Day 7: Daily Bread

Gathering at the Dorothy Day House of Hospitality

For the final night of my Volunteer Odyssey week, I had a bit of pre-work to do. I would be headed to the Dorothy Day House of Hospitality for an evening gathering, and they had asked that I bring “a simple dessert.” Based on this single detail, I guessed that this night would be about more than doing volunteer work for a worthy organization. If people were making food for one another, it would be about fellowship. When I left Atlanta and moved to rural Arkansas a little over seven years ago, I had no idea how important connecting with my new community would become. In a big city, a person could almost always find some activity to temporarily distract them from feelings of loneliness and isolation. In the Delta, such distractions were rarely found. As I looked for opportunities … Continue reading

Day 6: All Good Gifts

Finally ready to checkout!

On Saturday, I found myself at Catholic Charities of West Tennessee (CCWTN) preparing to go shopping for a family of nine. I had initially assumed this meant I would be jumping in my car and heading to the nearest Target. As it turned out, I only had to walk across the parking lot and into a gymnasium filled with toys, clothes, and food. All of these donated items had been sorted into boxes by size, gender, age, and purpose, and an army of volunteers was about to make sure they all ended up in the hands of people who needed them. The premise of the Gifts for God’s Children program seemed simple enough. Each volunteer picked up a bag and an application submitted to Fig Tree Emergency Services by a family in need, then proceeded to “shop” through the gym … Continue reading

Home for the Holidays? Volunteer in Memphis!

Volunteer In Memphis over the holidays

Welcome home to Memphis! Whether you’re home from college or on vacation from work, here are great options for volunteering in Memphis over your break. Memphis Volunteer Opportunities 1) Deliver Meals on Wheels They need lots of help and you’ll meet amazing people on  your route! Here’s how it works: You can also email Isaiah directly Isaiah Swanson <>. There’s also a Meals on Wheels satellite site in Germantown that you can ask about! 2) Urban Bicycle Food Ministry This is a great, eye-opening experience. They can make burritos for the homeless AND can deliver the food by bike. It’s a great group and a very rewarding volunteer experience. Here’s how that works: You can also email Lyle directly Lyle Udell <> 3) Dorothy Day House This amazing place houses three homeless families.  You will meet kids and teens who are homeless (or who would … Continue reading

Day 5: Making Spirits Bright

Small man, big plan

I have always done my best to avoid falling back on clichés in my writing. Thus, I found it difficult to describe my volunteer experience at Snowy Nights in the Memphis Botanic Garden’s My Big Backyard on Friday evening. As the designated helper for the Giant Light Bright station, however, I really did see children’s faces light up. Their eyes were literally all aglow from the light diffusing through the colored water bottles they were happily arranging along segments of chain link fence. I think I even heard an occasional “ooh” and “ahh.” I was already acquainted with the whimsy of My Big Backyard, but this was my first experience with Snowy Nights. For the month of December, the family-friendly garden space is strewn with Christmas lights and filled with a variety of hands-on, holiday-themed activities. While familiar Christmas carols … Continue reading

Day 4: Checking it Twice

Up all night with the Church Health folks

Upon my arrival at Church Health tonight, volunteer coordinator Rebekah Heacock presented me with two options for helping with their annual Christmas card fundraising program. The first option was to hand write the cards and address the corresponding envelopes. I briefly described the quality of my penmanship with a few colorful adjectives, which seemed to settle the matter immediately. Rather than spoiling perfectly good Christmas cards with my indecipherable scrawl, I would be matching completed cards and envelopes to a list of names and addresses to check for errors. This turn of events really couldn’t have worked out better, as I have a deep and abiding love of proofreading. Development staff member Ken Hall arrived shortly thereafter with refreshments. A small group of us snacked and worked through the evening, making the kind of light, fragmented conversation that happens when … Continue reading

Day 3: Like Home

And I'm off!

Prior to embarking on my Meals on Wheels delivery route this morning, I watched a brief training video in which WMC-TV anchorman Joe Birch cheerfully informed me that I should try to make conversation with the homebound senior citizens I would be meeting. “You may be the only person they speak to all day,” he explained. I started to worry that perhaps I was not up to the task of being a singular bright spot in the day of a hungry, lonely elderly person. I wondered if I would spend the morning consumed with guilt each time I had to leave a destination. I departed the Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association (MIFA) parking lot with two coolers of food and a feeling of moderate anxiety. As I delivered hot meals to homes and apartments in the Berclair area, two things struck me. … Continue reading

Day 2: Pop Up Paradise

Behind the register with Antonio Edwards

One of my recurring career aspirations in my twenties was to be a librarian. I once had occasion to survey a whole group of librarians about their jobs, and they were all very quick to make one aspect quite clear. “You can’t be a librarian just because you like books and only want to read all day,” they told me. “You must genuinely enjoy helping other people.” As I sat in the Friends of the Library’s Second Editions Pop Up Bookstore at 101 South Main this afternoon, I decided the ideal job might incorporate a little bit of both. Second Editions actually has a permanent home just inside the main entrance of the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library on Poplar. Store manager Antonio Edwards hoped to spread the word about this surprisingly underrated bookstore by bringing hundreds of gently used … Continue reading

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 … Continue reading

Memphis volunteer opportunities your kids can do during winter break


People often ask how soon they can take their kids to volunteer. We have good news: It’s never too early to start volunteering with your kids! There are several great volunteer opportunities in Memphis where your whole family can get involved. Your winter break is the perfect time to get involved and to start volunteering as a family. Here are our top picks: 1) Meals on Wheels You deliver meals to home-bound seniors. These folks light up when they see kids and it will definitely be the highlight of their day. Here’s a 90 second video about how it works: If you’re interested, just click the “Tell me more” button and Isaiah will get right back to you! We can also connect you personally, just email 2) Dorothy Day House This amazing place keeps homeless families together. Your children will meet other … Continue reading

Day 1: Creating Space

Stuffing gift bags for the CAG Christmas party

“Promises to children are sacred.” This mantra from my days as a KIPP teacher kept scrolling through my mind as I promised several dozen elementary school kids that they would absolutely all get to have one of the pieces of cake spread out on the table between us- after a short graduation ceremony. Fortunately, the cake was massive, so it was an easy promise to both make and keep. Plus, we were standing in the Carpenter Art Garden (CAG), where staff and volunteers have worked daily to build trust and create empowering relationships with the children in this Binghampton neighborhood. These kids had every reason to believe me. When I first pulled up in front of the Carpenter Art Garden and the adjacent Purple House just before 3:00, my eye was drawn to a house on the other side of … Continue reading