begun!   I was super excited to start this week, and what makes it even better is the addition of my wonderful friend Julie Platten.  She will be sharing most of this week’s experiences with me and assisting as my personal photographer when opportunities allow.

We started off the week at the Catholic Charities Fig Tree Food Pantry.  I know Catholic Charities offers a variety of services to support the needs of the Memphis community, but I was unfamiliar with their food pantry before today.  Upon arrival, we were instantly greeted by the incredible volunteers who run the food pantry each week.  It always warms my heart to know there are committed individuals who freely give of their time each week for those in need.  It’s easy for someone (like me) to volunteer a few hours here or there, but to be dedicated to a particular mission of service each week is really admirable.  Melinda, our volunteer contact, gave us a tour of the facility and explained the food distribution process for whenever a guest (or family) arrives.  The food pantry recently moved into their current building and the change was HUGE.  They used to serve completely out of one small room, and now they are in a facility about 10 times the size.  More space = more food = more families = more impact =AWESOME.  It definitely excites me that they have been able to grow and meet the needs of more Memphians.

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The Fig Tree Food Pantry stocks their shelves through donations or by purchasing discounted food items from the Mid-South Food Bank.  Each individual or family is referred by another organization such as MIFA, the Hospitality Hub, Red Cross, or Friends for Life.  When they arrive, they receive a variety of canned goods, frozen meats, breads, and snacks.  The amount of food they receive is based on the number of members in each family, and guests are only supposed to come once a month in order to provide for more families and prevent overload.

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Every person we met was so grateful for all the food pantry was able to provide.  I could not imagine what it would be like to wonder how I was going to feed my family or where my food would come from each week.  I would assume those thoughts have crossed the minds of most the guests I met today…yet every person left with words of thanks and a smiling face.  Every volunteer was so eager to meet the needs of each guests, and you could see how difficult it was for them when they couldn’t fulfill every expressed need.

I really enjoyed my time with Catholic Charities today.  I felt like I was able to truly witness some of the incredible things they are doing for our community.  This week, my husband has challenged me to end each day with identifying something I learned about myself through my volunteer experience.

What I learned about myself today: I hope that one day my life allows me to spend most of my week committed to volunteering for an organization I am passionate about.

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Prelude: Ann-Katherine Stukenborg

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For as long as I can remember I have felt a calling to serve others, but always struggled to figure out in what capacity I would do this. I received my undergraduate degree in Child and Family Development from the University of Georgia, with the idea that I would pursue some sort of counseling degree after graduation. As graduation approached, I realized I may not want to be a counselor every day and was nervous about being on such a set career path. I decided on a Master’s degree in Social Work because I knew I would have the option to do clinical work if I wanted, but it would also open up opportunities to work in a variety of environments assisting others with needs and providing therapeutic support…things I enjoyed doing anyways! Through a 3 week volunteer opportunity in Peru and some local community service experiences, I have developed a love for community work and helping with sustainable improvements for areas in need. DSCN7667

I married my husband, John, last October and we’ve really been loving every aspect of married life. Since graduating in May, I have had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with family and friends and experience new adventures in Memphis with John. Though the job search has been a bit exhausting, I know the right position will come along soon. I would love to work with children and families in some capacity, but right now I am really open to any social work opportunity that will help me develop my “helping” skills. I’m looking forward to new experiences during my Odyssey week, and all the new connections I will make with those who lead each agency.

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