Epilogue: Rae-Anne Pitts

My week with Volunteer Odyssey gave me two things I desperately needed after months and months of job hunting: perspective and renewal. Through my experiences it became so clear to me how blessed I am. It becomes so easy to lose hope during the post-grad unemployment grind but through my experiences I saw people who have much steeper hills to climb but their hope remains.  Their hope is inspirational.

This experience also taught me a lot about Memphis.  This city will give you back as much as you are willing to give it.  My experience showed me that while Memphis is a place of great struggle it is also a place filled with great hope. I know that my efforts in this single week did not change the world or even Memphis, but it made me realize that I can strive everyday to make a positive impact on the community around me.

Did you know it cost more than $2,000 for us to host Ann-Katherine’s Odyssey Week? If you like our work, please consider making a contribution to keep it going!

Week 10, Day 7: Rae-Anne Pitts at Dorothy Day House

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On the final day of my volunteer week I went to the Dorothy Day House of Hospitality. The Dorothy Day House provides temporary housing for homeless families. On any given night there are over 200 homeless families in Memphis. Typically, when a family becomes homeless, the men in the family have to go to shelter or seek help downtown, at either a soup kitchen or through Hospitality Hub. An assistance shelter such as the Salvation Army can take in the mother and smaller children. Older children are often put in the foster care system until the family is able to provide a home again. This system pulls the family members in different directions, and keeps them from staying together as a family unit. This flaw in the system is what the Dorothy Day House seeks to address.  The Dorothy Day House enables entire families to stay together. The facility opened in 2006 and has since seen thirty families pass through the doors. Unless you knew what lies behind its doors, you would think it is just another house in midtown Memphis.

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From the outside, The Dorothy Day House is unassuming; I had passed by the house probably a hundred times. There is no sign out front but what happens at the Dorothy Day House is truly remarkable. On this night of volunteering, my husband came with me. When we pulled up to the house we were not sure if we were in the right place. We walked up to the front door, with our dessert in tow, and rang the doorbell. The director at the house is Sister Maureen, who answered the door. She showed us around, and then sat us down to tell us about the history of Dorothy Day and the Dorothy Day House.

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Dorothy Day lived from 1897-1980, in New York. She helped to establish the Catholic Workers Movement, in which she advocated for non-violence, and the belief that the needy should be take care of by churches, not the government. She felt, it is the responsibility of individuals to take care of those in need. Sister Maureen told us that she and others had studied Dorothy Day years before, and because of her teachings, began to pray for the needs in Memphis.  Sister Maureen says that the Dorothy Day House began out of prayer.

Sister Maureen works with all of the families that come to the Dorothy Day House, to see what it will take to turn their lives around. All of the families set goals and monitor progress during their stay. As long as they are working towards their goals, families are allowed to stay.  Mostly, individual contributions fund the Dorothy Day House. It receives some donations from churches but no money from the government. Volunteers help with needs of the families there, and the maintenance of the house. The absence of government funding makes the Dorothy Day House distinctly different from other housing organizations such as the Salvation Army. With government funding comes restraints on how long families are able to stay, whereas at the Dorothy Day House families can stay as long as they need as long as they are working towards their family goals.

Every Sunday night a few volunteers and the families meet downstairs, for prayer and dessert. I volunteered to bring dessert on this night. We all recited prayer, and passages of scripture with one of the volunteers leading us. Everyone was given the chance to say what they are thankful for, and ask God for blessings such as patience. After the prayer, we all had dessert and visited with one another.

I loved that they have family photos on the wall of families that have come through the Dorothy Day House.

I loved that they have family photos on the wall of families that have come through the Dorothy Day House.

The image of the homeless that is often not seen or thought of is that of homeless families. If you picture homeless the image that most often springs to mind is that of a homeless man, who lives alone, and begs for money. Homeless mother and fathers, with children living in their cars or cramming in an apartment with many family members is also a reality.  These families do anything they can to keep from being separated, and to keep their children rather than have them taken away, and to be put in the system. The Dorothy Day House is a unique and special place that fills a serious and often overlooked need in Memphis. These families do not have anywhere else to turn, and no other way to stay together. My husband and I enjoyed learning about the Dorothy Day House and visiting with the families. We both signed up to keep volunteering there.

Thank you for reading! I’m searching for a job in public policy, non-profit administration, or social science research. If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com or raeannepitts@gmail.com

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Week 10, Day 6: Rae-Anne Pitts at Hospitality Hub

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On Saturday, I worked on a project for Hospitality Hub. Hospitality Hub is a service for homeless people that works to connect them to resources needed to transition out of homelessness. The Downtown Churches Association, of Memphis, opened hospitality Hub in 2007. The desire of DCS was to create a central location for resources and information for the homeless. What makes Hospitality Hub different from other homeless services is that it operates as a central entry point to a network of services around the city.

Before receiving any services from Hospitality Hub each new guest must go through an intake interview. Guests can use this service for up to 90 days. Hospitality Hub provides access to mail, telephones, computers, and assistance acquiring documents, such as: birth certificates and personal identification. Hospitality Hub also works to connect the homeless with shelters, counseling, access to clergy, and MATA transportation passes. Hospitality Hub in addition to these services holds a program called “The Breakfast Club” to aid those dealing with alcohol, and drug addiction. All of these services are provided free of change and work to meet the immediate and short-term needs of the guests of Hospitality Hub; while working to connect each guest with the resources needed. The organization will also make referrals to other programs that could aid in meeting the guest’s long-term goals.

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My part in helping with Hospitality Hub this week was to make bags of essential items to be handed out to the guests. Included in the bags were: a toothbrush, a razor, and a granola bar. I packaged all of the items into a resealable plastic bag to make for easy access. I made these bags at home with my husband and then took them to Hospitality Hub the next week to donate them.

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Hospitality Hub is a fascinating place that functions like a business-center for the homeless. Hospitality Hub believes that by the end the 90-day time period the guests should be able to make significant progress on their journey from homelessness.

 

Thank you for reading! I’m searching for a job in public policy, non-profit administration, or social science research. If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com or raeannepitts@gmail.com

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Week 10, Day 5: Rae-Anne Pitts at Memphis Botanic Gardens

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I have been to the Memphis Botanic Gardens once before. I knew it was spacious, but I had no idea how enormous it really is. It is a 96-acre property containing 28 different distinctive gardens. I did not know that volunteers, primarily, maintain the gardens. There is a small staff for a big place. Volunteers are used in almost every aspect of the garden such as planting, maintaining gardens, and assisting with events. The botanic gardens could not operate without volunteers. There are twenty-three gardens on the property, the most impressive to me is, the rose garden because there are many varieties of roses there, but my favorite is the herb garden. There, they grow almost every herb imaginable and have information on the uses of all of them.

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On Friday I volunteered at, “My Big Backyard.” My Big Backyard is the area of the botanic gardens specially designated for children. Here, children can play, splash, and discover. My Big Backyard has sixteen different areas; they are all designed with children in mind. During the summer, special events are held in My Big Backyard; they include: summer camps, “Firefly Glow Parties”, “Mud Pie Mondays”, and “Fun Fridays”

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My volunteer experience had me help with “Fun Fridays.” Fun Fridays are held each Friday from May until July. Each Friday includes a different activity or craft that kids can participate in, and then take home. The cost of Fun Fridays is $3, which pays for all the materials needed to make the craft. Children of all ages can participate. On this Friday our activity was held at the House of Rock on Playhouse Lane. Each house on Playhouse Lane is unique, and designed by a different artist. Since we were at the House of Rock, our corresponding craft was a drum. The base of the drum used a lemonade container. Each child selected a string so that the drum could hang around their neck, then they customized their drums with duct tape, stickers, and markers. We encouraged the children to gather sticks from the area to use as drum sticks. The children enjoyed discovering how to make different sounds depending on which area of the drum they hit. The children had a great time; one group left the activity, drumming, as if they were in a parade.

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I had a wonderful time at the gardens. I gained an appreciation for the dedication of the volunteers through learning how much they do; The Memphis Botanic Gardens is such an immense place and takes work to maintain. I have enough trouble keeping a potted plant alive in my apartment; I can’t imagine the amount of work it requires to keep the gardens looking stunning. While you are there it is so easy to forget that you are in the middle of a city.

Thank you for reading! I’m searching for a job in public policy, non-profit administration, or social science research. If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com or raeannepitts@gmail.com

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Week 10, Day 4: Rae-Anne Pitts at the Church Health Center

Cleaning up after the class.

Today, was the day I was most excited about when I received my volunteer schedule. I volunteered in the Nutrition Kitchen, at the Church Health Center Wellness Center. I had heard of the Church Health Center. Most of the Church Health Center is located on Peabody Ave in Midtown. But, I had never been to the Church Health Center Wellness Center, which is located on Union Ave. The Wellness Center offers exercise facilities, fitness classes, smoking cessation counseling, health education, and nutritional cooking classes.  I had the opportunity to take place in the nutritional cooking classes. Cooking classes are held on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. On Thursdays, the day I volunteered, the cooking classes are held at 9 am, 10:30 am, and 4 pm. Thursdays at the wellness center are community days; which means that the center is open to members and non-members, making Thursdays quite busy.

I love to cook and try new recipes so I felt very prepared for this day of my volunteer odyssey. When I arrived in the Nutrition Kitchen, Carolyn and Jimmy, greeted me. Carolyn is the nutritionist and instructor and Jimmy is her assistant. Carolyn explained how the classes and kitchen work; then promptly got me into a hat and apron, putting me to work. I chopped cilantro, and broccoli; I had happened to come on vegetable day.  That meant lots of chopping was necessary.

Carolyn teaching the class how to make salsas.

Carolyn teaching the class how to make salsas.

Then, when I finished my chopping duties, it was time to begin the 9 am class. On this particular vegetable day we made salsa two ways, and marinated vegetables. The first salsa we made was mango; it features black beans, corn, pineapple, and mangoes.  For our next recipe, we made a fresh tomato salsa; that used fresh tomatoes, jalapenos, bell pepper, and garlic; it was made in the food processor. After Carolyn, the nutritionist and instructor, finished her demonstration, making these salsas, I passed out samples to all of the class attendees. We almost had a full house for this class, about 20 people. Following the salsas, we made the marinated vegetables; which incorporated carrots, broccoli, and mushrooms.  When this was finished, I also passed out samples.  After this class I cleaned the student stations, and helped prep for the next class. We then did it all over again for the 10:30 class.

Cleaning up after the class.

Cleaning up after the class.

I really enjoyed my time with Carolyn and Jimmy in the nutrition kitchen; the goal of these cooking classes is to demonstrate how to easily cook healthier foods. Vegetable day showed those in the class how easy, and delicious it can be to incorporate more vegetables into your diet. The nutrition kitchen teaches how to cook what they already know, in a healthier way, and to expose people to foods they may not have tried before. The day I volunteered many people had never eaten mangoes. I would love to go back for another cooking class, and I think most of us could benefit from eating healthier.

 

Thank you for reading! I’m searching for a job in public policy, non-profit administration, or social science research. If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com or raeannepitts@gmail.com

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Week 10, Day 3: Rae-Anne Pitts at Catholic Charities of West Tennessee

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I have been unemployed for the past seven months, I understand cutting back and spending less, because of this life change. In the past seven months my husband and I have eaten out less and tightened our spending. One prospect I have fortunately never been faced with is the inability to buy groceries. For my third day of the Volunteer Odyssey challenge, I worked with, Catholic Charities of West Tennessee, they give groceries to families who cannot afford them, three days a week; through the Fig Tree Food Pantry. What they do is something wonderful and meaningful.

 

Learning how to make a dry goods bag.

Learning how to make a dry goods bag.

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During my time at the food pantry I helped pack bags and boxes for families of varying sizes. I have donated to food pantries over the years through schools, churches, and food drives. Other than the canned vegetables I donated I had never given much thought to what a needy family receives from food banks. The food pantry tries to give the most balanced bag of food as possible to the families. The bag includes canned vegetables, soups, dry noodles, tuna, peanut butter, and many other options. These bags are usually packed ahead of time. A family of 1-3 will receive a bag, a family of 4-5 will receive a larger box, and a family of 6 or larger will receive a box and a bag. In addition to these dry goods the families are provided fresh bread, a variety of meats, fresh fruits, and vegetables (when available). These items are pulled as the families arrive. The amount of meat and produce also depends on the size of the family. On average the food pantry serves 10-15 families a day. On the day I volunteered we served 13 families. My duties this day were to help pack bags of dried goods, greet families as they came in, and help get items together to send with the families

 

Before I came to Fig Tree Food Pantry, I assumed that when the food pantry is open, families that need groceries just come in to shop. As it turns out, these families are referred to the food pantry by other aide organizations and agencies. Wednesday when I was at the pantry, it was visited by families from Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association (MIFA), Refuge Services, and the Red Cross. Most of the recipients are not homeless, just unable to make ends meet.

 

One family I met moved to Memphis from Baghdad, Iraq. The parents have a four-year-old daughter. They are alone with no family in Memphis. The food pantry makes special provisions for this family, because they do not eat pork. They make sure to supply them with products that do not contain pork, and instead supply them with beef or chicken. The father told the volunteers that his wife is about to undergo heart surgery. He asked if the volunteers knew a way for him to get someone to stay with his wife, because he is starting a new job.

 

I also met a single mother of four children; she works in a school cafeteria during the school year. However, she does not make enough to support her family during the summer when school is out. She told me how she spent all of her savings in order to send her oldest son to football camp, because he loves playing. The mother also told of the ways she likes to cook, and her love of trying new recipes. She even gave me some cooking tips. In her cooking she is challenged with making the most out of what she has to offer her children. She was grateful for what she was given and it was very inspiring to see her making the best out of her circumstances.

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I loved my time spent at the food pantry. I came away with a greater appreciation for what I have and my family. It is a powerful thing to be able to connect these families with resources they need. Volunteers run the Fig Tree Food Pantry and I could not have asked for a nicer group of people. I hope to go back and help out again.

Thank you for reading! I’m searching for a job in public policy, non-profit administration, or social science research. If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com or raeannepitts@gmail.com

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Week 10, Day 2: Rae-Anne Pitts at SRVS

Chris, LaQuita, and I working on a puzzle.

When I received the schedule for my Volunteer Odyssey week I immediately got a nervous knot in my stomach when I saw SRVS (pronounced serves). SRVS is the Shelby Residential and Vocational Services; they help adults with disabilities to be more independent. SRVS accomplishes this through classroom activities as well as hands on activities. I did not know many details about SRVS before today, and what I knew was from reading other blogs on Volunteer Odyssey. I had never worked with the disabled before, and I was very apprehensive to do so, because there was just so much that I did not know about those with disabilities. I did not know how they would react to me or if I would be able to effectively communicate with them. There were many details I was unsure of going into this experience.

I had no idea what to expect when I mapped out the address. I have known this area of South Memphis to be a fairly glum spot.  When I arrived, the building was like the others in the neighborhood, brick and surrounded by a fence.  As I pulled in a little before 9, I noticed two entrances. As it turns out, I picked the wrong one and came in the side entrance. To my surprise, a nice employee let me in, and sent me in the right direction. This turned out to be a happy accident because the office I needed to go to was right inside that door. Walking into SRVS was different from I had expected from the outside. On the contrary, it is bright and cheerful.  I was drawn to some of the light panels that were made to look like clouds; immediately I knew this was a very happy place.

Allison, the volunteer coordinator, gave me a tour of SRVS and told the history, as well as the day-to-day functions of the students. She explained the way a typical day goes for a student at SRVS. Each day the students have goals, called outcomes, to meet with activities in each subject.  When a student finishes these activities; they may choose other activities to complete, from the shelves in each classroom. In addition to these classroom activities, students rotate activities between: outings, music, movies, art, and physical therapy. Allison showed me the classrooms, and the music room, the model apartment, and the physical therapy room.  In the music room, the students learn counting and other skills through drums and other instruments. In the model apartment the students learn life skills, and how to live independently. Inside the physical therapy room, students improve their motor skills with physical activity. They even have a ball pit! The last stop on the tour was the art studio. This is where Allison and I decided to start my time interacting with the students.

Arts and crafts time!

 Allison gathered students from a couple of classes that were interested in doing arts and crafts. Before we knew it, we had two tables full. The students love to create. We worked on decorating cans covered in paper. Some students chose markers  while others chose paint or colored pencils.  Other students decided to cut out shapes and glue them to their cans. I had a great time watching the students create and even decorated a tin can myself. I cannot remember the last time I used markers, it reminded me of all the art classes I took in elementary school.

At 10 am it was snack time, so we put the arts and crafts away and cleaned up. This was so the students could return to their classrooms and get their snacks. Then, Allison showed me to a classroom to have some one on one time with some students. Chris, who was so friendly and outgoing, and I worked on a matching game designed to help teach where sizes and shapes fit into a puzzle. After helping Chris, I worked with LaQuita on a puzzle. It was a 1,000-piece puzzle so it was pretty difficult. LaQuita already had several sections together before I arrived, so I helped matching pieces. LaQuita and I did not have time to finish the puzzle, because before we knew it, it was lunchtime. Lunch occurs in two groups at SRVS, one at 11 and the other group at 12; during lunchtime I went to another classroom.

Chris and I working on a classroom activity.

Chris, LaQuita, and I working on a puzzle.

Chris, LaQuita, and I working on a puzzle.

 This classroom had some senior students. I worked with a sweet older man named Oscar, on two games. The first, a matching game similar to Chris’s game, and one that involved scooping up balls from one basket and putting them into another basket. The scooping game helped to work on motion useful in everyday life. I noticed several variations of this game in each of the classrooms I went in. I also watched Hoda and Erica work on tangram games, where smaller shapes are used to make larger shapes, which I remember from elementary school. The closer the clock got to twelve the less the students wanted to participate in the games, because they were getting hungry. I understood that feeling; I was getting hungry as well. As they left for lunch, my time at SRVS was over.

 I loved my time at SRVS. Although I was apprehensive at first, the students, teachers, and Allison, all made me feel at ease. The students were sweet, funny, and cheerful. The students all loved each other and their time at SRVS. Because of my time at SRVS, I feel like I am more comfortable around those with disabilities. I was really amazed at what a tremendous organization SRVS is. Not only does SRVS offer day services, but also has other divisions. Community Employment Services and SRVS Industries, Inc. help those with disabilities find employment. SRVS also has residential housing through SRVS Community Living; where individuals with disabilities can live together independently.  I found that SRVS is a unique and wonderful place that enables those with disabilities to learn things and do things that they would not otherwise be able to do.

Thank you for reading! I’m searching for a job in public policy, non-profit administration, or social science research. If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com or raeannepitts@gmail.com
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Week 10, Day 1: Rae-Anne Pitts at St. Mary’s Soup Kitchen

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I was very anxious to begin my Volunteer Odyssey journey. I was especially nervous about working at St. Mary’s Catholic Church Soup Kitchen. I had never interacted with the homeless before, and I was not sure what to expect. I arrived at St. Mary’s bright and early on a clear sunny day, at 7:15. I am not a morning person and did not have time to make coffee so this felt extra early for me. Martin and Ron run the soup kitchen. They and the other volunteers greeted me warmly. Ron showed me around the kitchen and pantry and explained how everything runs, following their brief introduction; they put me to work preparing breakfast. We packaged pastries into individual sandwich bags to be passed out.

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Breakfast began around 7:30, with ladies going first. Each person attending received a cup of coffee and a choice of two pastries. With each pastry the other volunteers and I said good morning, made eye contact, and gave them a warm smile. This is simple gesture of compassion that they may not receive every day. Oftentimes people avoid eye contact with homeless people.  As a society we often grown up avoiding it either because we don’t know how to interact or we are afraid. The smiles I received in return made me realize how much this small gesture can mean.

After breakfast had been distributed we immediately began preparations to serve lunch. Volunteers begin making soup from scratch at 5:30 am.  It can include all kinds of meat such as ground beef, chicken, or ham and vegetables, depending on what is available at the time. Today’s soup was vegetable beef soup with noodles. The smell reminded me of my favorite meal in elementary school. A sweet volunteer named Kathy and I worked together to ladle the soup into 16-ounce portions in Styrofoam cups. We ladled so much soup, probably about 120 portions. I am proud to say, I managed to only burn my fingers a couple of times.

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The second serving began at 9 am and ran until 10 am. This meal included a bologna sandwich, a peanut butter sandwich, soup, and a treat. The treat on the day I volunteered was a donut, but it varies from day-to-day. I was in the “hot seat” for this serving; this means I was responsible for handing out the sandwiches, treat, and cup of soup. The sandwiches are wrapped up so that they may take them with them for later which many did. Everyone that came through the line was very nice; some were quiet, while others were very talkative. One man even sang a song to those of us passing out food, that he had written about Jesus. After lunch service, all that was left was to clean the kitchen. We washed the dishes, swept and mopped the floors, wiped the counter, and put away any leftovers for the next day.

The soup kitchen of, St. Mary’s Catholic Church, has been operating for 143 years. On average they serve 80-100 at breakfast and 120-200 at lunch. Amazing! They are able to make a real impact on people who have little where else to turn.  It is an impressive thing that the volunteers do, six days a week, and I was fortunate to be part of it for a day.

Thank you for reading! I’m searching for a job in public policy, non-profit administration, or social science research. If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com or raeannepitts@gmail.com
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Prelude: Rae-Anne Pitts

Earlier this year, I moved to Midtown with my husband. Neither of us are from Memphis and had grown up hearing about the city only in the “Breaking News” stories. Since making the move were quick to embrace the Grit & Grind of Memphis. Many of the reasons I love Memphis are the same that I love my native Mississippi. Both possess such an underdog quality. They have rich and troubled histories with limitless potential on their horizons. Memphis has so much to offer and I want to do what I can to help it reach that potential. I am looking forward to starting our lives here and seeing what Memphis can be.

Thank you for reading! I’m searching for a job in public policy, non-profit administration, or social science research. If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com or raeannepitts@gmail.com
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