Day 4: Jenn and The Bridge: The Memphis Street Paper

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Today my volunteering odyssey brought me to St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, where The Bridge, a Memphis newspaper featuring content written by the homeless, held a distribution meeting for returning vendors and training for new ones.

The Bridge gets its name from its aim to “bridge the gap” between homeless and sheltered by giving a voice and income to the homeless community.  Its the first paper of its kind here in Memphis.  Four students from Rhodes College came up with the idea, basing it on similar papers in other cities.  MidSouth Peace and Justice is helping with finances.  The monthly paper is sold by the homeless for a dollar an issue.  Its content is produced by the homeless or formerly homeless, and contributors are paid for their articles and artwork.

At today’s distribution meeting, returning vendors were there to pick up more papers and a few new people were there to train.  All vendors are certified and given a badge to identify them as legitimate sellers. Each person gets 20 free copies of the month’s edition.  They can buy more copies for a quarter a piece and then sell them for a dollar.  The vendors keep all the profit.  One man bought one-hundred copies and said he had sold around 70 in the last few days.

Because the vendors are selling the paper, what they are doing is not panhandling.  I wasn’t too surprised to hear the vendors are not allowed on Beale Street, but I was shocked that they aren’t allowed near some churches.  The Bridge also communicates with Memphis Police to make sure the vendors aren’t hassled.  The vendors are also held to certain standards.  They must wear their badge when they’re selling.  They can’t sell anything other than the paper while wearing the badge.  There’s no harassing and no obstructing traffic.

My role as volunteer was to stack the papers in groups of 20 for distribution.

The college students putting this paper together are working on their own time.  It was nice to witness their dedication first hand.

Jenn Allmon is a journalist and public relations professional with over ten years experience in local television. She can be reached for volunteer or employment opportunities at jennallmon@gmail.com.

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Day 3: Jenn at Alzheimer’s Day Services & SRVS

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My dog, JoJo, accompanied me on Day Three of my Volunteer Odyssey adventure.

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He’s an 8-year-old Pug who is basically my child.  He thinks he’s human and never meets a stranger, but couldn’t care less about other dogs. The vet has told us he needs to lose a few pounds and get more exercise.  I think his friendly but lazy attitude made him a pretty good fit for today’s visits.

Our first stop was at Alzheimer’s Day Services of Memphis. This time I thought I had a pretty good idea of what to expect, though I was surprised to learn ADS is celebrating their 30th Anniversary this year.

They’ve been around since 1983. They offer assistance to family members struggling to provide around-the-clock care by giving those with the disease a safe and stimulating place to spend the day.  I suppose the number of aging baby boomers has brought more attention to Alzheimer’s and dementia in general.

JoJo was a hit with the office staff and had to meet everyone.  Jon, the Development Director, showed JoJo and I around and introduced us to lots of new friends. That’s what ADS prefers to call those in their Day Program. There were tons of activities with most everyone divided into small groups. The dog lovers stood out immediately.

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JoJo got along particularly well with a gentleman who had German Shepherds when he was younger. JoJo definitely brightened his day and, according to the staff, made him more talkative and animated than usual.

Our second stop of the day was at SRVS, the largest provider for people with disabilities in the Mid-South.  Again, JoJo was a hit with staff members.  Apparently I’m not the only one who finds his heavy breathing and smushed face endearing and irresistible.

He was moving slowly through the halls and just collapsed onto his big belly when we entered the first room in the Learning Center to meet people. Turned out that his lazy, laid back attitude was perfect.

Trevor and JoJo

Trevor and JoJo

Billy and JoJo

Billy and JoJo

Lots of folks came right up to meet and pet him. He loved the attention. Allison, the Volunteer and Activities Coordinator who accompanied us, got lots of requests for pictures.

Carl with JoJo and me

Carl with JoJo and me

I think it’s amazing how something as simple as a short visit from a pet can brighten someone’s day.  One of the big things I’m learning this week is that it really doesn’t take much to make someone’s day a little better in some small way. I think I’ve smiled more in the last three days than I did in the last three months. Sometimes I feel a little guilty because I think I’m getting more out of this Volunteer Odyssey than I’m putting into it, but then I remember that I’m never the only one smiling.

Rebecca and JoJo

Rebecca and JoJo

Barbara and JoJo

Barbara and JoJo

I’m searching for a job where I can transition from working in news to using my skills in PR, Social Media, and Marketing.  If you know of a great fit, please send it my way: jennallmon@gmail.com

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Day 2: Jenn at the Humane Society

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On the second day of my Volunteer Odyssey, I prepared for puppy overload at the Humane Society.

I love adorable pets. As far back as I can remember during my time at the station, the Friday Noon newscast was always a favorite. The Pet of the Week segment never failed to make me smile.

I had asked about the Humane Society’s volunteer program a couple of times, but was always afraid I’d fall in love with every dog I met and want to take them all home. I thought it would be depressing to see the animals in cages and heartbreaking to walk them, play with them, get to know them, and then have to go home alone. That wasn’t how today turned out at all.

The afternoon began with a tour of the facility. It’s fancy. I can remember being at the old location on Central a few years ago  and leaving unimpressed. The relatively new digs out on Farm Road are roomy and clean. None of the dogs look unhappy or neglected. The best thing – the number of “adoption pending” signs attached to a large number of kennels.

Every animal accepted by HSMSC stays there until adopted – another reason the place is awesome. I know I haven’t said much about the cats.  I am, after all, a dog person.  There are many, many cats.  At any time you can find around 200 dogs and 170 cats at the Humane Society.  Sorry cat lovers, I didn’t take any kitty pics.

After my tour, I stuffed some envelopes and made some toys.  You can donate old socks and plastic water bottles to be turned into chew toys.  Who knew?

Making dog toys from old socks and empty water bottles

Making dog toys from old socks and empty water bottles

You can also save your newspapers and donate them to line kennels.  If you’re already a curbside recycler, why not consider donating?

Vito

Vito

And now – the best part of the day – Puppy Time.  They’re not really puppies.  In fact, some of them are getting up there in age.  To me, all dogs are puppies (pronounced PUP-PAYS, with no exceptions).  I was asked to collect info on the dogs for their bios on the Humane Society’s website.  I then took the dogs out for playtime with some other volunteers.  It’s a joyous thing to see the dogs running and playing.  They love it and it made me happy to see them smiling and bounding around.

Jay

Jay

Volunteer Pete with Zircon

Volunteer Pete with Zircon

Sweet Mattie

Sweet Mattie

Burnadette

Burnadette

This day really opened my eyes.  Volunteering with these sweeties isn’t depressing.  It’s up-lifting.  Sure, these guys are looking for a forever home, but because of the efforts of the great employees there and a string of volunteers, the animals are well cared for. They’re happy to spend some time running around and playing with me.  And I was more than happy to spend a few hours with them.

I’m searching for a job where I can transition from working in news to using my skills in PR, Social Media, and Marketing.  If you know of a great fit, please send it my way: jennallmon@gmail.com

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Day 1: Jenn at The Ave Maria Home

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I always thought volunteering would require a lot of effort and drudgery.

Today I spent the afternoon playing dice.

The first day of my Volunteer Odyssey took place at the Ave Maria Home in Bartlett.  It’s a long-term healthcare community for those who need assisted living or home care services.  Assisted living residents require the most attention, but also end up spending the most time alone. They love company, and, apparently, dice.

After a quick tour of the facilities it was time for Bingo! Because many of the residents have some difficulty getting around, I was in charge of passing out prizes.  It’s both comforting and slightly disturbing that even in our later years we still find ourselves in cliques – the chatty group, the serious group, the leaders, the followers.

Samantha Hicks, a Volunteer Odyssey success story who now works at the Home, stopped by to say hello.

Bingo was a hit, but the real games came after. A small group stayed in the activities area to play a dice game called Farkle.  I was invited to play with the group of lovely ladies and one fine gentleman.

The game plays a bit like Yahtzee.  All the ladies were happy to teach me and gave tips on the best ways to play. I had a bit of beginners luck and told them they were letting the newbie win. They laughed, but my luck ran thin in the second round.

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While we were playing, the ladies gossiped a bit about others staying in assisted living. Some things never change.  I caught myself thinking it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to be living there.

Honestly, I feel like I didn’t do anything today. I had absolutely no idea what to expect from Day 1, but I did think it would be more difficult than spending some time talking to folks and playing dice.

But the Odyssey isn’t graded on a difficulty curve. It’s graded on making a difference. I guess sometimes that means cleaning a park or digging a ditch. But sometimes it just means laughing at gossip and playing Farkle.

I’m not sure what’s coming next, but so far I’ve got this volunteer thing – bring on Day 2.

I’m searching for a job where I can transition from working in news to using my skills in PR, Social Media, and Marketing.  If you know of a great fit, please send it my way: jennallmon@gmail.com

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Prelude: Jenn Allmon

It’s truly amazing what life drops in front of you. As I sat down to look at this one more time before I posted, I went to Facebook first and this link popped up in my newsfeed.

http://zenpencils.com/comic/128-bill-watterson-a-cartoonists-advice/

Working in news in some form or another for the past dozen years, it feels like I’ve seen more of the bad side of Memphis than the good. Even with the uplifting stories that sometimes come later in a newscast, the first few minutes can leave you sad and disillusioned. I’ve decided it’s time to leave the news business and, stealing a phrase from Bill Watterson, look for something that satisfies my soul. Or at least something that allows me to help, improve, give back, or lift up my community, my home in some small way.

Volunteer Odyssey just kind of popped up in front of me too. When a friend learned I was leaving my job she mention the program and I was immediately interested. I’ve always thought about volunteering, but never actually jumped in.  Volunteer Odyssey seems like the right diving board.

My hopes for the week?  To learn more about the place I call home and how I fit in it.  What can I do – big or small – to make Memphis a better place?  I’m hoping to find and organization that I can commit to and continue to work with in the future.  I’m hoping this is the beginning of a great adventure.