Epilogue: Heather Murphy



I don’t know where to begin! Do I start with all the amazing people (dogs and cats too) I met through my Volunteer Odyssey week? Or with the vital services the organizations I volunteered with bring to our community? Or with how great it felt to support these organizations and make a difference? Or with how important it is to make time to volunteer?

Seven organizations in seven days: MIFA, Memphis Medical District Collaborative, Mid-South Spay and Neuter Services, Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital, Page Robbins Adult Day Center, Room In The Inn/Peace Lutheran Church, and Dorothy Day House. Dr. Sarah Petschonek and Caroline Borron with Volunteer Odyssey scheduled the perfect week for me based on my interests and causes I’m most passionate about.

I embarked on this journey….this odyssey…to explore the world of non-profit organizations, to see if I would find what I’ve been missing in my career. I was also excited about the chance to help, to make a difference and to find an organization or two I will continue to volunteer with. And, I must admit, while I was very nervous about blogging, I knew I would improve my creative writing skills as a result.

I learned from my odyssey that non-profits need volunteers as much as they need monetary and other donations. Without volunteers, those must vulnerable in our community would lack services they need to survive. As you make your 2017 goals, please find an organization dear to your heart to volunteer with; even if it is for one hour every month. If you need help finding the right organization for you, reach out to the Volunteer Odyssey team. They will help.

For my 2017 volunteer goals, I found an organization or two or seven or eight, including Volunteer Odyssey, I want to volunteer with! I know I can’t support them all. Now it is time to figure out where to focus my volunteer time in 2017.

Anna Ritz is the expert editor who encouraged me to express in my blogs how my experiences opened my eyes. Her feedback was helpful, on-point and allowed me to improve each of my blogs and be more comfortable with sharing my thoughts publicly. I’m even beginning to use Facebook more and more!

And finally, this experience has helped me become more clear as I continue on my path to finding where I belong career wise. Included in the Job Seekers program is a valuable working session with Jen Frank, professional coach. This morning, I shared with Jen my strong desire to do something meaningful. She led me in an exercise that pointed out, very clearly, what my values are. “When you find a role that is in line with your values, you will be successful, you will make beneficial contributions, and you will be happy,” Jen explained.

Empathy, support, getting through this together, optimism, seeing opportunities, respect and being useful are my core values. I’m focusing my job search on opportunities with either for-profit or non-profit organizations that appreciate, thrive on and build teams and establish work cultures with these values.

This has been an experience like no other. The Volunteer Odyssey team provides valuable support to pair volunteers with organizations they will stay with over time. Our support and donations allow this wonderful organization to continue….and expand…. the benefits they bring to our community.

Thank you for following me on this journey. Thank you for volunteering your time to an organization close to your heart. Thank you for the donations you have made to Volunteer Odyssey that have made this experience possible for me. And a huge thank you to those working in the non-profit organizations in Memphis providing crucial services in our community. Your dedication is noticed and appreciated.

Day 7: What Does Homelessness Look Like?


Helping prepare the dessert!

Helping prepare the dessert!

I had driven by the building thousands of times but never knew of the kindness and generosity happening inside. If I hadn’t known I was visiting the Dorothy Day House  and sharing dessert with homeless families and other volunteers, I would have thought I was celebrating the holidays at a friend’s house.

Walking in the backdoor like all family members do, I met a large group of volunteers toting boxes and bags of presents and armfuls of desserts. I immediately felt humbled as I walked in with my small box of chess squares as meager contribution to the evening’s dessert buffet. “What organization are you with?” I asked the mass of volunteers. “Oh, we aren’t with an organization. We are family and friends just helping out.” My feelings of humility increased.

Homemade chess squares for the Sunday evening gathering.

Homemade chess squares for the Sunday evening gathering.

As I walked into the home, the green nametags worn by the two staff members were the only way I distinguished them from residents. Staff members were carrying infants. Residents were helping move chairs into the living room where we would all gather shortly. As the volunteer kiddos met the resident kiddos, it was immediate camaraderie….and chaos! As any great holiday party at a friend’s house has! This isn’t what I know homelessness to look like.

When Sr. Maureen, Executive Director of the Dorothy Day House, began to lead us in prayers of thanksgiving, the laughter and chaos gave way to a peaceful hush. Again, I was humbled when she asked me to read a selection from the book of Matthew. Staff, residents and volunteers then proceeded in saying the Lord’s Prayer together.

The Dorothy Day House has provided safe harbor for Sue and her family of four (two sons and two daughters) for eight months. They traveled to Memphis from the mid-west. As she told me her story, I listened, but didn’t pry. I let Sue share the details of her undoubtedly painful journey as she wanted. “Coming to Memphis wasn’t my plan. It just happened.”

Her exposure to Memphis is two-fold: what Sue sees in the news and what she has experienced first- hand at the Dorothy Day House. It’s quite a contrast. In the news, she hears of the deplorable things that happen in our city. But her personal experience at the Dorothy Day House has been filled with an outpouring of kindness, understanding, hope, and support.

Families unwrapping holiday presents donated by generous volunteers!

Families unwrapping holiday presents donated by generous volunteers!

The impact and power of giving was evident this evening. The boxes and bags of holiday gifts brought by the family of volunteers were astonishing. After opening gift after gift and package after package, Sue’s older daughter ran upstairs to try on a new outfit. It fit her perfectly. Not only did it fit her slight frame but also her personality and style, too! She loved it!

More donated gifts being received with warm smiles and sincere gratitude.

More donated gifts being received with warm smiles and sincere gratitude.

Sr. Maureen asked Sue if she liked the gifts she received as mother of the family. Sue’s response was, “Oh yes! I love seeing the smiles on the faces of my children.”

The Dorothy Day House is different from other locals shelters. Many shelters in Memphis don’t house male and female family members at the same facility nor accept teenage males. It is tragic enough for a family to experience the hardships and pain that come with being homeless, but to have husbands and wives, fathers and daughters, mothers and sons separated from each other is heart wrenching.

The purpose is simple: “The Dorothy Day House keeps homeless families together, creating a safe haven and a community for entire families.” Simple, but not possible without a small, yet compassionate staff and hundreds of giving volunteers.

It feels like a home here. The Dorothy Day House is a true blessing to the homeless families in our community. Even better, four more houses have been purchased by the Dorothy Day organization to house Memphis’ homeless families. Our help is needed now as much as ever!

To find out how you can be a valuable supporter of this amazing organization, check out the Dorothy Day House website at http://www.dorothydaymemphis.org/who-we-are-1/.

Day 6: Yes, There Is Room For You Here

Serving breakfast at Peace Lutheran Church

Serving breakfast at Peace Lutheran Church

It was 26⁰ with a wind chill of 19⁰. At 5:00 this morning, frost covered the trees, coated grass on the ground and reflected the season’s festive holiday light decorations. It was quiet and still with few if any people traveling the roads.

My car was just starting to feel warmer as I arrived early at Peace Lutheran Church. Sitting in the parking lot looking at the darkened church, I thought of the people inside, taking brief shelter from the cold and insecurity of homelessness. They spent the night at the church. I wondered if they too felt as though they had just gotten warm when it was time to step out into the elements again.

Peace Lutheran Church is one of the many local communities of faith partnering with Room In The Inn to provide dinner, breakfast, a snack bag, and safe and warm overnight shelter one night each week from November to March. Congregation members, serving as hosts, stay overnight with their guests, prepare meals, and provide an environment where their guests come to understand people care. Likewise, hosts come to understand people living on our Memphis streets are more than a statistic.

Folding blankets in preparation for the next guests.

Folding blankets in preparation for the next guests.

Nicholas, one of the dedicated Friday evening hosts and a senior at Carver High School, put me to work right away. As the guests strip the linens from their cots or air mattresses, I gathered the sheets for volunteers to wash at home and return to the church within the week. I folded and placed blankets at the foot of each bed. I was thinking this was such a simple task when Nicholas explained how much faster cleaning up goes with extra hands.

Church volunteers drive guests downtown by 7:00 AM. But first, breakfast is served. This morning, we served sausage patties and garlic bread. Instant oatmeal, cereal, juice and coffee were also available. After asking if everyone had their first plate, guests would come back to see if seconds were available. Not knowing when they would have another meal did not stand in the way of ensuring everyone had a chance to eat first.

Through the rest of my day, I kept the guests in mind. What are they doing now? Where will they stay tonight? Will they have anything to eat this evening? Will I see them again? I think of Nicholas and other church volunteers who provide security to our homeless during the cold months.

Nicholas and Meredee, awesome Peace Lutheran and Room In The Inn Volunteers!

Nicholas and Meredee, awesome Peace Lutheran and Room In The Inn Volunteers!

I will see them again, and Nicholas, Meredee and other church volunteers too if I dedicate one weekend per month, five months per year to supporting Peace Lutheran Church and Room In The Inn. For such a minimal time commitment – as little as one weekend per month during the coldest months of the year – and such simple tasks, the impact is significant.

Room in the Inn-Memphis gets its name from a story in the Bible about a family coming to a small town called Bethlehem and not finding any room in the inn. With the vital services Room In The Inn provides, many more without a home hear “yes, there is room for you here.”

Room In The Inn has participating sites all over the city. Is your congregation one of them? To find out and see how you can provide support see http://www.roomintheinn-memphis.org/.

Day 5: Meeting People Where They Are On Their Journey

Trust the journey.

Trust the journey.

It’s the natural course of life, losing our parents, but just because it’s natural doesn’t make it easier. Whether it is sudden or a child loses their parent little by little over a period of time, losing a parent brings heartbreak like no other.

“I said goodbye to my mom two years ago,” said a dear friend whose mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease three years ago. My friend still sees her mother nearly every day but the woman she visits isn’t the mother she once was.

For patients and those caring for family members diagnosed with memory loss, the days can be stressful, long and filled with sadness of loss. For these, the Page Robbins Adult Day Center is a blessing and a reprieve.

Joining Cookie in the sing-a-long!

Joining Cookie in the sing-a-long!

The center offers daytime programs for middle-aged and older adults challenged with memory loss. Safe, age- and ability-appropriate activities are provided each weekday to encourage socialization and group participation. Page Robbins also assists the primary caregiver through monthly support groups, educational sessions, and guidance on caring for loved ones at home.

This morning, as I joined the sing-along with participants in the Page Robbins Adult Care program, I looked at the faces and into the eyes of those playing instruments and singing with the two talented volunteer vocalists-guitarists leading the activity. I wondered how many Christmases the participants remember and what Christmas will be like for them and their families this year.

A large circle of participants sing along with talented volunteer musicians.

A large circle of participants sing along with talented volunteer musicians.

With the dedication the center’s staff shows in caring for the participants, planning engaging activities, and serving warm nutritious lunches, I would be completely comfortable leaving my mother in their capable hands.

Today, I also enjoyed a friendly game of a version of kickball with other participants. I noticed some participants were very engaged, on the ready in case the ball came their way. Others were caught off guard when the ball rested at their feet. And that was okay. Meeting each person where they are on their journey is part of the approach the center takes with each participant.

A friendly game of kickball.

A friendly game of kickball.

Sitting in the art room, cutting out pink and red construction paper hearts in preparation for Valentine’s Day, Joyce Quintrell, the activity and volunteer coordinator, explained the Page Robbins facility is different from many others. At other facilities, there is one activity at a time and all participants, regardless of ability or interest, must be at the activity. At Page Robbins, the participants have options.

The art room is a special place indeed!

The art room is a special place indeed!

I noticed this in action near the end of my time at the center. While other participants were finishing lunch or heading to other activities, one participant joined me in the art room. He walked over to the easel to continue working on a painting he started a few days ago. Seeing a man find happiness and contentment, during a time when despair and sadness consume so many, made me see the awesomeness of the services Page Robbins provides!

The center is able to offer so many options for their clients because of their dedicated volunteers. As you make 2017 plans to give back to our community, keep the Page Robbins Adult Day Center in mind. For more information on how you can help, please visit their website http://pagerobbins.org/.

Day 4: Le Bonheur Specials and Friendly Smiles

“Hey, Hot Chocolate Lady! My mom wants some, too!” the younger sibling of a Le Bonheur patient excitedly hollered as he placed his order with me at the Hot Drinks Beverage Cart.

Four donated hot beverage dispensers and one awesome Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital volunteer is all it took to create the Hot Drinks Beverage Cart. Gordon is the awesome volunteer and mastermind behind it all!

Gordon, the awesome Le Bonheur volunteer and his amazing hot beverage cart!

Gordon, the awesome Le Bonheur volunteer and his amazing hot beverage cart!

Tapping into his creative side, carpentry skills and passion for delivering happiness, Gordon constructed wooden structures that, when attached, turn your ordinary office cart into a festive traveling coffee shop that any barista would envy. Today, I had the pleasure of accompanying Gordon on his morning route.

The lights and Gordon’s hand-crafted seasonal decorations that adorn the beverage cart draw the attention of staff, patients and parents of patients as we meander through the hallways of the hospital. The moment we stepped on the 12th floor to begin today’s journey, folks flocked to the cart, either curious about such a sight or delighted the cart had arrived!

Through the patient’s room window that provides visibility into the hallway, a mom saw the wooden “Hot Beverages” sign and rushed to the door. With anxious anticipation, she asked, “Do you have tea? I need a cup of tea.” Of course we have tea! You could see and feel her tension subside. As I handed her a fresh, made to order cup of tea (perfectly prepared, might I add), her husband began reaching for his wallet. We kindly explained everything from the beverage cart was complimentary.

Whether new, longer term or returning parents of children admitted to the hospital, they all had the same exhausted, haggard, worried look. After knocking and getting the okay to enter a patient’s room, we introduced ourselves and asked the residents if they would like a hot beverage: coffee, tea, apple cider or the Le Bonheur Special: hot chocolate made with coffee instead of water, with or without marshmallows.

It didn’t take me long to realize this isn’t just a traveling coffee stand delivering hot beverages. This is genuine, thoughtful compassion in action. Just as the gesture of a warm beverage brings brief relief to the parent of a sick child, it also comforts the doctors and nurses who care for these precious patients and families.

If you happen to be at Le Bonheur, keep an eye out for the Hot Beverage Cart passing through the halls. Be sure to try the Le Bonheur Special with marshmallows, and please tell Gordon that the “Hot Chocolate Lady” says hi!

The Volunteer Services Office at Le Bonheur is awesome! If you are looking for a volunteer opportunity, please be sure to check out their website http://www.lebonheur.org/ways-to-help.

Day 3: Memphis’ Other Neglected

After delivering the last meal to a senior in our community earlier this week, I glanced in my rearview mirror. There she was. Her eyes met mine. She was wet, cold, emaciated, and by the looks of her, had given birth to who-knows-how many litters of puppies.

It didn’t matter one bit that I was in an unfamiliar part of town. I had to try to help her.

Grabbing the last of my stash of pre-packaged peanut butter and cracker snacks that I keep on hand for just this occasion, I tried to lure her closer to me. As she backed away, she wouldn’t take her eyes off me, wanting so desperately to trust a human. I put the crackers on the sidewalk, out of the street traffic, and walked away. The further I retreated from the food, the closer she came to it.

As I returned to my car, she devoured every crumb. She was still scared, cold and wet, and I had a broken heart and tears in my eyes.

This isn’t the first time I’ve done this and it won’t be the last – not as long as we have so many animals in our community that aren’t spayed or neutered. As much as I love all things Memphis, we still have a lot of work to do in specific areas, particularly addressing our high population of neglected cats and dogs.

In 2005, Mid South Spay and Neuter Services (MSNS) opened its doors with the mission of “reducing pet overpopulation and high euthanasia rates by offering affordable spay and neuter surgeries to the public.”

Sorting donated newspapers so dog and cat kennels can be quickly lined by staff and volunteers.

Sorting donated newspapers so dog and cat kennels can be quickly lined by staff and volunteers.

According to the Humane Society of Memphis & Shelby County’s website, one unspayed cat can produce 4,948 kittens in 7 years. Since opening, MSNS has performed 37,000 spay and neuter procedures for both dogs and cats.

Take a moment. Do the math. Think about it. What would our neglected pet population be without the safe, compassionate and affordable services provided by MSNS?

The clinic’s veterinarian is trained in specialized procedures to operate on a high volume of patients daily while minimizing the recuperation time. Given the significant number of surgeries performed per day, things must move very quickly. The staff is amazing! Compassionate yet focused on ensuring the day’s patients receive the surgery and care needed to reduce Memphis’ pet overpopulation problem.

Today, I helped support the staff by sterilizing surgical instruments; washing, drying and folding donated towels and sheets; and calming anxious animals before surgery and soothing them as they came out of anesthesia.

Can you imagine being locked in this kennel not knowing where you are or what happens next?

Can you imagine being locked in this kennel not knowing where you are or what happens next?

With the continued efforts of the MSNS, donors and volunteers, the day will come when we won’t see so many frightened, hungry, injured animals wandering our Memphis streets. Go to http://spaymemphis.org/ to learn how you can help.

Day 2: It Isn’t Magic

Remember the days when downtown Memphis wasn’t anywhere you wanted to be after dark, and Overton Square was a barren wasteland? These areas didn’t become the lively, thriving, hot spots of Memphis they are today with the wave of a magic wand. It took planning, investing and a lot of hard work.

Great news! Our city’s revitalization focus is expanding!

The Memphis Medical District is long overdue for much needed attention. Bordered by Poplar Avenue, I-240, Vance Avenue and Danny Thomas Boulevard, the area between midtown and downtown is home to esteemed institutions such as St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Methodist LeBonheur, Regional One Health, and many others.

Looking for that light pole number!

Looking for that light pole number!

The Memphis Medical District Collaborative (MMDC) was formed less than a year ago by the Chief Executive Officers and leaders from the medical and higher education organizations in the district. Making this area “more livable, economically prosperous, clean and safe” is the mission of the MMDC.

Still looking for that light pole number!

Still looking for that light pole number!

Given my love for all things Memphis, Volunteer Odyssey arranged for me to participate in the MMDC’s “Lights On!” project this evening. With the goal of making the district safer, one of the first projects to tackle is addressing the numerous non-functioning streetlights. Tonight, several other volunteers and I supported this effort by driving through assigned zones and documenting non-working lights so the details can be reported to and addressed by MLGW.

As MLGW repairs the lights over the next several weeks, the streets in the Medical District will be brighter and well on the way to becoming safer for folks who work, live and travel through the neighborhood.

And boy, was this project needed! My volunteer partner, David and I audited and identified approximately 30 broken streetlights in the 200+ acre zone we were assigned. As MLGW repairs the lights over the next several weeks, the streets in the Medical District will be brighter and well on the way to becoming safer for folks who work, live and travel through the neighborhood.

Keep your eye on the Memphis Medical District! Awesome change is happening thanks to the vision, dedication, passion and hard work of the Memphis Medical District Collaborative! Check out their website for more details on the revitalization efforts http://mdcollaborative.org

Day 1: I Didn’t Get It

At MIFA office loading the car with nutritious meals for delivery to seniors in our community!

At MIFA office loading the car with nutritious meals for delivery to seniors in our community!

We hear about it in the news or read about it online: the number of Memphians who struggle with food insecurity, but I didn’t really get it until today when I delivered meals to homebound seniors with MIFA’s Meals on Wheels program.

When I arrived at the MIFA (Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association) offices this morning, the staging area of the Meals on Wheels department was lined with cooler after cooler and box after box of meals. My first thought was how wonderful it was to see so much warm food going to our neighbors in need.

Driving around, delivering the meals, I began taking in the reality of some of the living conditions: broken windows covered with tape and cardboard; so much structural decay that I wondered how the house was still standing; the smell of natural gas coming from inside the home as residents try to stay warm. How can so many people in Memphis lack access to affordable, nutritious food?

Worries? Problems? Sure, we all have them. For many of us, our concerns may be landing the big account at work; getting a first-class seat on a full flight; ensuring the table looks spectacular for the holiday dinner; or finding the perfect present for that loved one on our list who has everything.

After today, I may not “get it” on the level as some of our Memphis neighbors, but I sure have a new awareness of how serious food insecurity is in our city.

MIFA is an incredible organization that provides life saving services to those most vulnerable in Memphis. MIFA desperately needs volunteers! I’ve signed up to deliver meals again December 19, and I’d love for you to join me! To find out more about MIFA and how you can help, please visit their website http://www.mifa.org/


Prologue: Heather Murphy


I love lending a helping hand! At family holiday gatherings, where can you find me? In the kitchen, helping the host/hostess prepare, serve and clean up after meals. Every 56 days, where can you find me? At a LifeBlood blood drive donating blood. You’ll also find me at the Memphis International Airport at 6:00 weekend mornings meeting Make-A-Wish families helping them check-in, navigate through security and board the plane for their “amazing wish adventure.”

My path to Volunteer Odyssey began a few short weeks ago while attending a Career Transition meeting when the meeting facilitator mentioned Volunteer Odyssey to another attendee.

Well, thinking back a bit further, my path to Volunteer Odyssey began earlier.

At the end of 2014, after 18 years working with a Fortune 500 manufacturing company headquartered in Memphis, I was laid off. I was devastated. Not to mention, terrified about looking for and finding my next career opportunity. After a week or two, I decided to look at this as a great chance to do something new and different. With my enthusiasm for providing world-class customer service while using my strengths in process improvement and problem solving, I was on my way to landing a job with a company I’d work with for the next half of my career. Or, so I thought.

Sure, my job search list included local non-profit organizations, but I continued to mostly apply for corporate positions. And, naturally, that’s where I landed, twice, over the past 2 years. In 2015, I worked as a purchasing manager. Over the summer of 2016, I worked as a client services manager.

I resigned from both positions. Something was missing. But what? Did the responsibilities of the roles not play to my skills? Do I want more daily interaction with external “customers” than the positions provided?

After hearing about Volunteer Odyssey and looking through their website, I contacted Sarah, the Founder and Executive Director. Shortly after, I met with Sarah and Caroline. I shared with them my passion for animal welfare and as a native Memphian, my love for all-things-Memphis! We talked about my previous volunteer work with the Germantown Animal shelter (where I adopted my current four-legged baby 12 years ago) and my board member experience with Lamplighter Montessori School (where I graduated from….a bit more than 12 years ago).

Participating in Volunteer Odyssey’s Job Seekers program is a wonderful opportunity to make a meaningful difference to those in our community; learn more about organizations that provide valuable, often life changing support; and meet amazing people! And who knows…..maybe this will help me find the aspects of a career opportunity that have been missing.

I hope you will follow me on my Volunteer Odyssey journey by reading my blogs here and following me on Facebook!