Today was the first day of my week long Volunteer Odyssey. I made sure I went to bed early last night to get a good night’s sleep because I had to be well rested for what I knew would be a busy day starting at 8:00 a.m.! I’ll admit, I didn’t sleep that well – waking up numerous times during the night. I wouldn’t say I was nervous – just a bit unsure. I knew that I would be meeting with folks from Porter-Leath at the Southern Thunder Harley-Davidson location in Southaven to help with their Salute to Seniors Poker Run. The event would be outside, and it would involve cooking breakfast and lunch for the participants. Two things concerned me. First – while I’m not new to the brutal summers in Memphis, I will say I do not do well in extreme heat and humidity. Second – while I enjoy cooking, and like having small dinner gatherings with family and friends, I have never cooked for anyone outside of my own home, or for a large group. Would I be able to handle the heat? Would I be able to handle cooking for a crowd that I did not know?
I arrived at the location promptly at 8:00 a.m. and was greeted with a warm hug from Angela Meekins, the Development Coordinator. She made me feel so welcome – such a great beginning to this experience! One of the first questions I got was – “Do you know how to cook pancakes?” My response – “I have never cooked pancakes” which was the truth.
We proceeded to get the registration tent and the cooking tent set up. I had some time to talk with Judy, the Generations Manager, and Rob, the Development Manager. We talked about my background, and I asked them about their experience at Porter-Leath. I learned that they both have been there for quite a while. Then it was cooking time – Rob stepped up and manned the griddle, while Judy and I helped serve the pancakes and sausage as the participants came to our tent.
When it was time for Rob and Judy to go to some of the other stops on the run, I was asked – “James, can you handle this?” My response – “Sure!” The spatula was handed to me, and off they went! Alright, I got this! I started pouring the pancake batter and dropping the sausage patties onto the griddle, and got the hang of that spatula. Before long, I was flipping flapjacks and sausage patties like a cook in a diner! All of the sudden, the breakfast shift was over. In walked Dennis, the Vice President of Social Services and my relief for the lunch shift.
Dennis and I had a long talk while we waited for the lunch supplies to arrive. He told me a lot about Porter-Leath and the history of the organization. While I was somewhat familiar with Porter-Leath, I had no idea about the depth of the history or how long the organization has been serving the community. We talked about growing up in Memphis, and how much we love this city, and we talked a lot about food – how we both love spicy food, but not so hot that it feels like punishment. Then the food arrived and Dennis took charge of that grill. He truly was the “Grill Master”, while Judy and I helped serve the food. The afternoon flew by. Before I knew it the event was winding down, and we were dismantling the tents.
What struck me about this experience was the sense of family I felt with the Porter-Leath crew. There was such a spirit of support and pride that I witnessed from all of the members of this organization. They all seemed to love their job. Everyone was so proud to talk about the t-shirts they sold, and the tips that we made to support the RSVP Program – a program that pairs senior residents with children in need to work as mentors and help them build confidence and life skills. What I got out of today’s experience is that I’m very proud of Porter-Leath, and I want to learn more about this organization. As I was leaving for the day, I told everyone that they would be seeing me around the office soon. Oh, and by the way – I never even noticed the heat – there was a nice breeze all day long!
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