Epilogue 2… what happened next?

I really enjoyed my Volunteer Odyssey. I was able to meet and mingle with creative minds and trailblazing leaders! One of the most rewarding aspects was getting outside of my comfort zone and exploring new possibilities. I was encouraged and offered the possibility to network with top business men and women from our city. I was able to sit with them and ask questions regarding their beginnings and the experience of going from “ground-zero” to unsurmountable success. All of which could not have been done without the coaching and support from Volunteer Odyssey.

To be more specific, outside of your work schedule, you are connected with leading professionals in your career field and interest. This connection is usually made through email and it is left to you to follow through with your contact. If you follow up, a meeting usually takes place and this is when you are able to shine. At this moment you can ask questions, lead a thought-provoking conversation, and share your experiences and how this may relate to the work they’re doing. From this meeting, you may find yourself with a new job or a mentor who can positively impact your career goals and aspirations. This is exactly what happened to me. With the coaching and support from Volunteer Odyssey, I was lead to a local entrepreneur who is really making waves in our city. I had the awesome opportunity to assist with the Untapped event at the Tennessee Brewery.

The Tennessee Brewery Untapped event was a six-week event. A group of local entrepreneurs reactivated the Tennessee Brewery to show how historic sites can be transformed into fun, exciting, innovative spaces for a good ol’ time! This was truly an amazing experience to be a part of. I met tons of people passionate about our city and enjoying the spaces worked by their great grandfathers, grew up around, or people who just appreciate the historical architecture or significance that once represented Memphis. I also enjoyed making new friends, learning new trades, and eating scrumptious food!

I hope others will be able to gain as much as I did, even more, from their Volunteer Odyssey. It can be a lot of work, but your Volunteer Odyssey can be personally rewarding, educational, and a great professional development opportunity.

Epilogue: A New Beginning

I really enjoyed the time spent on my Volunteer Odyssey. I’ve always been the type of person who is eager to learn and volunteer. After my Peace Corps service and receiving my master’s degree, I pledged to make it my life’s goal to become a humanitarian who is well poised, educated, and experienced to create sound solutions to meet the demands of today’s challenges.

I have demonstrated my passion for service during my time as a student through extracurricular activities, and I will continue my passion for service throughout my career. As an undergraduate student I was President of the Urban Studies Club, Vice President of the Gamma Rho Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated, AmeriCorps volunteer, and Habitat for Humanity volunteer. As a member of the Urban Studies Club I was able to complete service-oriented projects with groups like the Rotary Club and Sierra Club. Each of these experiences afforded me the opportunity to be of service to those who are less fortunate and serve as inspiration for younger generations. During my time as a graduate student, I actively participated in Synoptikos (graduate student organization in the department of Urban and Regional Planning at Florida State University) and was elected by colleagues to be an officer but, unfortunately, was unable to accept the position due to my invitation to the U.S. Peace Corps. I also participated in several campus clubs and organizations including the Azúcar Dance Company, Black Graduate Student Association, American Planning Association, and the FSU Sustainable Campus and Community Committee.

Fast forward to the present, I have completed a Volunteer Odyssey. A Volunteer Odyssey that allowed me to lend my skills and talent to some of the most impactful nonprofits in Memphis. Not only were relationships formed, I was able to expand my network and establish myself with a nonprofit dedicated to helping others Stand Out and Give Back. From this point forward, I am no longer viewed as a transplant, but as the young professional who was willing to freely give her time and talents for a greater cause: Building a stronger city through the development of its people.

From this experience, I was able to gain valuable work experience that will last a lifetime. Much of what I learned during my Volunteer Odyssey will prove beneficial in my career and personal life. Volunteering in roles such as translator for refugees, feeding the urban poor, practicing rudimentary mathematics with adults with disabilities, have all exposed me to the many facets of urban development. It is my goal to increase my knowledge and volunteer experiences so that my work will help to reduce social inequalities and the overall welfare of mankind. I will take what was learned and build upon it. I will build my network. I will build my relationships. I will build my outreach to those who are less fortunate. Everything I gained and learned during my Volunteer Odyssey will expand and grow. This is not an end, but a new beginning.

Thank you Volunteer Odyssey.

 

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Bike for a Cause

SW_UBFM

Have you ever been panhandled by someone in downtown Memphis? I certainly have and always feel guilty if I didn’t give them something even though I knew the experts say we shouldn’t. On Day 3 of my Volunteer Odyssey, I found a way to do something positive that doesn’t involve giving money! Urban Bicycle Food Ministry delivers burritos – yes burritos! – to those in need around the downtown area. In summary, (1) you get a great workout by biking downtown, (2) give back by passing out donated items and burritos to those in need, (3) AND you get free pizza and a chance to hang out with some of the kindest people in the Mid-South! How’s that for an awesome Wednesday night??!?

The idea began in the small duplex of the coordinator, Tommy Clark. He loves to bike and wanted to combine his two passions – biking and serving his community. Put the two together and for almost 2 years, we have the ever-growing and very popular Urban Bicycle Food Ministry, aka UBFM. I helped chef Brent prepare the food, helped load backpacks, picked up a bike and went for a bike ride while feeding and serving those in need.

SW_Food_2 IMG_2985SW_Food_3 IMG_2988

It was a bit strange, shocking, uncomfortable, and then enjoyable. Let me explain. When you’re not used to interacting with homeless people and all of a sudden, on a Wednesday night in downtown Memphis, you decide to make a change, it can be strange at first. I was unsure how everything would play out. My group members were very friendly and seemed to have a relationship with most of those to which we gave burritos and donated items. Their interactions and pleasantries helped me to transition out of feeling strange to enjoying the experience.

Along our two-hour biking journey, we encountered not only homeless people but also those who appeared to be low income. They didn’t have the appearance of being homeless. This made me a bit uncomfortable as I thought we would only be serving homeless people. Those who seemed to come from a low-income family looked like people I’d come into contact as some point – be it through friends or family from low-income neighborhoods or HBCU’s I visit, which are usually in low-income neighborhoods. I was prepared to give out burritos and donated goods to the homeless but not to people hanging out on street corners or in front of gas stations. It never occurred to me that they, too, might not have eaten that day for whatever reason. They’re usually viewed as hustlers, trying to make $1.00 out of $0.15.

Once I was able to get past my discomfort, I was able to enjoy the beautiful night air while biking in downtown Memphis. The night was gorgeous and the weather perfect. I began to refocus on the mission, enjoy observing the relationships between people (I love to people watch), chuckle at the fact that I was burning the calories I would soon consume from the pizza, and reminisce a bit on my biking days in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. That moment could not have been more perfect. By the end, I was grateful to have experienced so much in just one night. I made some new friends, dug a bit deeper into the world of ministry and its key players, and restart one of my favorite hobbies – biking! My soul was fed with the ministry and fellowship, and then my body was fed with yummy pizza. I plan on making this part of my weekly routine on Wednesday evenings from 7:00 – 9:00. Won’t you join me?

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The Difference A Clean City Can Make

The finale to my Volunteer Odyssey concluded with Clean Memphis. Clean Memphis is a grassroots organization founded in 2008 by a group of concerned citizens who believe that a cleaner city will help to reduce crime, promote a sense of pride in out community and cultivate economic prosperity. They are able to do this by supporting community partnerships and zone collaborations, high profile clean up projects, and service learning projects. I had the opportunity to work with two of their initiatives during my day with them.

The day began with a clean up project near the LeMoyne Owen College. Janet, the Executive Director, and I met in the office and then headed to the neighborhood. We assisted two other volunteers with trash pickup in that area. During this time, I was able to learn more about Clean Memphis and Janet’s passion for her work and family.

Janet and I

These markers are placed to warn individuals about keeping our drains clean

These markers are placed to warn individuals about keeping our drains clean

The second part of my volunteer experience consisted of assisting Andrew with the educational component of Clean Memphis. We met at the office and then headed to KIPP Memphis Academy Middle. Andrew and I worked with a couple of classes, engaging students in environmental science. The topic was clean water and the labs consisted of watershed and landfill/recycling demonstrations. The students were very excited and were very knowledgeable on the topic prior to our discussions.

eager children love to learn

eager children love to learn

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A new motto for me

A new motto for me

I had a really great time working with the students and learning about our environmental footprint. Andrew did an excellent job explaining the importance of environmental leadership and the kids learned much more than I ever expected. I will definitely try to recreate the class lecture and labs with my nieces and nephews! IMG_3018

 

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Charity for All

Day 5 of my Volunteer Odyssey was spent with Catholic Charities of West Tennessee (CCWTN). They are one of the largest nonprofit, multi-social service providers in the Mid-south. They have five main ways of community outreach; Food pantry, immigration services, homeless shelter, counseling, emergency services programs, and a new Veterans program. I had the pleasure of meeting Al, who’s a volunteer for CCWTN. He was very energetic and excited to tell me all about CCWTN. First we introduced ourselves, and then he gave me a tour of their office. He was very enthusiastic about the organization and explained how you never know what’s in store for your future or how your skills will be used. Al is a veteran and he never expected he would be a volunteer and with an organization such as CCWTN.

I helped Al load the CCWTN van with food we were to distribute to families. Be on the lookout for their van – it’s really cool, great pictures, and partly written in Spanish. On this day, we were to provide food for 21 families from a Jubilee school. Several other volunteers met us on site. The families we served seemed very happy and grateful for receiving the food. The majority of the families were Latino, so I was able to use a bit of my Spanish. The children were excited to receive candy, and the mothers (who made up the majority of individuals picking up the food) gave many thanks for CCWTN’s help.

We're preparing grocery bags for families in need We’re preparing grocery bags for families in need

I really enjoyed my volunteer experience with CCWTN.

Teamwork! Teamwork!

Their programs are tailored to reach a broad range of individuals and the volunteers, who make up the majority of the “staff” since CCWTN has only three paid staff members, are giving people with really big hearts. My hope is that CCWTN continues to grow and reach many more people that may have been forgotten or difficult to reach.

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Refugees in Memphis

On Day 4 of my Volunteer Odyssey, I had the opportunity give back in a way to return some of the help I’ve received over the years. Have you ever been in a situation where someone helps you so much that you profoundly pray for a moment where you can return the favor or at least pay it forward? Well, throughout my life I’ve been blessed to be in the presence of great and wondrous people with giving hearts and willing spirits, especially during my time as a Peace Corps volunteer.

My opportunity came as a volunteer with World Relief Memphis. Background (their words) – World Relief is a refugee resettlement agency. They are funded largely by grants to help refugees start life in Memphis who have fled persecution from countries such as Iraq, Somalia, and Sudan. World Relief is responsible for providing housing, social services, cultural orientation, and pathways to employment. I was asked to assist a Cuban couple, who had been living in Memphis for a little over a year, with their Department of Human Services (DHS) appointment. I was to pick them up from their house, drive them to the DHS office, and take them home.

When I arrived at their apartment, their 14-year-old son greeted me. He was very pleasant. I was soon introduced to the couple, Mr. and Mrs. Telz (name changed to protect their privacy). No one spoke English, so I delved right into my Spanish skills, which definitely needed sharpening. The couple wasn’t ready, so I waited in the living room with their son. We chatted a bit. He told me how he loves Memphis, i.e. USA, because things are so much cheaper than in Cuba. As our conversation ended, he thanked me for helping his parents and told me “goodbye” in English.

The drive to the DHS office was quiet and hot. This would be the first day I would use my AC in quite some time. Of course it didn’t work properly. I was a bit embarrassed, but the Telzs reassured me it was fine and it reminded them of the heat in Cuba. We all laughed, and they began to tell me more about Cuba as I told them about Memphis. The DHS office was full of people, and I thought it would be hours before our name was called. World Relief said DHS had a language line but when it came time for them to see their DHS representative, neither they nor the representative wanted me to leave. The Telzs said they felt better with me around, and the DHS representative said things would be much easier with an interpreter. It was at this moment when I was reminded of the family I lived with in Guatemala during my time as a Peace Corps volunteer. They were my rock, shield, and confidants in a strange land. It was at this moment when I knew and could relate to how they were feeling – unsure, nervous, excited, and so much more. I happily accepted the task. This was my opportunity to show the gratitude and thankfulness of my Guatemala family’s 2 years of hospitality, love, friendship, and helpfulness happily given to me with open arms and kind hearts. I was not going to miss this opportunity.

My brain was on super power! I’ve never been an interpreter and was unfamiliar with DHS services. I had to learn the programs offered by DHS, apply them to the Telz family’s situation, and then translate to Spanish. It was very tiring yet extremely exciting because I knew both parties were really grateful. After all was said and done, (i.e., Telz family understood their options and received benefits) everyone left happy, smiling, and with much more clarity of opportunities of support for the Telz family.

Our trip home was much more relaxed. The Telz family shared a bit more about their experiences in the USA and I shared my experiences in Guatemala. The family expressed their deep appreciation for all my help and offered coffee so we could chat a bit more at their home. I was unable to stay, though reassured them I could be reached if ever they needed anything. This volunteer assignment ended on an extremely happy note with the beginnings of a new friendship.

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Assisting Adults with Disabilities

Have you ever wondered if there were any special care facilities in Memphis for adults with disabilities? Furthermore, if they provided good-quality care with passionate employees and a giving spirit? I have. On Day 2 of my Volunteer Odyssey I found the answer.

SRVS “the family answer for disabilities” (their slogan) stands for Shelby Residential and Vocational School, pronounced, “serves”. They’re all about making sure individuals with physical and intellectual disabilities receive the care they need and truly deserve. I had the pleasure of working in a couple of classrooms and meeting some very fun and exciting students. One student I had the pleasure of meeting was Sandra. Sandra is 56 years old and has a myriad of mental and physical challenges that made her accomplishments at SRVS even more amazing. Sandra was an absolute delight and taught me the many different skills learned when learning the fundamentals of arithmetic. She taught me how to count, color coordinate trees and find patterns in pictures.

Sandra teaching patterns

Sandra teaching patterns

 

Learning with friends is always fun!

Learning with friends is always fun!

Perhaps the never-ending winter has impacted the city, but not the staff’s love of their clients. Astrid French was very energetic and was very proud of the work she has accomplished as curriculum coordinator at SRVS. She mentioned how SRVS offers cutting-edge programming such as the Montessori teaching methods implemented through an innovative curriculum. I had to Google “Montessori teaching methods” and immediately saw its prevalence at SRVS. The clients seemed happy and constantly busy so maybe Montessori is the way to go. I’m no expert, but I do know what I saw was a group of people not only learning but enjoying the process of learning and for me, that’s what makes the difference.

Another student I had the pleasure of meeting

Another student I had the pleasure of meeting

 

SVRS receives many donations and books are at the top of the list :)

SVRS receives many donations and books are at the top of the list :)

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New Hispanic Counterparts

Excitement and confusion started day 1 of my Volunteer Odyssey. I was thrilled to be able to use (improve) my Spanish with people who could really use my help. I got to attend an orientation with another volunteer conducted by Jennifer Earhart, the Director of Organizational Effectiveness. After the presentation Jennifer assigned me as a front office assistant to the amazing Otilia Rodriguez. Otilia and I assisted clients with questions regarding everything from legal advice from a small business perspective to situations concerning health care and childcare programs. SW_Latino_Memphis
Clients are not required to have an appointment and if your situation is related to education, justice, or health they can assist you in-house. Latino Memphis is the premiere resource for Latino populations to receive assistance with whatever the case may be. If they are unable to help directly, they will guide you to the people who can. Seriously! One really neat fact I learned is that most of their clients come from the Binghampton neighborhood and majority were immigrants from Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala (respectively). Interesting, right?

The office environment was very professional and laid back at the same time. They offered clients a clean and safe environment where they could seek the services they needed. Upon entry, each client was asked to fill out a form which is then entered into a database, both of which I helped with today. The data collected provides great insights as to the general demographics related to their clients (ex. country of origin, household size, etc.) and demonstrate a track record of assistance each client received.

Latino Memphis does an amazing job in connecting Latino families to opportunities and resources to meet their needs. I think there should also be equal importance given to the “engaged” and “active” portion of their purpose. I would like to see more opportunities for a shared existence. From my perspective, the Latino community seems very insular. Latino Memphis could be the avenue that’s used to connect the two cultures, American and Latino, within our beloved city of Memphis. Stay tuned for what adventures I find the rest of the week!

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Prelude: Everything has a Beginning!

Me as a Peace Corps volunteer on holiday in Guatemala

Hi! I’m Stephanie and I’m a graduate of Jackson State University and Florida State University. I’m happy to be home in Memphis but soon realized my lack of local knowledge. I searched for ways to get involved and meet those who are really making a difference in our beloved city. I’ve interviewed, lunched, and had coffee with some of the most exciting professionals in the field. This has been really great, but I’m missing a big piece of the puzzle. I have not been able to really engage with local leaders and express my skills and talents. Most often, if people are unable to associate you with some network (ex. place of education or past work experiences) it can be very difficult to demonstrate your abilities. For example, I received my graduate degree from Florida State University. It took me 4 years to complete my degree because I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Guatemala and completed a student exchange at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. Upon my return, many things had changed within the city (of which was unfamiliar to me), and no one knew who I was. My experiences have been absolutely amazing, but there exist a gap between how my skill set can be best utilized for the betterment of Memphis and a network with those who are diligently working to make Memphis a thriving and prosperous city. This is why I would like to engage in a volunteer odyssey.

There are many benefits from the Volunteer Odyssey program. I will have the opportunity to broaden my network by volunteering 50+ hours at 7 or more different non-profits; work alongside some of the most influential professionals in the city; sharpen my writing skills by working with a writing coach and publishing blog posts; and explore my city from a completely different perspective.

My hope is to volunteer so that potential employers and experts may know the talent that exist in native and non-native young professional Memphians and to inspire others to choose volunteerism as a means for career advancement and personal growth.

I hope you enjoy learning about my experiences and become motivated to Stand Out. Give Back

 

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