Prelude: Atina Rizk

Towards the end of my graduate school experience, there was a sudden and palpable sense of desperation as everyone began to look for a job. Not a summer job, not a seasonal job wrapping gifts, but an actual grownup job with benefits and career prospects and, gasp, a salary. I counted myself lucky because I got to bypass all of that, having been selected to be a direct commissionee into the Army JAG Corps. My primary goal in joining the Army is to help people, soldiers, who are going through some of the most challenging times of their lives as they defend and protect our country. Also, I would get a chance to do the same. What I did not realize is that, nothing happens quickly when the government is involved, so I have to wait. I have to wait … Continue reading

Epilogue: Kevin Nowlin

After Kevin had some time to reflect on his experience, we sat down to talk with him about what it was like. Here’s what he had to say: Volunteer Odyssey: Had you ever volunteered before for any of the non-profits that you went to during your Volunteer Odyssey week? Kevin: I volunteered with MIFA many, many moons ago. MIFA is such a wonderful organization and I was happy to deliver Meals on Wheels again. Volunteer Odyssey: Will you continue to volunteer for any of the organizations now that your week is over? Kevin: I would definitely love to return to all of them on a regular basis if time permits. I certainly want to honor the organizations that have given me so much inspiration over the past week by continuing to serve them. Volunteer Odyssey: What kind of reactions did … Continue reading

Epilogue: Rivers Powers

After Rivers had some time to reflect on her experience, we sat down to talk with her about what it was like. Here’s what she had to say: Volunteer Odyssey: Had you ever volunteered before for any of the non-profits that you went to during your Volunteer Odyssey week? Rivers: No, I hadn’t volunteered before at any of the non-profits of my Volunteer Odyssey, and some I hadn’t even heard of before I went there. Volunteer Odyssey: Will you continue to volunteer for any of the organizations now that your week is over? Rivers: Most definitely! Before I left several of the organizations, I filled out their volunteer forms, and I’m looking forward to returning to them and helping out in a more meaningful way than just a few hours on an isolated day! In fact, I’ve already been back … Continue reading

Week 3, Day 6 : Kevin Nowlin in the Heart of Memphis

6:00am, amid winter making its final stand, is a frigid, dark and lonely time to be walking the streets of downtown Memphis. I had this idea, albeit nothing new under the sun, to spend a weekend downtown with nothing in my pockets other than my ID. What do you do when you have absolutely nothing? Where do you sleep? How do you eat? What does that experience feel like? Fortunately, I had friends advise me this was not safe and there were other ways to understand what it means to be homeless. I didn’t want to be “homeless” for the sake of some witty and brave social experiment, but because my heart hurt for people who lived on the street and I needed to feel what they felt. This was almost a year ago but the idea never really left … Continue reading

Week 3, Day 5: Kevin Nowlin at Catholic Charities of West Tennessee

Ms. Gloria is a very precise person. She runs the food pantry at the Catholic Charities of West Tennessee (CCWTN) and it’s a very tight ship. CCWTN is a nutritional food source from single persons to families of 8. All of the food that comes to the food pantry from the Mid-South Food Bank, which supplies food to over 300 organizations in the Memphis area, is carefully inspected for current dates and such. Then all of the food is organized accordingly so that the freshest food goes out first. Every morning Ms. Gloria comes in and checks the refrigerator and freezer temperatures to make sure the food has been properly preserved overnight. Then she takes inventory of the canned and packaged food stuffs to see what needs to be put to use that day. It’s rare to see people who … Continue reading

Week 3, Day 3: Kevin Nowlin at Memphis Botanic Gardens

Polystichum achrostichoides. Say that 5 times as fast as you can. For the other 99% of us who have no clue how to decipher that conglomeration of letters, it simply means Christmas Fern. The Botanic Gardens (BG) is renowned for the rich and lush greenery that garnishes the land just off of Cherry Rd near Audobon Park. Being a big fan of gardening and all things botanical, naturally (pun intended), I was excited to give some of my time to a little “green thumbing.” My newfound partner in crime, John Cook, is with me again today. His experience at BG two weeks prior was so moving that he is now destined to become a farmer; or so he says. I kind of hope he does. We need more farmers. Maybe I’ll work as a hired hand on his farm someday. … Continue reading

Week 3, Day 2: Kevin Nowlin at SRVS

SRVS is one of those places when you walk in, you immediately feel the positive energy flowing.  While I was signing in at the front desk, and exchanging smiles with the employees passing by, I knew it was going to be a great day.  Cheryl greets me in the lobby and takes me on a tour of the facility.  The facility is under construction due to some flood damage that occurred a while back but it still looks great.  I see the modern classrooms that are adorned with current learning technology and I wave at many people I have never met before.  There is happiness and joy on the faces of EVERYONE I encounter.  Cheryl explains to me that SRVS has recently adopted a Montessori style curriculum to better engage and enrich the lives of their clients.  I think it’s … Continue reading

Week 3, Day 1: Kevin Nowlin at MIFA

MIFA is one of those longstanding beacons of goodness in the Memphis area. It would be difficult to find a Memphian who hasn’t at least heard the name and it’s almost assured that those Memphians have passed the “hard-to-miss” building where Peabody Ave wriggles into Vance Ave. The weather is cold and gray with some rather ominous clouds lurking just over the Mississippi, but I’m “running on Dunkin” so, the world is right. I walk in to meet a tall, gentle natured and well-spoken man named Rick. He is expecting me and proceeds to give me a quick orientation of the task at hand. Did you know that MIFA employees show up at 3am to start preparing hot lunches for the delicate citizens that do not have the ability, one way or the other, to get them? This is some … Continue reading

Week 3, Day 7: Kevin Nowlin at Dorothy Day of Hospitality

Today was my final day of the Volunteer Odyssey. This week has afforded opportunities that I never would have had otherwise, and I’m a better person on many levels for it. I reflect on the week as I drive over to the Dorothy Day House of Hospitality (DDHH) and I wonder how I will be serving when I get there. Sister Maureen greets me at the back door and says that she has been anticipating my arrival and invites me in. The very first room to the right, when you walk in through the back, is a large kitchen that has an expansive island-top and multi-eye gas burning range stove. This is where I figure I’ll be working even though I’m not entirely certain what my serving capacity entails. We continue on through this large and beautiful house to the … Continue reading

Week 2, Day 7: Rivers Powers at Dorothy Day House of Hospitality

Everyone knows that homelessness is a problem in America, but what most people don’t know is how the system works to combat the problem. Homeless shelters exist and are supported by governments, faith-based organizations, and non-governmental organizations. However, many shelters have very specific requirements for who they allow to reside in them. Some are gender specific, substance-free, number restricting (per family unit), time limited, or religiously affiliated, but very few allow families to remain intact or allow male children over the age of about 6. This is where the Dorothy Day House of Hospitality comes in: to fill this void and prevent families from being separated just because they are homeless. Dorothy Day House of Hospitality is a great place for families, who can’t get into a typical shelter, to stay while they are getting back on their feet. Some … Continue reading