Megan Banaszek Epilogue

If I sound different than I did last week in my blog posts, it’s because I am now employed full time! A girl can only justify watching The Price is Right for so long.

My experience with Volunteer Odyssey was everything I had hoped for and so much more. I met individuals with the biggest hearts in the city, learned about the vital organizations in Memphis, and received invaluable advice from Mid-South natives. Volunteer Odyssey made me fall in love with Memphis.

Two weeks to the day after I volunteered with my Odyssey, I was offered a job at Carpenter Art Garden. The garden is supported by Binghampton Development Corporation. I encourage everyone to check out their website to learn more about this organization, as they are doing great work improving and empowering the area. As the garden’s first full time staff member, I will have a plethora of roles, for which my previous non-profit experiences have certainly prepared me! I look forward to putting my time and energy into fulfilling the vision so many dedicated volunteers have for this precious gem in the Binghampton community.

Erin from Carpenter Art Garden presenting the official job offer!

Erin from Carpenter Art Garden presenting the official job offer!

The people I met were so willing to share job leads they knew of in the area. It says a lot about Memphians by how many people I had just met were inclined to reach out and help me. During my Odyssey, I was moved by the mission of every single agency I had the chance to work with. Since my blog, I have donated a meal to Dorothy Day House, found myself riding Urban Bicycle Food Ministry every Wednesday night, and spent time on Habitat for Humanity build sites. I look forward to further developing these relationships and helping these organizations make an even greater impact in Memphis.

I have completely fallen for the Grit and Grind of Memphis, and Volunteer Odyssey has everything to do with it. I would recommend this program to anyone who is in transition in their life.,It is a win-win for the individuals and the community. Maybe someday you’ll read a new blog about a Memphis transplant spending a day volunteering at the Carpenter Art Garden. I can only hope to pass on the same enriching experience I was so fortunate to have in my first days in Memphis. I hope this blog has inspired you to go out and find ways to serve your community. If you’re looking for a volunteer opportunity, I know a place!

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Day Seven: The Dorothy Day House of Hospitality

Today was the last day of the whirlwind that is my Volunteer Odyssey. My final stop for the week was at the Dorothy Day House of Hospitality. Every week the shelter hosts “Sundays at Six”, where volunteers and families living in the facility meet for an hour of fellowship, plus dessert. I ate two.

Around 6pm the families made their way to the living room for prayer before we cut into the brownies. As we waited for the children to file down in their pajamas, I looked at the photographs hanging on the wall in the dining room. These families came in all shapes and sizes, with the common denominator of having called the Dorothy Day House home at one point in time. There were over 30 photographs hanging on the wall.

Families of the past surround the dining room table,

Families of the past surround the dining room table,

The mission of the Dorothy Day House is to keep homeless families together. Families that remain together have a much better chance of rebuilding their lives after the distress of losing their home. Sister Maureen told me in Memphis, there are limited options for families that want to stay together.  One shelter hosts adult males, one shelter hosts women. This means during the toughest times, husband and wives are separated. It got worse as Sister Maureen continued. The shelter for men is for individuals 18 and older, and in many cases, the shelters for women stop housing males over the age of 6. That leaves a huge gap of homeless individuals not being served under these regulations. As a result, many families stay in their cars to avoid being separated. The local shelters know of the Dorothy Day house, and try to refer families who are in need for this service as much as possible. That being said, the house has room for three families, and their stays range from three weeks to one year. There is no waiting list; it’s all first come first serve. The program is run entirely on private donations, allowing the house to create a unique atmosphere to fit their vision.

Sister Maureen and another volunteer cut in to a dessert to share.

Sister Maureen and another volunteer cut in to a dessert to share.

After the group prayer, I had the chance to visit with some of the families staying at the house. Their stories varied, as homelessness does not discriminate. We talked about their backgrounds, where the kids attended school, and their future plans. Sitting in the dining room over a cup of coffee, there was a sense of community, not hopelessness or despair as you might associate with a homeless shelter. The Dorothy Day House does an outstanding job of encouraging these families to make it their home during their time there.

This final stop on my Volunteer Odyssey not only left me thankful for the blessings I have in my life, it also made me thankful for the programs and people I encountered this week spreading kindness in Memphis.

 

Thank you for reading! Like what you read? Megan Banaszek already found a job! You can now find her at the Carpenter Art Garden!

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Day Six: Mid-South Spay and Neuter Services

Today I volunteered for an organization Memphis needs. In 2010 Memphis city council approved a mandatory spay and neuter ordinance for cats and dogs.  Since 2005 Mid-South Spay and Neuter Services have performed over 31,000 procedures and counting. Despite huge strides, the entire state of Tennessee still experiences pet overpopulation. Mid-South Spay and Neuter Services is a non-profit clinic dedicated to reducing pet overpopulation and high euthanasia rates. They offer affordable spay and neuter surgeries to the public. As mentioned before, it is the law in Memphis to spay or neuter your pets. We were a very popular booth at the Cooper-Young Festival.

Holding down the fort.

Holding down the fort.

Leading up to my Saturday with Mid-South Spay and Neuter Services, the fuss about the Cooper-Young Festival was reaching a fevered pitch. When I said I would be volunteering at the festival with an organization, the consensus was this was a great way to see Memphis. The Cooper-Young Festival definitely delivered! I got to talk to a lot of people about an important cause AND do some of the greatest people watching in the world.

BIG crowd at the Cooper Young Festival.

BIG crowd at the Cooper Young Festival.

Weaving through the enormous crowd, I met Stephanie Bennett, Mid-South Spay and Neuter Services’ Executive Director. I was introduced to some board members and given a rundown of the agency and the services they provide(Spay and neuter hours). Simple enough! Then I started talking to booth visitors. Nothing gets a person chatting like asking about their pet. (As if my dog fever was not prevalent enough!) People told us about the puppy they just got, the first pet they had neutered, different ways their pets show affection, and made donations in memory of their deceased pets (tips for snips). We even had a family ask about having their potty trained pig come in! These responsible pet owners love the work of this organization.

My three hour shift flew by with good company and a steady flow of people making donations and asking questions. There were a lot of concerned citizens relieved to know they could even bring in a feral animal to be treated at an extremely reduced rate. I feel confident the message we delivered at the Cooper-Young Festival will bring in many new clients to “spay away the strays”.

Thank you for reading! Like what you read? Megan Banaszek is searching for a job in the non-profit sector where she can use her Family Services degree and public service experience to make a positive impact in Memphis. …. Contact her at meganbanaszek0123@gmail.com or jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com.

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Day Five: Ave Maria Home

If you are in need of a great time, look no further than the Ave Maria Home. When I walked in the door, there was a parade of seniors being led by a gentleman celebrating his birthday in a crown. “I am the king today!” he proclaimed as walked around the corner to the Social Services office.

I was met by Sam, a social worker at the house and a Volunteer Odyssey alum. Sam reaffirmed my feelings about the entire Volunteer Odyssey process: you will meet the right connection if you are putting yourself out there during the week of volunteering. When she found herself at a crossroads, this was the networking boost she needed.

Sam gave me a tour of the facilities while we discussed her line of work, her experience with Volunteer Odyssey, and how she found herself in this job shortly after. We stopped and talked to different residents as we walked through, all eager to show off their living quarters. This was aging with pride. Sam explained they can be as independent or dependent as they wanted (or needed). There were people who lived in apartment style rooms, and those who lived in a more traditional nursing home setting. No single person being treated the same. The care I saw from the nurses and staff was all individualized, not to mention, everyone knew each resident’s name. When family visits become few and far between, these familiar faces become the resident’s family. The staff takes that to heart.

Lunch is served!

Lunch is served!

My tasks for the day were simple, yet meaningful. First I had the chance to visit with a resident as the rest of the house returned from the parlor. A beautician came in to the house today and the ladies were lined up. It was a nice to see some pampering for the residents limited to the facility.

The first resident I visited with was a well-traveled woman who had a story for every single photograph in her room. She looked longingly at the photo of her husband and told me about his time in the Air Force. When possible, he would bring her to the places he was flying, and she reflected on the time they spent seeing the world together.

After lunch of a “spot on” grilled cheese provided by the amazing staff, I sat down to do manicures for two women who may as well have been on vacation. They talked about going to the salon in the morning and making jewelry in their room. One went out to lunch with her daughter earlier in the week, and they shared their excitement to hear the live music from the block party happening at the neighboring church. As I painted their nails, they told me about the roads that led them to where they are today. Every single resident in that story has decades of timeless experience to share with those who make the time to listen.

Time for manicures.

Time for manicures.

If you want to hear a great story, visit the generation who have lived it all. Stories of flying around the world or playing sports as a professional athlete abound. One resident told me how she came home from winter break at secretarial school and told her dad she was never going back. Instead, she enrolled in a business course and had an opportunity to take a job typically held by a man when people were drafted for war. She spent her entire career at that same company and retired as a department head..

My time spent at the Ave Maria Home today gave new meaning to the phrase, “Respect your elders.” I should be so lucky as to have such rich life experiences to share with the younger generation when I’m their age.

 

Thank you for reading! Like what you read? Megan Banaszek is searching for a job in the non-profit sector where she can use her Family Services degree and public service experience to make a positive impact in Memphis. …. Contact her at meganbanaszek0123@gmail.com or jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com.

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Day Four: LeBonheur Children’s Hospital

To anyone who has ever had the treat of volunteering at the LeBonheur Children’s Hospital beverage cart: can we all agree that Gordon is the greatest? I found myself getting emotional this evening preparing to write this blog, reflecting on my day working with Gordon, the staff and families.

When I hopped off the elevator at LeBonheur Hospital, I was greeted by Volunteer Coordinator Timorie. She generously contacted me bright and early this morning in the midst of the monsoon that took place in Memphis today, to give me an insider tip about a parking ramp that would keep me from taking a single step in the elements on my way to her office. As a first time volunteer, and a former Volunteer Coordinator, I greatly appreciated her going the extra mile.

I was introduced to Gordon, a regular volunteer at the hospital, and we hit the ground running. Gordon explained to me his routes as he serves coffee faithfully Tuesdays and Thursdays at the hospital. The beverage cart, decked out with all the bells and whistles, has been Gordon’s project over the last year. The cart is equipped with all the fixings for coffee, tea, hot chocolate and the “LeBonheur Special” (a hot chocolate and coffee combo). In addition to the complimentary beverages to families staying in the children’s hospital, the beverage cart delivers smiles. While I know this is corny, it is no less true. I can’t tell you how many people were waiting for the beverage cart, or chasing us down through the rounds for a LeBonheur Special.

The beverage cart making rounds every Tuesday and Thursday morning

The beverage cart making rounds every Tuesday and Thursday morning.

In three hours we covered six floors of the hospital. Each floor was designated to a different type of treatment. While the appearance of children changed floor to floor, every family had the common bond of being there for a child they love and desperately wanted to be healthy again.

My interest in volunteering in this setting hits close to home. Throughout college, I spent endless hours at medical appointments, waiting entire days in the hospital for the doctor to give me a three minute update, and spending the night on hospital couches. It does not take moving mountains to brighten your day in this environment. A smile can make your day…a smile AND a cup of coffee? WEEK MADE! Every cup prepared at the cart is done with love.

Hard working RN Evan gets a Le Bonheur Special boost.

Hard working staff get a Le Bonheur Special boost.

While the beverage cart is not delivering lifesaving medicine at LeBonheur, it certainly boosts morale where it counts. Whether it’s a staff member with wet shoes from their 5am commute in the rain looking for a morning boost, a parent on empty looking to try the infamous “special” in the midst of their endless coffee runs, or a child who lights up asking their parent if they can pretty please have a hot cocoa: Volunteer Services provides an invaluable asset to LeBonheur Children’s Hospital.

Thank you for reading! Like what you read? Megan Banaszek is searching for a job in the non-profit sector where she can use her Family Services degree and public service experience to make a positive impact in Memphis. …. Contact her at meganbanaszek0123@gmail.com or jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com.

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Day Three: Urban Bicycle Food Ministry

While everyone back home has been curious about my different Odyssey Forward experiences, Urban Bicycle Food Ministry undoubtedly sparked the most questions.

“So you’re riding your bike around downtown Memphis? Delivering burritos? To homeless people?”

Kind of.

When Volunteer Odyssey asked if I would be willing to join UBFM on their weekly bike ride, I agreed, admittedly terrified. My first week as a Memphis resident the local news was flooded with violent stories that made me wonder if I had made a mistake leaving the safety net of my hometown in the mid-west. Ironically, riding my bike at 10pm through some of the poorest neighborhoods in Memphis reinforced taking this plunge.

As soon as I walked in the kitchen door, I was put to work. We had 200 burritos to make! I took the rookie job of stirring the mixture of beans and rice for the burritos which was made less painful by the give-and-take of the regulars. When we got on the topic of high school rivalries, I realized I had a rival of my own in the room! One of the volunteer cooks who relocated to Memphis when serving in the armed forces graduated from a high school in my home town in Iowa. The world is small, go Warriors.

The Wednesday night  crew showing me a thing or two about rolling burritos.

The Wednesday night crew showing me a thing or two about rolling burritos.

After rolling the burritos, we packed up small “care packages” to distribute while on our ride. The lobby of the church slowly filled with more people loading their bags with burritos, bottled water, toiletries, etc. This is a social ministry, as volunteers greet one another with hugs upon arrival, catching up in the last week. Before we headed out on to the streets (I was on the Poplar route) we were reminded this ride is not for the homeless, this ride is for those in need.

Urban Bicycle Food Ministry founder, Tommy, getting the group pumped up and reminding the group why we ride.

Urban Bicycle Food Ministry founder, Tommy, getting the group pumped up for the ride.

One of the first groups we approached was sitting outside of a gas station. Not only does UBFM share tangible goods, they engage literally every single person they encounter. High fives, hand shakes and introductions. One gentleman told me he lays flooring and asked about my Habitat for Humanity shirt. I told him of my time working there and my (minimal) knowledge of construction. After our brief exchange, he asked if I was afraid to be out here riding around at night ‘talking to people like us’. At this point in the experience, I could sincerely answer that I was not afraid, because people like him made me have confidence in this experience. We wished safety on each other and our crew headed out.

As we rode on there were ‘regulars’ that the long term volunteers recognized and could catch up with. Moving through the neighborhoods some individuals would literally holler out “burritos! Hey, burritos!”. In case you are reading this and are 1) not currently living in Memphis or 2) not someone I have complained to at home, Memphis is HOT. Like, really hot. Relentlessly muggy to the point I’ve mostly given up showering. That being said, ice cold water and a spray down of bug repellant were just as popular as the burritos. This goes back to the idea of not just serving the homeless, but spreading kindness to someone in need.

At one point on the ride we met a gentleman that was getting off work for the night, talking about his anticipation for the weekend. He is currently building a garages for an apartment complex downtown full time. He said the last time he received burritos from UBFM he ate them throughout lunch that entire next week. We gave that gentleman five burritos.

Riding back to the church with no stops was very tranquil, allowing the riders to reflect on their evening of “seasoning the city”. Every single person in this group is committed to making their home a better place. Urban Bicycle Food Ministry allowed me to see Memphis in a way many never will.

All smiles at the end of the night....I'll be back!

Successful ride….I’ll be back!

 

Thank you for reading! Like what you read? Megan Banaszek is searching for a job in the non-profit sector where she can use her Family Services degree and public service experience to make a positive impact in Memphis. …. Contact her at meganbanaszek0123@gmail.com or jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com.

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Day Two: Carpenter Art Garden

I went home with a full heart today after volunteering at the Carpenter Art Garden.

When I arrived just before three, I met with Erin, the program coordinator. Erin she showed me around the property where every Tuesday, volunteers work with approximately 40 children in the Binghampton neighborhood. She explained the success the program has seen with the children, and the community as a whole. When school lets out for the day, children flood the small garden space to work on permanent art installations, craft projects, and tending to the garden boxes. As the program grew with students at Cornerstone Preparatory and Lester Middle School, parents began to take more interest in the program.

In the two years of the program, the Carpenter Garden has expanded to four lots including gardens, picnic tables for crafts, a stage for performing, outdoor mosaic sculptures, and “the purple house”. The purple house is new, and students are eager to see the interior. As an investment for the program, the children participated in the fundraising by selling their art. Erin led me over to the students’ best seller: a large plywood heart with the Memphis Grizzlies’ logo. In my short time in Memphis, this was a familiar sight: my next door neighbor proudly sports the Memphis Grizzlies heart in their front yard.

The Carpenter Art Garden

The Carpenter Art Garden

As a camp counselor for over six summers, my role today of overseeing one of the craft stations at the garden came naturally. There were four activities to choose from, in addition to snack, free reading and general play on the grounds. While I offered loose guidance to the craft, I had the chance to talk to a lot of children about their participation in the art garden. A reoccurring theme was the appreciation of having an ‘art class’. This is unlike any class offered in their standard school day, so students look forward to a chance to create something on Tuesdays after school.

Making signs for the growing garden.

Making signs for the growing garden.

As parents filtered in at the end of the day, many sat down at a picnic table and worked on a craft with their child. A few children lingered as we cleaned up, explaining they lived near the garden so they liked to stay as late as they could. “Maybe since I’m good at this and I’m young, I could keep painting when I’m older?” one student proposed, looking up from her garden project very unsure. I assured her that anything was possible.

Carpenter 2

Our final work!

Our final work!

Carpenter Art Garden is a place for growth and rejuvenation. Watching children ease in to their projects at the end of the school day, anyone can identify the confidence cultivated in this unique environment. I feel privileged to have been able to work with the children and faithful volunteers at The Carpenter Art Garden so early in my odyssey.

Thank you for reading! Like what you read? Megan Banaszek is searching for a job in the non-profit sector where she can use her Family Services degree and public service experience to make a positive impact in Memphis. …. Contact her at meganbanaszek0123@gmail.com or jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com.

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Day One: Gaia Community Table Garden

As a recent transplant from the mid-west, I was raised in the heart of land cultivation aka farming. We learned about the responsibilities and rewards associated with caring for a garden, and a lot of our family’s produce came from our own backyard. This morning I had the opportunity to witness sustainability in a different light at Midtown’s own Community Table Garden.

The garden on Madison.

The garden on Madison.

 

Daia 2

Sarah, from Gaia Movement Memphis, met me bright and early at the lot-turned-garden where she is the project manager. We walked me through the garden highlighting the plots with an abundant overflow of produce, as well as the plots that were winding down after a successful season of giving. This is, simply put, a labor of love. There is a continuous flow of seasonal produce and with that, constant upkeep required in the garden. Sarah explained that last week they pulled summer crops to begin transplanting crops for fall and winter weather.

Today’s seasonal task at hand: sunflowers. Flourishing in the summer, their time had come to an end and we were going to uproot the plants and harvest the seeds. Sarah and I cut down each plant one by one while discussing her role with Gaia. Gaia is an international organization that works to create examples of sustainability combined with economic development and social responsibility. The Community Table Garden is just one of those moving pieces. They also have clothing donation centers set up throughout Memphis where individuals may donate used clothing to be reworn, reused, or recycled.

Green donation boxes located throughout Memphis.

Green donation boxes located throughout Memphis.

As I plucked every individual seeds from the huge flower, I couldn’t help but think of how many seeds I’ve chewed through sitting in a single baseball game. I will never take that for granted again, as this was no simple harvest! Sarah explained that once the food is transported to the local food bank, a variety of agencies may benefit from the donated produce. I thought back to times I had volunteered at a local food pantry in college, and the lack of fresh produce. While food might be available, there is a lack in nutritious and fresh options. Community Table Garden is part of the solution for the malnourishment those in poverty face daily.

Gaia 2

Harvesting the HUGE sunflowers.

Harvesting the HUGE sunflowers.

My final task for the morning was to plant beets and cabbage in a single plot for the fall. As I laid the seeds, I imagined the different uses for either crop once they were fully developed. Getting my hands dirty in the garden this morning was an ideal volunteer fit for me, and provided a connection to home. I look forward to seeing where the rest of my odyssey will take me this week and the different memories or emotions they may evoke.

 

Catch you in a few weeks, cabbage and beets!

Catch you in a few weeks, cabbage and beets!

 

Thank you for reading! Like what you read? Megan Banaszek is searching for a job in the non-profit sector where she can use her Family Services degree and public service experience to make a positive impact in Memphis. …. Contact her at meganbanaszek0123@gmail.com or jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com.

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If you like our work, please DONATE to keep it going!

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