Epilogue: Kristine Pierce

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I have made a few significant moves as an adult and each time, I remember how difficult it is to move to a new city. In each new place, I want to land a fulfilling and stable job, learn the ins and outs of the city, find my favorite grocery stores, make new friends, and discover my niche in the community. No matter how exciting the move, it is always a challenge and on average, it takes me about a year to become truly comfortable in my new home.

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My experience with Volunteer Odyssey has made the transition process easier, more fun and less intimidating. It is often hard to figure out quite where to start when searching for a job in a new city, but my volunteer experience has introduced me to contacts in my field and given me the chance to work in environmental conservation and social organizations that are doing amazing projects. I have met passionate, interesting, helpful people who have been only too happy to provide me with exciting volunteer opportunities as well as tell me about things to do in Memphis. I am amazed by the kindness and generosity of people willing to spend their time talking with me and introducing me to more people who might be able to guide me in the right direction. I can honestly say that I have never felt so good about a job search so soon after moving to a new city. The people I have met through my week volunteering have put me on the right track to achieve my goal of finding meaningful employment.

Since starting my Volunteer Odyssey week, I have felt happier and more settled in Memphis. I have continued to be busy through more volunteer work and networking. Every Tuesday afternoon, I have enjoyed hanging out with the kids at the Carpenter Art Garden and find that I look forward to it all week. I have continued to volunteer with Shelby Farms, the Urban Food Bike Ministry, and Memphis City Beautiful, periodically. I have enjoyed creating and strengthening relationships with these amazing organizations and find a few new ones!

The opportunities to work with these great organizations, meet new people and get involved in the community have enriched my life here in Memphis. I know when I find that perfect job here in Memphis, it will be because Volunteer Odyssey gave me the resources and the confidence to find it!

 

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Just People Helping People

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I have probably driven past the Dorothy Day House of Hospitality at least once a week since I moved to Memphis. I’m sure I noticed the 100-year old house at least once, but I had no idea what a truly special place it is.

Tonight I volunteered with Tracy Burgess, the Fundraising and Volunteer Coordinator, to set up for their annual Soup Supper at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. The Soup Supper is a chance for volunteers, donors and friends of the Dorothy Day House of Hospitality to meet and share stories. One woman told me that the volunteers don’t always cross paths, which makes the dinner a chance to get to know others who are passionate about the organization.

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Tracy Burgess setting up.

My job was fairly easy tonight – moving tables and chairs, unfolding tablecloths, setting out flyers and getting to know new people. In fact, the whole set up took about 20 minutes because of the great teamwork.

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Setting up for dinner.

Since we finished our set up so quickly, I had the opportunity to talk to Tracy more about the Dorothy Day House. Did you know that every night in Memphis about 149 families are living on the streets or in unsuitable conditions (like their cars)? Many of us might think that the easy, short term solution would be to find a shelter, at least for the night. What I did not know is that most shelters require an application and will split up families if they are allowed to stay. Dorothy Day House of Hospitality is one of two shelters in Memphis that keeps families together. They accept married couples, families and single parents as well as preteen and teenage boys. I had no idea that on top of all the problems that have led to a family’s homelessness, they also have to worry about being split up when turning to shelters. Keeping families together is just one of the many reasons that the organization is so special.

Dorothy Day House can house up to three families at a time and the organization’s staff works closely with the families to help them get back on their feet. The families can stay for as long as they need while the work toward their goals and find stability in their lives. As Tracy described the organization and all of the special things that they do, she humbly summed up with “It’s really just people helping people.”

I took a moment to look around the room as it began to fill up with people who pour their passion and their love into the Dorothy Day House. There seemed to be people from all walks of life filling the tables and talking to one another. I know that there are some people in the world who don’t take the time to help others out, and here was a whole room filled with people who spend their lives helping others.

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Before I left the event, Tracy invited me to stop by the Dorothy Day House one night to meet the families and some of the other volunteers. I am excited to meet more of the wonderful volunteers and get to know some of the families they help.

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Biking with Burritos

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The worst things about getting up early during the winter is the fact that it is still dark outside and that I have to put my bare feet on the cold wood floors in our house. Besides those two things, I actually like being up in the mornings. I like the quiet, driving on the empty roads, and observing who else is outside early on a Saturday morning. Volunteering with the Urban Bike Ministry gave me the opportunity to enjoy all of the things I love about mornings in addition to a cold, yet satisfying bike ride. I also got to meet new people and the feeling that I made a difference in at least one person’s day.

Early every Saturday morning, the volunteers of the Urban Bike Ministry make their way to the First United Methodist church to cook hundreds of breakfast burritos to pass out to the homeless and hungry on the streets of downtown Memphis. As soon as I walked into the building at 7am, I was ushered into an already bustling kitchen. Eggs were being cracked and whisked, sausage was being fried and rice was being cooked. I was given the job of prepping tortillas and was happy to have my hands busy. As the regular volunteers cooked, I listened to their easy conversation and laughter, enjoying the warmth of the kitchen as well as the people. Once everything was mixed into a giant pot, we formed an assembly line where our many hands made quick work by assembling over 200 burritos.

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                                                  Busy kitchen!                                                                           A whole lot of burritos!

Once the burritos were ready to go, we pulled on our layers and loaded our backpacks with all of the candy, gloves, socks, hats, hand warmers and burritos we could carry. We put on our helmets, hopped on our bikes and headed out into the cold morning.

This was my first opportunity to bike in Memphis and I enjoyed riding through the streets of downtown. It always amazes me how much more I notice from a bike than when driving in a car. As I biked with my group of volunteers, I watched as folks who had become regular burrito recipients greeted them by name. It was powerful to observe the relationships that have formed between people whose paths would not have crossed without this organization. I also had the chance to hand out a lot of burritos and hopefully start on my own path to forming those special relationships.

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Biking downtown.

As we biked around the city, I had the chance to talk to some wonderful people who told me some of the reasons that they love Memphis and recommended places that I must try and events that I should attend. I truly value the advice I have gotten from people that will help me explore Memphis and discover its many hidden gems.

After about an hour of biking, I arrived back at the church with cold fingers, an empty backpack and a happy heart. I am in awe of the individuals that dedicate their Saturday mornings to providing a warm meal to the homeless on the streets of Memphis. I plan to keep dragging myself out of bed on those cold, dark mornings (at least as many that I can!) so that I can join the volunteers of the Urban Bike Ministry to bike with burritos.

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Back at the church.

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A Happy Place Filled With Music

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I love children and Porter Leath Early Head Start is definitely the place to be to get my kid fix. When I arrived, I had the opportunity to stick my head into all seven brightly decorated classrooms, filled with children aging from a few months to 3 years old. In each classroom, I was greeted by huge grins, waves and sometimes, even a little dance from the kids. How could I not instantly fall in love with this place?

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Regis and I playing the drums!

There is no place in the world like a happy classroom, especially one full of toddlers. As I sat on the floor in classroom 3, I was immediately swarmed by kids. I had one little girl crawling into my lap, a boy grabbing my hand and another boy playing with my hair. I felt my whole being relax as I found my happy place.

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Dancing like jumping beans!

During my time at Porter Leath Early Head Start, I sat in on the weekly music sessions for each class. Led by the music teacher, the kids sang, clapped, played the drums and danced. There was nothing for me to do, but join in wholeheartedly! I was only too happy to sing about making cookies, building snowmen and drinking hot chocolate.

In each class, I watched a few kids particularly shine and glow with the chance to make some music. As I listened to these kids sing and play their instruments, I thought about how lucky they are to have these music classes at such an early age.

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Singing and drumming.

Throughout the morning, I always had at least one child leaning against my side and I basked in the closeness and the unconditional affection of them. Looking around the circle of little music makers, I realized that I was truly the lucky one to be a part of this experience. I walked out with a huge smile on my face and lightness in my step. I can’t wait to go back!

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Leaving with a smile on my face!

I want to share one last image. As we were cleaning up after the last class, the fire alarm went off. The music teacher and I helped lead little ones out of one of classrooms. As I walked toward the grass with a little hand holding mine, I looked back to see the teacher from the infant room walking out the door. She was rolling a crib. As she passed me, I saw the bewildered faces of six babies looking up at me. I couldn’t help but smile.

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Clean Memphis on a Mission

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Clean Memphis is a small organization with big dreams for Memphis. They are located in a tiny office with walls covered in maps of Memphis to try to keep up with ever changing schools and neighborhoods. Their mission includes providing environmental education for all children and cleaning up the city of Memphis. This past year, they started a new program called the Sustainable School Challenge, which aims to improve energy efficiency in schools (which will save money on the energy bill!) and promote good energy practices in everyday life. The hope is that students will take home these energy saving habits that they learned in school and in doing so, teach their family and friends about energy conservation.

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During my time with Clean Memphis, I had the pleasure of tagging along with Andrew Murphy, the Education Coordinator, to Grad Academy where he has started teaching 9th and 10th graders about energy usage. On his first day with the classes, he taught the students about electricity and the major consumers of electricity at their school: heating/cooling systems and lights. Today, we took the students around to the different classrooms to begin to assess the actual energy usage at their school by measuring temperature, the amount of light output, and counting the number lights. With this data, the students will be able to determine the total amount of energy used and the amount that is essentially being wasted. The goal is for the students to come up with no cost or low cost solutions to improve energy efficiency. These could be as simple as turning lights off when leaving rooms, changing the types of light bulbs and turning down the thermostat. The students are encouraged to come up with to be creative with these solutions and take ownership of the project.

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        Measuring temperature and humidity.                                           Measuring heat loss.

Since we broke up into groups for each class, I had the opportunity to work closely with a few students. I enjoyed spending time with such enthusiastic students who were invested in their task and clearly having fun. They were excited to be out of the classroom and doing something tangible. One student eagerly explained to one of her teachers what we were doing and why we were doing it.

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Team Temperature!

As I have seen so many times in the past, students truly love to learn about conservation and they want to know how they can be involved. Clean Memphis is trying to use this interest and passion to teach energy efficient practices that will permeate throughout the community. In addition, they want to empower these students to be responsible for their schools by helping out in a tangible way. Based on the reactions of the students I worked with, I think Clean Memphis is at the beginning of a successful and long-lived program that will affect many students, schools and the community at large!

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Meeting the Shelby Farms Bison!

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First of all, I love Shelby Farms. It is one of the first places that I discovered in Memphis. Even though I have really only explored the off-leash dog area because I have a dog and I feel an irrational sense of guilt for not letting him run around when we are outside, I truly am in awe of all the park has to offer. So, it was with excitement, and a little bit of guilt for leaving my dog at home, that I set off to Shelby Farms this morning. I was not disappointed.

I pulled up outside of the park’s temporary Visitor’s Center, which is basically a large trailer with a few offices, a conference table and the all important coffee room. I was greeted by Irene Montanez, the Volunteer Coordinator, and a charismatic ranger named Butch. While Irene handed me a form to fill out, Butch asked if I was there to relieve him and informed me that his truck was parked right out front for me. I enjoyed the playful banter in the office and felt welcomed from the first moment I stepped inside.

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A quick picture with the bison!

Irene pulled out a flyer for the kid-centered Eco EGGStravaganza celebrating Earth Day on April 4th. She asked me to find contact information for people in charge of employee volunteerism at places like Walmart, Target and Kroger. As she worked on getting the internet up and running on the computer in her office (the challenges of working in a temporary office-trailer), Irene told me how she came to Memphis for 3-5 years over 20 years ago. She told me the secret to learning to love with Memphis is to get out and get involved. About a half an hour later, we decided the internet was not going to work, and I could do the work at home. After a quick picture next to the bison in the front room and Butch telling me I had overstayed my welcome, I headed for home.

It turns out that sometimes you can volunteer from your couch while snuggled under an electric blanket. I spent hours looking for information that I felt like should be easy to come by – a few names, some phone numbers and maybe a couple email addresses. It is surprising to me how hard it is to find contact information and how little I felt I had accomplished after a few hours. I can truly appreciate that locating information is an art. For Irene to run what can only be massive a volunteer program, she must be something of an artist.

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While my time at Shelby Farms was very short today, I have a slightly better idea of how the organization works. As I was walking out the door, Irene was headed into a day of meetings. She told me I should come back and hang out another day and I can’t wait for that to happen because I am going to take her advice. I’m going to jump in and get involved.

P.S. Volunteer at Eco EGGStravanza on April 4th!
Contact Irene Montanez at imontanez@shelbyfarmspark.org

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Imagination Running Wild

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As I drove home from the Carpenter Art Garden today, I noticed paint under my fingernails. After a day spent with kids painting pictures of trees, making paper snowflakes and chatting about life the way only a kid can see it, I wasn’t surprised. The Carpenter Art Garden is a magical space – a purple house with craft supplies from floor to ceiling, an outdoor space to play and a community garden for kids to connect with the earth. I can understand why kids line up outside the door every Tuesday after school to get a chance to come inside.

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I always enjoy spending time with children – listening to them laugh, watching their creativity and talking to them about their lives. I love being surrounded by the barely controlled chaos that always happens with kids.

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I got to spend some quality time with a special little girl today. I was drawn to her beautiful smile with one newly missing tooth and the pink tree she was painting. We talked about how both our birthdays are in October, how she just turned seven and the fact that she wants to be a singer when she grows up. She said her favorite song is a Hello Kitty song she made up. I commented that it was incredible that she had written a song and that was the first time she told me “You just have to let your imagination run wild.” The second time came when she told me that she had never seen a pink tree, but she wanted to paint one. And that is why I love talking to kids – they remind me of the important things in life.

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Before I left, I helped another girl make her first paper snowflake and dodged the play attacks of a stuffed dog. I will always be in awe of places like the Carpenter Art Garden that inspire such creativity in kids, and by the passion of the people who run them.

So when I saw that little bit of paint under my fingernails on my way home, I smiled and knew that little bit of paint meant that I had a really good afternoon. Isn’t that what the little seven-year old singer with the big imagination would have thought? A little paint under your fingernails means you let your imagination run wild. And I think all of us adults need a little more of that in our lives.

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Making Memphis Beautiful

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I admit to being a little nervous this morning as I got ready for the first day of my Volunteer Odyssey at Memphis City Beautiful. In fact, that may have been the reason that I lost my keys inside of my car before I even made it in the office. This led to a few panic-filled minutes, worrying that I would be late, as I frantically searched my car, which was parked only a few hundred feet from the front door of the office. Finally, keys firmly in hand, I walked into the office and was met by Cyndy Grivich Tucker, the Program Coordinator.

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Stuffing envelopes with Cyndy Grivich Tucker, the Program Coordinator.

Cyndy turned out to be my chaperone for the morning as she led me to a table piled high with letters and flyers to be folded, and envelopes to be stuffed and taped. The envelopes would then be sent to schools around the city to promote the 25th Annual Beautify Your School Contest. I think sometimes those of us on the outside of an organization forget just how much work goes into every event, program and project that the organization hosts. We see the finished products – the beautified schools, the bags of garbage from a lake clean up, the magical flowers created from children’s imaginations and some trash, the trees planted by hundreds of elementary students, the pictures of volunteers working together to make Memphis a more beautiful place. We fail to grasp the number of hours put in behind the scenes.

As I readied myself for a morning of folding, stuffing and taping, I took the opportunity to gaze around the room. My attention was immediately drawn to a number of flower pots lining the wall. Each pot boasted its own beautiful, creative flower made out of random items of trash. Cyndy explained to me that these were the centerpieces made by kids for their annual Trashion Show in which local artists and designers create outfits made of trash. How much more fun could it get to educate people about recycling and waste reduction?!

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Centerpieces for the Trashion Show.

As Cyndy told me more about the awesome things that Memphis City Beautiful does throughout the year, the time flew by and the finished envelopes began to pile up. Cyndy was quite the font of information, filling me in on the upcoming events in which I can get involved, telling me the history of the organization (Did you know it is the oldest local chapter of Keep America Beautiful, started around 1930? Did you know the office is actually a house built in the 1840s?), helping me understand the local geography and giving me directions to the best international farmer’s market! When it was time for me to leave, I had a mountain of finished envelopes, a stack of flyers of my own about upcoming events, new places to visit and try around Memphis, and an appreciation for the passion and hard work of the Cyndy and her two teammates that comprise the staff of Memphis City Beautiful.


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Prelude: Kristine Pierce

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As a recent transplant to Memphis, I am excited to get to know the natural places, secret spots, wonders, and quirks of my new city. Since I graduated from college in California, I have made at least 5 big moves, following new opportunities, completing my master’s degree and serving in the Peace Corps in the Philippines. Each move has given me the opportunity to expand my perspective, meet new people, learn about different cultures, and grow as a person. Most recently, I moved from Portland, Oregon with my fiancé so he could attend graduate school here in Memphis. While he is giving his all in school, I am exploring the city with our dog while I look for a meaningful and fulfilling job that allows me to give back to my new community.

During my time in Portland, I was lucky enough to work for the Audubon Society of Portland as the community camps coordinator and an environmental educator. This gave me the opportunity to do some of my favorite things: hang out with kids, spend my days outside in nature, teach others about the flora and fauna around Portland, and foster the important relationship between kids and their environment. I am very passionate about helping others to love and appreciate nature as well as connect their own lives to the environment. I want to continue to share my love of the outdoors with others and encourage each individual to develop a personal bond with the world around them.

Some of the things I love to do: hiking with my fiancé and dog, canoeing, swimming, cooking, trying new recipes, reading, exploring different places, trying new things and embarking on new adventures.

I am very excited about my upcoming week with Volunteer Odyssey and thankful for the wonderful people I have met and this awesome opportunity. I look forward to my next adventure!