Epilogue: Ellen Bermudez

I am so fortunate to have gotten to participate in Volunteer Odyssey so quickly after moving to Memphis. It was such a great introduction to all the good work being done in this community and to the many people who make it all happen. At each volunteer site the theme was resoundingly similar: restoring people’s dignity. In some cases it was the homeless or hungry being provided a hand up, in others the elderly or disabled practicing developmental skills and lastly, the economically disadvantaged gaining valuable job skills. We all feel better when we feel we have something to do and something to contribute.

Volunteer Odyssey did in fact prove witness of the many people in Memphis who use their free time to contribute to the betterment of our community. Each day I saw volunteers who regularly dedicated their time to serve others. Hospitality Hub’s engine is run by volunteers who routinely show up at 9:00AM several times a week to meet with the homeless and connect them with appropriate services for their situation. Advance Memphis provides lunch to all of their adult students every day there is class through people who are willing to cook or buy a meal enough to serve 30 people. Catholic Charities’ volunteers travel to Jackson, TN on a regular basis to provide food to an immigrant population.

These amazing volunteers were a huge part of my experience during my odyssey. It is proof of the age old adage that “the world is an evil place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.” (I think that particular version of that saying was given to us by Albert Einstein.) If each good person made a regular commitment to make the world a better place, evil would dwindle in the light of good. In the process, volunteering not only enhances a community, it also informs and shapes one’s outlook on life. It particularly helps me see that people who are in situations that I am unfamiliar with and seem so different from me are actually a lot more like me than I realize: a human wanting something to do and something to contribute.

995424_541637665897679_489507650_n

Week 9, Day 7: Dorothy Day House of Hospitality

Visiting a family at the Dorothy Day House of Hospitality (DDHH) was a relaxing way to end an odyssey that was full of adventure. Walking into the Dorothy Day House of Hospitality on a Sunday evening is immediately calming. The smell of coffee was wafting through the house when Sister Maureen greeted me at the back door. I brought a pie to share for dessert that I was afraid wouldn’t be thawed in time to eat. When I shared my fear with her she just smiled and said it would be just fine. She was right.

The charming facade of the Dorothy Day House is just a hint of the architectural features within.

Sister Maureen is the sole employee of DDHH aside from a part-time assistant who helps her. Her investment and dedication to the families who benefit from DDHH’s services became immediately apparent when she invited me to sit down in the living area of the house and she shared with me the mission and history of DDHH. She told me some of the stories about the many families who have lived in the home. True to the name, the home is inspired by Dorothy Day, who believed that it is not the job of the church or government to take care of people – she believed people should take care of people.

Families who live in the Dorothy Day House of Hospitality were previously homeless. The causes for loss of shelter are diverse: underemployment, generational poverty, and catastrophes that have catapulted them into difficult economic circumstances. Families are provided with integral care from a room in the home, clothing, food, educational opportunities, financial literacy counseling, parenting classes, prospective job contacts, help with locating permanent housing, etc… In short, being accepted at the DDHH, is one of the most fortunate opportunities a homeless family can have in Memphis.

Tonight I thoroughly enjoyed sharing pie (that was thankfully not frozen) with a family currently staying at DDHH. I learned about what they like to do and some of their hopes and aspirations. They were the definition of southern etiquette – I have never been “yes ma’ammed” so much in my life. They had two young, adorable children that couldn’t be more thrilled playing and laughing in the house. It gave me such peace to see a family that was suffering from lack of shelter, being cared for so completely.

Dorothy Day was right – it’s up to us to take care of each other. And in doing so one experiences the peace, laughter and joy that I experienced tonight at DDHH.

 

El resumen en español:

Visitar a una familia en el “Dorothy Day House of Hospitality (DDHH)” fue una manera relajante para terminar una odisea llena de aventuras. Entrar al Hogar de Hospitalidad Dorothy Day (DDHH) un domingo por la noche fue un calmante inmediato. El olor a café llenaba los aires del hogar cuando la Hermana Maureen me recibió en la puerta trasera. Yo llevaba conmigo un pastel para compartir durante el postre y me preocupaba que este no fuera a descongelarse a tiempo para comerlo. Cuando compartí mi temor con ella, sólo sonrío y me dijo que iba a estar bien. Ella tenía razón.

La Hermana Maureen es la única empleada del DDHH aparte de una asistente de tiempo parcial que le ayuda. Su inversión y dedicación a las familias que se benefician de los servicios del DDHH se volvieron visibles inmediatamente cuando ella me invitó a sentarme en la sala del hogar y compartió conmigo la misión y la historia del DDHH. Ella me contó algunas historias de las muchas familias que han vivido en el hogar. Haciendo honor a su nombre, el hogar es inspirado por Dorothy Day, quién creía que no es el trabajo de la iglesia o el gobierno de cuidar a las personas – ella creía las personas deberían de cuidar a las personas.

Familias que viven en el DDHH previamente se encontraban sin hogar. Las causas de la pérdida de amparo eran diversas: desempleo, pobreza generacional y catástrofes que las han catapultado a circunstancias económicas difíciles. Las familias que pueden recibir ayuda del DDHH son provistas con un cuidado integral desde una habitación en el hogar, ropa, comida, oportunidades educacionales, consejería financiera, clases para padres, contactos de prospectos laborales, ayuda para localizar un hogar permanente, etc… En resumen, ser aceptado en el DDHH es una de las oportunidades más fortuitas que una familia desamparada puede encontrar en Memphis.

Esta noche, yo disfrute en grande compartir un pastel (que afortunadamente no estaba congelado) con una familia que se encuentra actualmente hospedada en el DDHH. Yo aprendí acerca de sus gustos y algunas de sus esperanzas y aspiraciones. Ellos eran la definición de la educación sureña – Yo nunca había recibido tantos “Sí Señoras” en mi vida. Ellos tenían dos chicos adorables que no pudieron haber estado más felices jugando y gozando en ese hogar. Me dio mucha paz ver a una familia que sufría de falta de amparo, estar siendo cuidada completamente.

Dorothy Day tenía razón – es algo que nos concierne a todos cuidar unos de otros. Y al hacer eso, llega la paz, gozo y risas que yo experimenté en el DDHH.

——————————————————————————————————————————————————
——————————————————————————————————————————————————
If you like our work, please consider making a contribution to keep it going!
Want the insider story and more pictures? Connect with us on Facebook and Twitter!
——————————————————————————————————————————————————
——————————————————————————————————————————————————

Week 9, Day 6: Ellen at “The Bridge” Street Paper

995424_541637665897679_489507650_n

 

Today’s volunteer experience was particularly difficult for me. I helped man a booth at the Cooper-Young Farmer’s Market where vendors were selling “The Bridge” – a newspaper written by and/or about the homeless of Memphis. Its intention is to bridge the gap between those without shelter with those who have a home, raise awareness of homelessness in Memphis and provide an income for the vendors of the $1.00 publication who are, in fact, homeless.

998511_541637422564370_1121795788_n

I sat and chatted today with two vendors, one of the directors of “The Bridge,” (a remarkable 18-year old college student) and another volunteer with a determined dedication to help the homeless. Time flew as we all sat and got to know one another when we weren’t encouraging folks to stop by the booth and learn what “The Bridge” is all about. But as I got to know one of the vendors, “Pepsi Kid,” (he prefers this nickname and also requested I reference him by this name for my blog), I found myself trying to conceal tears squeezing out of the sides of my eyes. I surprised myself when I had this reaction. I’ve accumulated about six years working with poor families in struggling communities. I have invested long hours meditating on how to balance compassion and courage with acceptance. But when “Pepsi Kid” told me about his day-to-day life and struggles, an irrational bleeding heart mentality that I thought I had grown out of desperately wanted to emerge. Did he want to come by my house and take a shower? Could we cook him a big, healthy meal? I quieted those thoughts and mentally slapped my irrationality across the face as I continued listening.

267224_541637585897687_121569538_n

 

 

 

 

1000491_541637589231020_546264287_n

So I did just that: continued listening to real life stories about homelessness. The other vendor, “J”, and “Pepsi Kid” would talk about sleeping spots, places to get a meal, and how to obtain birth certificates. We also shared fun moments and laughter while talking about movies we liked, hobbies and things we’d like to do one day. “Pepsi Kid,” would like to have a family and is looking forward to an article he wrote being published in the September issue of “The Bridge.”

995424_541637665897679_489507650_n

I know that tonight as I reflect on my experience, “J” is at the shelter where he stays and “Pepsi Kid,” who doesn’t like to stay in shelters, is looking for a clean, hidden spot to sleep somewhere in downtown Memphis. That’s hard to accept after spending three hours getting to know them. I hope it is also hard to accept for the seventy people who bought “The Bridge” today. When offered the perspective of what life is like without a shelter, it changes hearts and affects perceptions. I extend my admiration to the students of Rhodes College who initiated this project in Memphis and are providing a way for the homeless to share with the sheltered, as well as make a small income. I also admire the homeless who are putting themselves in the public eye to sell a publication to people who often would rather pretend they don’t exist. It is our chance as “the sheltered” on the other side of “the bridge,” to reflect on how we perceive homelessness and what we can do in response. The causes and appropriate responses are complex, but taking up the challenge to reflect on it is 100% worth it. Buying an issue of “The Bridge” from a vendor is the perfect first step.

 

El resumen en español:

Hoy fue el día más impactante de mi odisea. Estuve ayudando a vender un periódico que se llama “The Bridge” que vale $1.00 y está escrito por y/o acerca de personas desamparadas. Yo pase tres horas con dos vendedores del periódico, quienes son hombres sin hogar. Ellos reciben las ganancias de sus ventas.

Hubo un momento en que tuve que esconder las lágrimas que querían salir de las esquinas de mis ojos mientras me estaban contando acerca de sus vidas. Esta reacción mía me sorprendió mucho. Tengo años de experiencia trabajando con familias pobres. He invertido mucho tiempo en meditar como balancear compasión y coraje con la habilidad de aceptar. Un lado de mi persona irracional quería escapar e invitar a los hombres a mi casa para bañarse y comer. Mentalmente yo pegue una cachetada a mi irracionalidad y me quede callada escuchando acerca de la realidad de ser desamparado.

Yo sé que hoy en la noche unos de los hombres que no le gusta dormir en los refugios está buscando un lugar limpio y escondido para descansar en el centro de Memphis. El otro ya está en el refugio. Eso es muy difícil aceptar después de pasar tres horas con ellos. Espero que sea difícil aceptar también para las setenta personas que hoy compraron “The Bridge.” Cuando uno está enfrentado con la perspectiva de cómo sería estar sin hogar, nuestros corazones y puntos de vistas son afectados y cambiarán. Admiro mucho a los vendedores por salir en el ojo público para intentar ganarse la vida en un mundo que prefiere que no existieran. Es nuestra oportunidad como los que tenemos hogar en el otro lado del puente de reflexionar acerca de la realidad de las personas desamparadas y cómo podemos responder en una forma constructiva. Las causas y las respuestas son complejas, pero tomar el reto de meditar sobre el asunto vale la pena 100%. Comprar “The Bridge” de un vendedor es el primer paso perfecto.

—————————————————————————————————————————————————
If you like our work, please consider making a contribution to keep it going!
Want the insider story and more pictures? Connect with us on Facebook and Twitter!
——————————————————————————————————————————————————
——————————————————————————————————————————————————

Week 9, Day 5: Ellen at SRVS

photo

SRVS (pronounced serves) is an amazing organization dedicated to the development, learning and growth of adults with disabilities. Volunteering today at SRVS’ learning center affirmed two things for me:

1) I would love to study some sort of therapy one day that helps people discover the many things they are capable of accomplishing.

2) Personal growth paired with fun and laughter is the essence of life.

After four and half years of living and working with impoverished communities in Nicaragua I came across various cases of both adults and children with developmental disabilities. For individuals with disabilities who live in rural areas of the country there are few resources available to assist them in their development. As a result, their days are often spent sitting around. Culturally they might be seen as “sick” or incapable and therefore unable to contribute to their homes and/or communities. It was something that saddened me and which I had no idea how to respond to seeing as I have little experience working with disabled individuals.

photo

Chris and I are all smiles after a successful counting activity

This is the reason that for the past year I have been playing with the idea of one day studying some area of occupational therapy. I would love to be a part of providing support to individuals with disabilities who are part of communities with little or no access to learning and developmental opportunities.

One morning at SRVS affirmed how important it is to provide such opportunities. Allison, the wonderful volunteer coordinator at SRVS who showed me the ropes, explained how families observe growth in their loved ones who attend SRVS. They have seen them engage more in day to day activities and become more talkative. It is evident to me that their growth is directly attributed to the fun and busy schedule SRVS offers to those who attend their learning center. Every classroom and activity area is set up Montessori style so that the participants are able to initiate which types of activities they want to do.  I had a blast doing puzzles with Earnest, playing catch with Roselyn and Patrick, and counting with Chris. I saw people out watering plants in the sensory garden and others excitedly anticipating art class where they would make colorful pillows.

Rosalyn would dance and sing after every catch. (and demand that I join her!)

Rosalyn would dance and sing after every catch. (and demand that I join her!)

It may sound corny, but SRVS is just a really happy place to be. Around every corner you see people learning, playing and laughing. It is with incredible patience that every staff member and volunteer walks alongside the participants as they develop their abilities and it is evident how much they care about their vocation at the learning center. I left SRVS feeling refreshed and more inspired to obtain the training needed so that I may one day contribute to the lives of those with disabilities and more determined to be like the SRVS participants who I met today: laugh a lot, smile and enjoy all aspects of personal growth and development.

Puzzles with Earnest

Puzzles with Earnest

 

El resumen en español:

SRVS es una organización dedicada al desarrollo, aprendizaje y crecimiento de adultos discapacitados.  Pasar un día en el centro de aprendizaje como voluntaria me afirmo dos cosas:

1)      Que me gustaría sacar una preparación trabajando con individuos discapacitados.

2)      El crecimiento personal junto con  diversión y risas es la esencia de la vida.

Después de trabajar 4 años y medio en comunidades pobres en Nicaragua encontré varios casos de ambos niños y adultos discapacitados. Por falta de acceso a centros o escuelas para personas discapacitadas junto con la cultura que ve a las personas así como enfermas o  incapaces, a veces las personas discapacitadas pasan sus días sentadas sin hacer mucho. Muchas veces no pueden contribuir a las tareas diarias en la casa ni en su comunidad. Cuando encontré casos así me dio mucha tristeza por no saber cómo responder. Tengo muy poca experiencia trabajando con individuos discapacitados.

Por esta razón he estado pensando en estudiar un tipo de terapia ocupacional. Me encantaría brindar apoyo para individuos discapacitados con poco o ningún acceso a oportunidades para aprendizaje continuo desarrollo personal.

Una mañana sirviendo con SRVS me confirmo la importancia de estas oportunidades. Los participantes de SRVS están en aulas llenas de diferentes actividades para que ellos mismos escojan lo que quieren hacer. Todas las actividades animan a su desarrollo. Disfruté tirar la pelota con Roselyn y Patrick, contar con Chris, y hacer unos rompecabezas con Earnest. Yo vi a los participantes de SRVS regando el jardín sensorial  y anticipando con mucha emoción participar en la clase de arte en la cual harían almohadas de muchos colores.

Yo sé que suena algo cursi pero SRVS es simplemente un lugar gozoso para estar. En cada esquina que uno dobla puede ver a personas riendo, jugando y aprendiendo. Cada miembro del staff y los voluntarios tienen mucha paciencia mientras caminan al lado de los participantes de SRVS. Es muy claro que ellos quieren mucho a su ocupación en el centro de aprendizaje. Yo salí hoy refrescada y aún más inspirada a estudiar una carrera en la cual yo pueda apoyar a individuos discapacitadas y también decidida a ser más como los participantes en el centro de aprendizaje de SRVS: reír mucho, sonreír y disfrutar cada aspecto del desarrollo y crecimiento personal.

—————————————————————————————————————————————————
If you like our work, please consider making a contribution to keep it going!
Want the insider story and more pictures? Connect with us on Facebook and Twitter!
——————————————————————————————————————————————————
——————————————————————————————————————————————————

Week 9, Day 4: Ellen at Catholic Charities

photo

What a fun morning! Today I got to speak Spanish and be a part of putting smiles on faces. For me that’s a formula for an excellent volunteer opportunity. The moment I arrived to The Ascension Church where Catholic Charities was hosting a mobile food pantry for Hispanic families, I was greeted by about the nicest people you’ll ever meet. A group of volunteers were out sweating on a hot day, loading groceries and giving hugs and sharing “God Bless you’s” as they helped people pack up their food.

cc church

Sign at the church hosting the mobile food pantry. “Our Lady of Guadalupe Sanctuary”

The volunteers pack the food for the mobile food pantry with food from the MIFA food bank a day or two before the mobile food pantry takes place. They were thrilled that this time MIFA had fresh fruits and veggies. Families are identified through partner churches that are familiar with families most in need of food assistance in their area. Catholic Charities works with many immigrant populations who face language and cultural barriers on a daily basis. I would guess that these families would have very few other means to be connected to such services without Catholic Charities’ fantastic outreach work.

photo

Catholic Charities’ volunteers

These families suffer from food insecurity for what I am sure is a variety of reasons. The relief was written on the face of each recipient family as they received provisions: for at least one week the pantry will be stocked.  The hugs they gave us were sincere and heart-felt. For me it was especially gratifying to be able to link communication between the volunteers and food recipients, but even more so to know that there are such caring individuals in the Memphis area looking after the most basic need of nutrition for a population that is often disconnected from daily community life.

photo

En español:

Que mañana más divertida! Hoy día tuve la oportunidad de hablar en Español y poder ser parte de colocar sonrisas en algunos rostros. Para mí esa es una  fórmula para una excelente oportunidad de ser voluntaria. En el momento que llegue a la Iglesia de la Asunción donde Caridades Católicas estaba siendo anfitriona de una entrega de comida móvil para la población hispana, yo fui recibida por la gente más amable que alguien puede conocer. Un grupo  de voluntarios estaba sudando en un día caluroso, cargando comida y dando abrazos y compartiendo “Dios les bendiga” a medida que ayudaban a las personas empacar su comida.

Los voluntarios empacan la comida para la entrega móvil con productos del banco de comida de MIFA con un día o dos de anticipación. Los voluntarios estaban emocionados que en esta ocasión MIFA tenía fruta fresca y vegetales. Las familias fueron identificadas a través de iglesias que están relacionadas con aquellas que están en mayor necesidad en su área. Caridades Católicas trabajan con tantas poblaciones inmigrantes quienes tienen que enfrentarse con barreras lingüísticas y culturales día a día. Yo me imagino que estas familias tienen muy pocas otras oportunidades de estar conectadas a servicios parecidos sin el fantástico trabajo de Caridades Católicas.

Yo creo que estas familias sufren de inseguridad de comida por una variedad de razones. El alivio estaba escrito en el rostro de cada familia cuando recibían sus provisiones: por lo menos comida que les durará una semana. Los abrazos que nos daban eran sinceros y de sus corazones. Para mí fue una experiencia especialmente gratificante por tener la habilidad de ser un enlace de comunicación entre los recipientes y los voluntarios, pero aún más para conocer a las personas amorosas que cuidan la necesidad más básica de nutrición para  una población que esta desconectada de la vida diaria de la comunidad muchas veces.

photo2

—————————————————————————————————————————————————
If you like our work, please consider making a contribution to keep it going!
Want the insider story and more pictures? Connect with us on Facebook and Twitter!
——————————————————————————————————————————————————
——————————————————————————————————————————————————

 

Week 9, Day 3: Ellen at Advance Memphis

z MAPS 2

38126 – I can’t say I have ever been to this area in Memphis until today.  I learned today that this zip code was ranked the third poorest area in the entire nation in 1999. The symptoms that often accompany impoverished neighborhoods are still present today: large unemployment, crime, low graduation rates and high infant mortality rates.

 Advance Memphis was established to economically revitalize the neighborhood. They offer programs to those who live in the 38126 zip code to help them recognize their gifts, become financially stable, and responsible stewards of their resources. They work under a Christian framework and therefore Biblical perspectives are woven into their classes.

untitled

What I particularly appreciate about Advance Memphis is that its model challenges the way we all do and think about business. Their Biblical perspective is that we are all given gifts to be used for work, but also to be shared and to serve others and God. It gave me pause to reflect on the capitalist society we live in that pushes businesses to make as much profit as possible at any expense. Sharing and serving are not really woven into that mindset. Is that really a healthy way to sustain our communities? Would Memphis be all-around a better place if more companies and businesses in the community recognized that we are home to one of the poorest zip codes in the nation and pitched in, perhaps through partnering with Advance Memphis, to offer training and employment opportunities? If business decisions were based on making its local community an overall better place, would the world have less neighborhoods plagued by unemployment and crime? I know business-savvy people might respond by saying that isn’t the function of a business, but that’s what I loved about Advance Memphis. It challenged me to think about things differently and imagine a world where everyone was more generous with their gifts, including businesses.

38126

Today at Advance Memphis I got to be part of two MAPS sessions. This was really fun. My role was that of graphic facilitator – meaning I drew stick figures. When a participant is ready to do a MAPS session, they are about half way through with the “Jobs for Life” program where job skills such as interview prep, the importance of punctuality, work ethic, etc… are taught. The MAPS session provides a time where the participants’ gifts and dreams are first explored. Then, the participant creates an action plan in which she determines her next steps in order to achieve her dreams. It is all illustrated on a giant piece of chart paper in which yours truly drew representations of stories and gifts of the participants all over it. It was neat to see such a big sheet of paper representing the positive assets and dreams of an individual.  A road map for success is visually laid in front of them.

z MAPS 1

Both of the women I got to work with today had some pretty amazing accomplishments. One had won a public speaking contest after having been known as quiet. Once she delved into history and the civil rights movement she found something she was passionate about sharing. The other woman I drew for has been sacrificially giving of herself to both the elderly and young children, whether they are family members or a neighbor in need. After these talented women graduate from the Jobs for Life program they can enroll in the Faith and Finances program where they learn about responsible budgeting   – a useful skill for anyone living in any zip code!

Want to share your gifts? In each program participants are paired with a volunteer who serves as a source of moral encouragement. They are called Champions or Allies depending on the program. As a Champion or Ally you are able to encourage an individual as they seek to establish financial independence. Thanks to Advance Memphis’ intensive research and effective curriculum paired with their passion for positive change they are seeing 38126’s determined individuals establish financial stability each year! Advance Memphis is proof that when people are given the opportunity to receive support, encouragement and the tools needed to improve their own situation they will take it and run.

z MAPS 2

 

El resumen en español:

38126: El código postal del área conocida como la tercer zona más pobre de la nación en 1999. No conocía esta zona hasta hoy. Fui a Advance Memphis, una organización dedicada a revitalizar la comunidad económicamente. Es cristiana y así trabaja bajo principios bíblicos para enseñar clases de preparación para trabajos y manejar sus finanzas personales.

Yo tuve la oportunidad de trabajar en una sesión de  MAPs en la cual una participante del programa “Trabajos Por Vida” tiene la oportunidad de explorar sus dones y sus sueños. Fue impresionante ver los logros y aspiraciones de las dos mujeres con quien hice el ejercicio. Para mí fue una experiencia única porque yo tenía la tarea de dibujar representaciones de los sueños y habilidades. Las mujeres ya han logrado hacer cosas muy extraordinarias en sus vidas. Ahora ya saben que son muy capaces de lograr sus sueños!

Lo que me gusto más de Advance Memphis es la forma en cómo perciben a los negocios.  El punto de vista de ellos es que todos tenemos dones y habilidades que sí, son para trabajar, pero también para servir a los demás y a Dios. Me dio una pausa de pensar que si todos los negocios del mundo pensaran así, tuviéramos un mundo con menos comunidades sufriendo. Quitaríamos el enfoque en ganancias y lo pondríamos en construir comunidades más sanas y justas.

Quiere compartir sus dones? Puede servir como un mentor con unos de los participantes en los programas de Advance Memphis.  Advance Memphis es la prueba que si las personas reciben la oportunidad de recibir ánimo, apoyo, consejos positivos y las herramientas necesarias para mejorar su propia situación, ellos la tomarán y lo lograrán!

 

—————————————————————————————————————————————————
If you like our work, please consider making a contribution to keep it going!
Want the insider story and more pictures? Connect with us on Facebook and Twitter!
——————————————————————————————————————————————————
——————————————————————————————————————————————————

Week 9, Day 2: Ellen at Alzheimer’s Day Services of Memphis

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Today I had the privilege of volunteering at both of the Alzheimer’s Day Services (ADS) of Memphis day centers doing pet therapy with one of my dogs! Upon arrival at their Dorothy’s Place day center, I was greeted by Development Director, Jon Burchfield. Jon and the whole ADS staff all seem so genuinely invested in creating an environment for those they serve that is both comfortable and engaging; a place where family members can know that their loved ones are being treated with dignity and respect and also alleviates the stress of full-time caregiving. A variety of activities and exercises are thoughtfully structured throughout the day that help maintain fine and gross motor coordination, physical fitness as well as cognitive functioning. Jon explained to me that these exercises can help lengthen the amount of time before more severe effects of Alzheimer’s set-in.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After Jon gave me a brief orientation of ADS, Cashew (my 85 lb. lab mix who’s a big teddy bear) and I went to go meet our new friends. They were in the middle of an activity called “Music Memories” – a time for listening to and singing along with songs that I presume were popular during their youth. Some leaned back in their chairs with their eyes closed enjoying the music while others sang along word for word from their song books. Cashew and I walked around visiting. Some people were a little apprehensive of Cashew at first while others smiled and put their hands out to pet him.  Initially Cashew was a little nervous surrounded by so many new people. After a while though both Cashew and our new friends realized neither party were liable to be harmful and enjoyed each other’s company.  For a little entertainment Cashew and I danced to the music as he jumped on command to be my dancing partner.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Afterwards we headed to the Grashot center where we found our new friends playing bingo.  Cashew had warmed up to the idea of meeting a bunch of new people  by the time we got there and was happy to gently approach people while they played. Some shrieked with excitement when Cashew entered the room and couldn’t get enough of him. One woman I think would have been content to have pet him for hours and Cashew gladly obliged. In the end, Cashew had people waiting to interact with him, reaching out their hands, signaling for him to come receive their love.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As we made the rounds it was so gratifying to see how much happiness a dog can bring. Dogs don’t see Alzheimer’s, disabilities, or illnesses – just people who are willing to pet them and in return  provide kisses, affection, and care. It was such a joy for me that my big, sweet dog was able to be a small part of the terrific services that the ADS centers provide on a daily basis. I hope Cashew was able to bring something special to our new friends’ day.

 

El resumen en español:

Hoy mi perro y yo tuvimos el placer de ir a dos centros diurnos de Alzheimer Day Services (ADS) de Memphis para ser parte de su programa de terapia de mascotas. En este lugar tan lindo las personas con Alzheimer’s pueden ir a pasar al día participando en actividades estructuradas con mucho propósito. A través de las actividades ellos tienen la oportunidad de mantener sus habilidades cognitivas y  desarrollar su forma física. Es un gran alivio para la familia de los que van al centro  saber que además de que hay actividades todo el día, también sus seres queridos serán tratados con cariño, dignidad y respeto.

En el primer centro mi perro, que se llama Cashew, y yo estuvimos visitando con la gente mientras que ellos estaban escuchando y cantando canciones de su juventud. En el segundo centro, la gente estaba jugando bingo.

En cada lugar Cashew fue una fuente de gozo. Fue impresionante de ver como un perro puede traer tanta felicidad a las personas. En fin, los perros no  ven enfermedades, Alzhéimer’s ni discapacidades. Solo ven a humanos dispuestos a darles cariño y en retorno les dan besos, amistad y afecto.  Que gusto fue ser parte, aunque sea pequeño, de los servicios que ASD ofrece día a día a nuestros nuevos amigos. Espero que Cashew les haya llevado algo especial a su día.

—————————————————————————————————————————————————
If you like our work, please consider making a contribution to keep it going!
Want the insider story and more pictures? Connect with us on Facebook and Twitter!
——————————————————————————————————————————————————
——————————————————————————————————————————————————

Week 9, Day 1: Ellen at Hospitality Hub

z betsy and kelcey

Today was an intense start of my odyssey.  I went to the Hospitality Hub, a place where those without shelter can come to receive assistance. What I learned is how little I know about homelessness. When I thought of a homeless person, the image of a man with a long beard wearing layers of clothes pushing a grocery cart which carried the accumulation of his worldly possessions is what came to mind. Not to say that this image isn’t sometimes an accurate depiction of endemic homelessness, but this is not what I witnessed today. Today I saw people who mostly looked like any other person I might run into in Memphis and would never guess they were homeless. I witnessed many people who cared for their personal appearance and hygiene as best as they could and wanted out of the circumstances they were in. It is for them that Hospitality Hub exists.

With Kelcey in front of the volunteer information board.

With Kelcey in front of the volunteer information board.

Upon my arrival, I met director Kelcey Johnson, a man who has dedicated his life to help people get out of homelessness. He explained to me how the Hospitality Hub operates and provided a tour of the facility. With only a staff of six and a host of volunteers, they help hundreds of people on their path out of homelessness by connecting them with the appropriate resources, whether it be obtaining a Social Security Number, identification, an address, a telephone, a locker for storage, job opportunities and/or professional development, bus vouchers, how to locate a food pantry, temporary housing, access to rehabilitation, counseling, etc… It truly is a hub of resources.

When the doors open at 9:30 AM the staff and volunteers are prepared to do intake with those soliciting their services to determine which resources are best suited to assist them. I was fortunate to get to observe this process with veteran volunteer, Betsy, who has been volunteering with the Hub for seven years. She is a great representation of Hospitality Hub’s commitment to treat everyone with dignity and respect. The women that Betsy met with today appeared to be in desperate situations. One was in need of identification and was anxious to get it ASAP, while the other suffered from uncontrolled diabetes and had previously been diagnosed with a mental illness. It was difficult to observe because it made me wonder if it really is possible for her to no longer be homeless. I learned shelters provide temporary free housing for a limited amount of time, and she only had two weeks left where she was staying. Their hours are strict and no food is allowed to be brought on the premise. Due to her diabetes, she could not eat some of the food the shelter served. Her only other option was to skip a meal which she had done that morning. While Betsy had stepped out to acquire more information for her, she asked me where she could get a meal during that time of day. I   found the schedule of soup kitchens in Memphis, and we were able to locate a place where she could get lunch. I hope it was diabetic friendly.

z betsy and kelcey

Betsy and Kelcey at the intake desk

After observing, I started to sense a growing anxiety in me as I imagined a day in her or anyone else’s shoes who was there for help.  I could overhear the chatter from other volunteers doing intake and caught pockets of conversations:

“I don’t have a way to get around to seek out job applications….”

“I only have one more night left at the shelter…”

“I have scoliosis…I don’t know where to go for help…” 

But I witnessed how calm and collected Betsy and Kelcey were, and my heartbeat returned to its normal rate. It is not uncommon for the staff to come across a variety complicated situations, yet they know there is a solution. In the case of this particular woman with diabetes and a mental health diagnosis, she was enrolled in a program designed specifically to help people who are in such circumstances. She will get assistance in applying for disability, obtaining medical attention, mental health services and   locating a job. The Hub won’t do it for her, but they will walk alongside and support her with the tools she needs to regain a home of her own.

I asked Kelcey if there were any generalizations in the causes of the homelessness in the cases they encounter. He said every case is different; every case is unique. I am incredibly grateful for the staff and volunteers of the Hospitality Hub who have taken on a mountainous challenge to address every  case and provide people with the resources and assistance they need to acquire their own housing and regain dignity. I highly recommend it as a long-term volunteer placement for anyone with availability during weekday mornings. It is a way to help people turn their lives around and offer a hand-up to those who have been knocked down—often very hard. Just one morning there made me much more aware of the reality of homelessness and that a little help goes a long way.

 

El resumen en español:

Hoy fue un inicio muy intenso en mi odisea porque yo fui al Hospitality Hub donde las personas desamparadas  pueden ir para encontrar recursos que les ayuden a salir de esa situación tan difícil. El director, Kelcey Johnson, me enseñ­ó las instalaciones y me dio una explicación de todo lo que hacen.  El Hospitality Hub provee recursos a las personas sin hogar, como un lugar para guardar sus cosas, una dirección donde puedan recibir correos, teléfonos, acceso a computadoras, ayuda para encontrar trabajos, obtener identificaciones, lugares donde puedan recibir atención médica, ayuda para personas que tienen enfermedades mentales, etc… Es realmente una central de cualquier información que uno pudiera necesitar para salir del desamparo.

Hoy observé el proceso de como reciben a los clientes y les dan sus próximos pasos para obtener los servicios necesarios para ayudarles.  Yo vi este proceso con una voluntaria que se llama Betsy quien tiene siete años de experiencia de servir en el Hospitality Hub. Había dos mujeres con situaciones desesperadas. Es difícil para mí entender cómo es que van a salir de sus situaciones tan complicadas. Me dio tanto pesar pero vi la tranquilidad de Betsy y Kelcey y eso me calmo. Ellos tienen bastante experiencia de realizar este trabajo y saben que aunque sea muy difícil, hay soluciones para la gente sin hogar.

Aprendí hoy que las personas desamparadas no necesariamente aparentan serlo. Parecen como cualquier persona que yo pudiera encontrar en Memphis y la vida les ha dado un golpe muy fuerte. Un apoyito es un montón de ayuda para ellos. Súper recomendada  forma de pasar sus mañanas entre lunes y viernes si tiene ganas de hacer su ciudad un lugar mejor!

—————————————————————————————————————————————————
If you like our work, please consider making a contribution to keep it going!
Want the insider story and more pictures? Connect with us on Facebook and Twitter!
——————————————————————————————————————————————————
——————————————————————————————————————————————————

Prelude: Ellen Bermudez

headshot

I have always enjoyed meeting people from different walks of life and using my abilities to serve those who have been marginalized and/or are struggling through the many different aspects of abject poverty. I was born and raised in Germantown, but it has been ten years since I have lived in the Memphis area. After high school I studied Religion at Lambuth University and spent my summers either working at a ministry in the Cumberland Mountains of Tennessee or studying abroad. Upon completing my undergraduate coursework I moved to Nashville where I served as an AmeriCorps volunteer. I then pondered the idea of graduate school, but decided I wanted a bit of an adventure before returning to the books. As a result I did a five month internship with a ministry working with women in Nicaragua that ended up turning into almost five years! It was there that I met my husband, learned Spanish and acquired four dogs. I also developed a passion for women’s rights and access to healthcare for those living in rural communities.

We have now moved to Memphis (dogs included) and while the area is familiar, it is also very new. I am so excited for this opportunity to get to know my “new” community through meeting and serving alongside the various people who spend each day caring for those who are in need of a hand-up and thus make Memphis a better and healthier place for each of us to live in every day. It is my sincerest hope to join in on their good work in the near future!

En Español:

Siempre he disfrutado de conocer personas de diferentes caminos de la vida y utilizar mis habilidades para servir a los que han estado marginalizados y/o están luchando para salir de la pobreza extrema. Yo crecí en Germantown pero han pasado diez años desde que yo viví en el area de Memphis. Despues de la secundaria, yo estudié religion en la Universidad de Lambuth y pasé mis vacaciones trabajando para un ministerio en las montañas de Cumberland en Tennessee o estudiando fuera del país. Despues de obtener mi licenciatura, yo me fui a Nashville donde serví como una voluntaria de AmeriCorps. Luego yo pense en estudiar postgrado, pero decidí que yo quería un poco de aventura primero. Como resultado, fui a Nicaragua a realizar un internado por cinco meses con un ministerio trabajando con mujeres que terminó extendiéndose casi cinco años! Allá yo conocí a mi esposo, aprendí español y obtuvé cuatro perros. Tambien desarrollé una pasión para los derechos de mujeres y acceso de salud para los que viven en comunidades rurales.

Ahora nos hemos trasladado a Memphis (incluyendo a los perros) y mientras que esta área es algo familiar, tambien es muy nueva. Estoy tan emocionada por esta oportunidad de conocer mi “nueva” comunidad a traves de conocer y servir al lado de las varias personas que pasan día a día dando cariño a los que necesitan una ayuda y así convirtiendo a Memphis en un lugar mejor y más sano para cada uno de una de nosotros viviendo aca. Es mi deseo más sincero de unirme a ellos en un futuro próximo!