After Rivers had some time to reflect on her experience, we sat down to talk with her about what it was like. Here’s what she had to say:
Volunteer Odyssey: Had you ever volunteered before for any of the non-profits that you went to during your Volunteer Odyssey week?
Rivers: No, I hadn’t volunteered before at any of the non-profits of my Volunteer Odyssey, and some I hadn’t even heard of before I went there.
Volunteer Odyssey: Will you continue to volunteer for any of the organizations now that your week is over?
Rivers: Most definitely! Before I left several of the organizations, I filled out their volunteer forms, and I’m looking forward to returning to them and helping out in a more meaningful way than just a few hours on an isolated day! In fact, I’ve already been back to one!
Volunteer Odyssey: What kind of reactions did you get from your family and friends during your Volunteer Odyssey week?
Rivers: Pretty much everyone – family, friends, strangers – I have told about my Volunteer Odyssey project has been incredibly supportive of me and the project as a whole. I was really surprised at how much one of my grad school professors wanted me to share my experience with my peers.
Volunteer Odyssey: How did participating for Volunteer Odyssey benefit you? What did you learn from your experience?
Rivers: I really enjoyed my Volunteer Odyssey. 4 of the 7 places I went to were within 5 miles of my house, which is the average distance I run on a given day. So, it was nice to go out into my community and make an obvious impact with organizations and people who live and work in the same neighborhood where I live and work. This gave me a natural connection with others I might not have otherwise felt I had similarities with. For example, I am not Catholic, and I can count the number of times I have been inside a Catholic church in my life, but I pass St. Mary’s all the time (usually when I am running), and it never occurred to me to go in there because I am not religiously affiliated with that church, but as I learned from Volunteering, that is certainly not a prerequisite or even really thought of the people who work there. Yes, many volunteers there are members of St. Mary’s, but plenty of people are not, and a very nice Jewish woman from East Memphis comes to downtown at least once a week to help with St. Mary’s outreach efforts. Faith-based organizations play an incredibly important role in the physical and emotional health of our communities, but that impact isn’t about the denominational affiliation identified by a sign in front of a building, it’s because there are groups of people who fundamentally believe in helping their neighbor who is in need, which is I think at the crux of the pleasure of my Volunteer Odyssey and helps put it to words. I get asked all the time why I do this, and the very simple answer is because I can, but more to the point, I believe in the moral/ spiritual imperative that if you have the ability to help someone, you should.
Volunteer Odyssey: Would you recommend Volunteer Odyssey to a friend?
Rivers: I would and have recommended Volunteer Odyssey to a friend, and hopefully, you’ll be reading her blog posts very soon!