Together We Rise!

Today I was impressed by how much can be achieved when you believe in your ability to do something. Believing in a solution can lead to a solution, and that’s how I imagine Dorothy Day felt about poverty. In 2006, Memphis’ Dorothy Day House of Hospitality opened its doors to provide temporary housing and support services for the city’s homeless families. This house is more than a home. The Dorothy Day House offers resources and services which are designed to help families move toward self-sufficiency. Family members are kept together to set achievable goals and rebuild their lives. At the Dorothy Day House, they believe that it’s important for families to stay together under one roof in order to identify and tackle life’s challenges. When Tracy Burgess, the Fundraising and Volunteer Coordinator, told me that some families lived in their cars before the Dorothy Day House, I couldn’t believe it. Then she reminded me that many traditional homeless shelters only accept residents of a single sex. Unfortunately, family homelessness can lead to children being separated from their parents due to shelter policies. I love how the Dorothy Day House’s program is open to the whole family. So much more can be accomplished when families are together to make important decisions. At the Dorothy Day House, staff members and volunteers provide families in need with a safe environment and tools necessary to move forward. Rather than feel discouraged or defeated, families of the program are ready to make changes and take on these challenges.

Like I said, the Dorothy Day House is more than a home. In addition to food, clothing, and shelter, the staff and volunteers work to ensure that families receive exactly the help they need when they need it. Families can receive educational resources and guidance, employment counseling, transportation, potential job contacts, parenting skills, child care recommendations, budget and financial management assistance, counseling and case management services, advocacy and mentoring, and access to sources of permanent housing. This is a much wider range of services than those offered by traditional shelters. Families can continue to work with staff members and volunteers after they leave the Dorothy Day House, but there are also instances when families wish to simply move forward and never look back. During my visit, a few of us gathered in the dining room to enjoy cookies and conversation with each other. The Dorothy Day House serves as that much-needed support system for those in need of hope, encouragement, and structure. It’s through these collaborative efforts that each family unit becomes stronger. The house takes in up to three families, who stay a few months to a year depending on their circumstances. Though each family’s story is different, they all share the desire to makes sure issues do not resurface or threaten their efforts to become self-sufficient members of society. I learned during my time at the house that it’s important to never be afraid to ask for help when you need it the most. If you never ask, how will you ever know the answer that can be a solution to your problem?

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Have A Heart!

Located in the lower level of Brinkley Plaza, you’ll find an organization that provides hope and opportunity for children in developing nations. At International Children’s Heart Foundation (ICHF), staff members plan and organize medical mission trips to cure and care for children with congenital heart disease. Before last week, I had never heard of ICHF. Through Volunteer Odyssey Founder Sarah, who continues to be a wonderful resource, I met Randa Blenden and learned more about the organization and its mission. Randa, the ICHF Volunteer Medical Trip Coordinator, was actually getting ready to leave for a medical mission trip in the Dominican Republic. To be able to meet with her and discuss the possibility of volunteering at the ICHF office was such a treat! Also, I underestimated just how many people are affected by heart disease. Approximately 1% of the world’s population is born with heart disease, making it the most common birth defect worldwide. While the United States and other developed countries can properly care for children with heart disease and repair congenital heart defects, developing nations do not have the medical centers with trained specialists to better care for these children. Randa, who is also a registered nurse, accompanies the ICHF team to provide direct care, medical supplies and equipment, and training for the surgeons and medical staff in these countries. These surgical interventions are structured to correct congenital heart defects, whether simple or complex. At ICHF, they offer hope and support for the patients’ families and help children with congenital heart disease lead longer and healthier lives.

At the meeting, Randa asked if I’d be interested in working on the layout and design of an ICHF trip report. I’m always eager to take on a new challenge, so I was excited to put my skills and knowledge to the test with this assignment. For the fifth day of my Odyssey Week, I enjoyed learning even more about the ICHF mission through this creative, hands-on project. Terry Carter, the ICHF Executive Director, provided me with a wonderful workspace at the office. Before she left for her trip, Randa sent me images and documents that would help in the development of the trip report. Through the stories and pictures of families who were helped, I gained valuable insight into the how the ICHF program has given each patient a second chance at life. With the proper treatment, each patient has the chance to live a life with possibilities never imagined – a life that wouldn’t be possible without the medical care provided by ICHF. Their commitment to providing support to the children and families in developing nations reminds me that anything is possible through hard work and dedication.

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Spread The Love.

It’s the fourth day of my Volunteer Odyssey, and I continue to be impressed with how our city’s charitable and nonprofit organizations provide education, awareness, and funding for human rights initiatives. Today, I visited the Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association (MIFA) and learned more about their efforts to support the independence of vulnerable seniors and families in crisis. This amazing organization offers an array of services tailored to meet the needs and challenges in Memphis neighborhoods. In the first part of the visit, I met with Kristi to help deliver meals to residents. The Meals on Wheels program provides 1,200 hot, nutritious lunches each weekday for clients who are either homebound elderly or seniors at congregate sites. Yes, you read that correctly – 1,200 prepared meals are delivered by volunteers each weekday! It’s an incredible effort to ensure that the nutritional needs of seniors are met. Also, it serves as a connection with the outside for those who are homebound.

The meal route with Kristi took place in an area that really isn’t too far from more affluent parts of Memphis. In fact, we visited one boarded-up apartment complex that remains within the view of the FedEx Forum. When you notice such a contrast, you can’t help but connect it to our city’s concerns with poverty and violence. Before we began our route, we packed a good supply of warm trays with food, rolls, milk, and fruit for our stops. During the drive, Kristi shared with me more information about Meals on Wheels and how the program enables seniors, who live at or below the poverty line, to remain in their homes and continue to be an integral part of the community. You could tell how these special deliveries enhance and improve the quality of life for seniors in Memphis. Just seeing smiles on clients’ faces was enough to show how MIFA has truly helped clients maintain independence and a peace of mind. I admire how MIFA continues to address issues of poverty, hunger, and isolation by pursuing both immediate relief and long-term solutions through their programs and services.

After assisting Kristi with the meal route, I met with the communications team to learn more about their work in branding, fundraising, and marketing for MIFA. Imagine being part of something that brings hope and opportunity to so many people! Ellen, Terrie, and Jim reminded me the importance of teamwork for building morale and achieving goals. With the organization’s collaborative work environment, there are opportunities for members of different skills and interests to learn, grow, and make a difference. Who wouldn’t love that? My appreciation for MIFA and its programs grew exponentially as I heard and saw how their work continues to strengthen the lives of seniors and families in crisis.

A pep talk from Ellen, Terrie, and Jim was just what I needed as I look for meaningful work and ways to gain more experience in creative design. While sharing their experiences, Ellen, Terrie, and Jim made it clear that you can expect excellent results when team members’ roles are clearly defined. In order to achieve goals and objectives, you must be flexible and open to new ideas. It’s no wonder MIFA has done well in their efforts to alleviate hunger and suffering. Everyone is there to educate and train the public, as well as make a difference in clients’ everyday lives. One Team, One Goal – making Memphis a better place.

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Life: A Great Bundle Of Little Things

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s easy to overlook those small moments of joy in life when you’re constantly working toward something bigger and better. Rather than appreciating what you have, you wish for more and remain dissatisfied. Unfortunately, there have been too many times when I’ve taken simple pleasures and gestures for granted. Today reminded me to appreciate those things.

For the third day of my Odyssey Week, I joined Gordon for a morning of special deliveries for patients, their families, and the employees of Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital. Gordon, an all-star volunteer, is in charge of the beverage cart. The famous beverage cart, which includes a nice selection of drinks and condiments, visits the twelve floors of the hospital several times during the week. It’s a hit! From tea to the Le Bonheur Special (a hot beverage with a mocha-esque flavor), the beverage cart is designed to quench any thirst. While the beverage cart does have quite the fan-base, so does Gordon. His small meaningful acts of kindness are remembered and appreciated by different people at the hospital. Rather than retire, Gordon decided to look into community service opportunities several years ago. His daughter Timorie Belk, who is Le Bonheur’s Volunteer Services Coordinator, invited Gordon to contribute his skills at the hospital. With the beverage cart, Gordon provides hope and encouragement to those facing tough challenges. Every cup is truly made with love, as Gordon carefully pours and stirs the ingredients for each drink. Through this experience, I am reminded that we should never underestimate the power and impact of the small things in life. With this seemingly small service, Gordon is able to help make people’s lives so much happier.

All morning, Gordon and I travelled from room to room to see if patients or family members wanted anything to drink. We had an awesome system! Gordon would typically enter each room to collect drink orders, and I would be ready to prepare the drinks in the hallway. There were instances when we’d switch, and I’d ask individuals what they’d want. During my visit, I noticed how recipients benefited from the beverage cart’s convenient pick-me-ups. Staying positive is sometimes easier said than done but through this service, patients and employees are reminded that there are people who really care about them. At Le Bonheur, it could be a friendly smile from a staff member or reassuring words of a doctor that make the biggest impact on a patient’s day. These ongoing small gestures allow people to create deeper, more personal connections with others, as well as, enjoy fuller and more satisfying lives.

If people missed the cart during our stops, they’d ultimately follow us until we’d stop again. Like I said, the beverage cart is a hit! No one wants to miss out on a cup of hot cocoa with extra marshmallows! We only had enough hot water and coffee for four floors, but I was ready to refill the urns and restock the cart for more visits. I understand why Gordon’s beverage cart has been successful and appreciate how small acts of kindness can heal, inspire, and help make life better. It’s important to find the joy in every little thing, as well as, share those special moments with others. I admire what Gordon has done with the beverage cart, bringing comfort and happiness to the Le Bonheur community. It inspires me to find little ways to help others and simply slow down to enjoy life to the fullest.


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Art For The Heart!

The second day of my Odyssey Week made me flashback to fun summers at camp! At the Carpenter Art Garden, children are invited to explore and discover new things through ongoing art and garden projects. This once empty lot serves as a wonderful meeting spot for the children and adults in Binghampton, a neighborhood lacking in safe community spaces. In addition to the garden, they offer tutoring, small group art lessons, a studio space, and after school clubs every day at their Purple House. The organization hopes to acquire additional property for expansion and to add an indoor workshop. While exploring the importance of creative expression, I also gained valuable insight into how collaboration can be a powerful tool.

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, the children constructed rainbows attached to pots of gold and leprechaun beards and hats for the look o’ the Irish. Each piece was unique – and that’s why I love art. Art and creativity play such important roles in the human experience, helping people not only respect themselves but also others. In Carpenter Art Garden’s mission statement, they mention the desire to promote each child’s creative potential and self-worth through art. I could see that the children have the freedom to express themselves and build upon their strengths. While Destyne colored her leprechaun hat green, Chinita didn’t hesitate to use all of the colors of the rainbow. I appreciate how the Carpenter Art Garden celebrates individualism and diversity through their projects.

I was really looking forward to a crafty afternoon (a.k.a. crafternoon) at the art garden. Art has helped me make meaningful connections with others, as well as, observe and describe the world around me. When I was a summer camp counselor, I enjoyed organizing and managing art activities and sharing my love for self-expression. I’ve learned through my mom’s teaching career in music how the arts can have a profound effect on children’s development. Studies have shown that children can develop important thinking, problem-solving, and language skills through creative activities. Though arts programs are often the first to go in school districts’ budget cuts, I’m happy that we have organizations like the Carpenter Art Garden to step in and make up for the deficit in arts programming. The garden is a unique place that offers opportunities for all children to learn and engage. It’s hard to believe that this space of hope and opportunity was once an abandoned lot! My afternoon with the children and volunteers at the art garden reaffirmed everything I knew about the benefits of the arts and reminded me that so much can be achieved through collaborative efforts. As they say in the garden, “Teamwork makes the dream work!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Smile! Happy Looks Good On You!

SRVS

When I first learned I would be volunteering at SRVS (pronounced serves), I was nervous yet excited about this unique opportunity. SRVS supports people with developmental disabilities and offers a variety of services for personal growth and development. Since I had never worked closely with people with developmental disabilities, I knew it was important to enter this experience with an open mind. My visit began with a neat tour of the facility from Lindsay Weaver. When she described to me what the clients do in each area, I couldn’t help but wish to be part of the fun. The clients are encouraged to explore their interests and develop new skills through innovative activities. Before this visit, I was concerned that I would hear sad stories regarding the challenges of living with or caring for someone with a disability. However, the chance to see and hear what clients love doing during the week put my mind at ease.

I understand why the people they serve are genuinely happy. With its equally warm and supportive environment, SRVS enables each person to make choices and enjoy more of what life has to offer. The agency’s services, which include residential, employment, clinical and learning center services, help people live, work, and learn to their fullest potential. Throughout my time with the clients and staff at SRVS, I was constantly reminded that so much could be achieved with the proper support system.

Throughout the morning, the clients were kept busy and satisfied with a variety of tasks and crafts. Honestly, I underestimated the number of enjoyable activities offered each day. From planting a garden to creating beautiful works of art, clients have many opportunities to make and experience special moments with others. Art continues to be my go-to creative outlet, so I was excited to make greeting cards with clients. I felt like I was being invited to the ultimate Arty Party! The creative space is dedicated to the clients’ creative processes and includes a wide selection of art supplies. I gained valuable insight into the clients’ personalities and interests through their pieces. After assisting with a couple of art classes, I had the chance to learn more about the Montessori method of education in a classroom. This method enables people to pursue their natural interests and hone their skills through exercises that promote the development of their individual selves. I can see why there are many supporters of the Montessori philosophy. You would have been impressed with how fast Gary matched images of seashells with their names. Also, Barbara beautifully demonstrated her advanced skills and techniques in ribbon weaving. I appreciate how the daily activities are structured to build upon the strengths in a way that is meaningful to each client at SRVS.

There was no reason for me to be nervous before my visit. Like any other human being, a person with developmental disabilities wishes to explore and enjoy what life has to offer. At SRVS, clients can simply be themselves. Isn’t that what we all want?

 

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Prelude: Bonnie Hopkins

Explore. Embrace. Learn. Live!!
Explore. Embrace. Learn. Live!!

Explore. Embrace. Learn. Live!!

“Every story has an end, but in life, every end is just a new beginning!”

I honestly didn’t know what to expect after my college graduation last May, but I knew the key was to keep an open mind. I want to be creative and persistent during my job search while continuing to do what I love! Art serves as a wonderful outlet for personal growth, providing opportunities to experience and create special moments with others. When I was a child, I had dreams of being an artist of some kind. That “Bohemian” dream will always live in part of my soul! While I want to use my skills to teach and entertain, I also feel that art can be a spark for optimism and gratitude.

With my Odyssey Week, I want to get out of my comfort zone while learning more about how to use my creativity for good. During my years working as a summer camp counselor, I enjoyed leading art activities and noticed how the children benefitted from the projects. In college, I volunteered with various non-profits in New Orleans and led the TOMS Campus Club at Loyola University. I even went on a Giving Trip to Peru with TOMS Shoes and gained valuable insight on how social entrepreneurship works. My own Bonnie Company Greeting Cards has served as a meaningful and unique way to connect with others. More importantly, I enjoy putting that extra pep in the recipient’s step with the nontraditional, wacky holidays that each card honors! I can’t wait to begin a new chapter with Volunteer Odyssey! I eagerly anticipate exploring my skills and interests while learning how to use them to give back to my hometown.

Adventure awaits! I encourage you to join me as I turn the page on this story of transition!

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