7 Days of Service

Epilogue from Sarah Beth Jarnagin

I encountered a lot of different types of people and situations during my Volunteer Odyssey Week. I was blessed by a young Ethiopian boy’s grateful heart after I helped him with his geology homework; and a woman whose heart has gone out to families divided by homelessness. It all caused me to realize that instead of simply not doing enough “good things” in my life, I had been robbing myself of so many life altering people and experiences. The people I met, in need or meeting needs, appeared to me as courageous. Whether they were a young girl living life joyfully with only three swollen fingers on each hand, or a man excited to wake up early each morning and serve starving people breakfast, our city is full of people working hard to meet it’s needs. I was humbled to learn about the many creative ways people have cultivated to begin solving our issues. When one gives, more is required than time or money, sacrifice is necessary.  The individuals I served beside each made the decision to sacrifice something in their own lives.

A great reward of service is to receive love from those you have given it to.  People are grateful for the little things and those who share get to reap the benefits. Every volunteer experience was special in its own way, but there were a few people and places I can’t seem to get off my mind. There are images of children’s smiles that have stuck in my mind, people’s voices, their stories, and struggles. One eight year old African male who could barely read, without the help of his afterschool refugee program he might not ever have the chance to learn. After my week I had the chance to go back to Advance Memphis and volunteer again, there wasn’t one person that didn’t remember me. The students were so happy to see me even though they had only met me one time. I was moved to see such genuine love from people that I had only given a day’s time. I have been challenged to view people differently and to love them the way Jesus Christ has loved me. The people I encountered taught me so much. They have shown me courage. They don’t see color or poverty. I want to understand better and I want to see people as people. I know that the more time I spend with people who are different than me the more I will be able to relate to their way of life and the obstacles they face everyday. Living on the streets, living in dangerous places, being born into poverty, being treated differently because of where one is from or the way they talk and dress, all these things are normalcy to some.

I can’t relate to that. I don’t have any idea what it feels like to be treated differently because of how I look or how I’m dressed. I didn’t come from wealth, but I didn’t come from poverty either. I came from a middle class white family that had enough money for food, tv, and occasional extra things. As far as middle class I was never at the top. I didn’t own expensive things or go on lavish vacations, but I learned how to fit in with everybody else. People didn’t know the difference between my penny and their dollar. My clothes looked just as nice or better, I knew things, I spoke well. You see, the higher paid and lower paid middle class citizens all run together there is not much distinction. Yet, for people living in poverty there are always clear implications. I can’t imagine walking around with a sign on my back that said,” I have less money than you, my opportunities are more limited, my education wasn’t as good as yours.” I may not know anything about being treated differently, but I am aware of what it’s like to look at someone else and know that financial status makes one different; it means people don’t fully understand each other and the personal circumstances experienced. It causes my pride to swell up inside, and arrogantly it says they’ll never fathom a way of life that requires one to work hard for what they want and sometimes need. That pride causes dissension and resentment. I have come to realize that maybe if I looked to people who have less instead of more, then some of that pride might fade and I might begin to relate to people who live a lifestyle far different from my own means.

The majority of organizations I had the chance to serve depend solely on volunteers and support from people around them. It gave me much pleasure to see all the ways our city is being built up. I met numerous people that have answered a call on their lives. I definitely plan to revisit my volunteer sites and build relationships with the people serving and the people being served.

A Day in the 38126

Spending some time with Advance Memphis students as we toured The Mid-South Community College
Tis the Season. Stamping Christmas cards from Advance!

Tis the Season. Stamping Christmas cards from Advance!

My volunteer experience at Advance Memphis brought many revelations as well as blessings. An energetic employee greeted me when I arrived and introduced me to each member of the staff. The staff extended me a warm welcome and supplied me with an array of information about the program.

If you don’t know about Advance Memphis, here is the scoop: they serve the community of South Memphis, specifically the Cleaborn area of 38126. The 38126 is one of the poorest urban zip codes in the nation. Advance Memphis is working to revitalize the community by creating economic opportunities for the residents. They provide a variety of Biblically based job skills courses. The main course is a 6 week job readiness program that allows candidates to go out into the work world prepared with professional resumes, interview skills, and motivation to reach their goals. Advance Memphis saw 145 graduates hired for positions in 2012, and 18 students received their GED. The facility is located right in the heart of the 38126, making it convenient for residents to participate. The program is making a serious dent in economic development for the neighborhood of Cleaborn and Foote public housing developments. Their philosophy follows, “We believe adults can be empowered to change their lives and their community. Advance Memphis provides Biblically based programs that bring hope, knowledge, resources, and skills to the neighborhood, adding these to the assets and strengths already present in the community.”

During my volunteer day, I had the opportunity to travel with several staff members and a current jobs for life class to Mid-South Community College in West Memphis. Staff members take each class on a tour of MSCC on the third week of their course. I was able to get to know some of the students involved and learn why they have chosen to participate. A few students are hoping to receive higher paying jobs to support their families while; others have dreams of bettering their lives by adopting a trade. One man reminisced to me how he once worked at a hospital, but later in life could not keep the job because they no longer accepted employees without a high school diploma. One woman comes to Advance Memphis every day for class while keeping her four children in daycare. The most exceptional part of my day was hearing about the students’ inspiration after visiting the college. Many left with new dreams and the hope of completing a degree or receiving a trade license in order to pursue a career in the field of their choice. Their lives are changing as a result of the opportunities that have been presented to them.

Stamped, sealed and ready for delivery!

Stamped, sealed and ready for delivery!

The staff at Advance Memphis are not seeking simply to help students graduate and move on; they make it part of their job description to invest in the lives of the students participating. Staff members help participants gain self-confidence and motivation to believe it is possible to reach their goals. The staff works hard to develop and maintain relationships with students. They are seeking to help participants move toward financial independence. They have two licensed counselors on staff and encourage their students by sharing the Biblical principles of love through Jesus Christ. It is the goal of Advance Memphis for their participants not only to leave with job skills, but also with life skills.

The majority of students involved at Advance Memphis were born in the same economic state they are currently in–living below the poverty level. Records indicate that 70% of residents in the 38126 are unemployed. Limited businesses and disfigured homes overshadow the alliance and historical marks of the community. If a handful of people get hired for jobs paying above minimum wage, they could change the dynamic of their entire community, motivating others to do the same. From an Advance Memphis graduate, “I am a grad of the jobs for life class and I have never felt better about myself. I have learned so much about God and the Bible. I have also learned about budgeting, perfecting my resume, and how to properly speak and act during an interview.”

As a volunteer, I was able to hear about people who have dreams and families to provide for and are coming to find that living beyond simple survival is possible.  I was very happy to help stuff and stamp envelopes with Christmas cards, but it was my privilege to spend a couple of hours with some people who were very grateful because I showed a little interest in their career paths. The day as a whole was very rewarding for me.  I won’t forget their faces, so I will remember to go back and find out if they followed up on meeting their new and exciting goals.

Thank you for reading! I’m searching for a job that allows me to provide public relations for a faith based non-profit or Christian organization using my strengths in relationship development, social media, and writing.  If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com or sjarnagi@mc.edu.

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Week 12, Day 3: Michael Garcia at Green Machine

Michael Garcia on the Green Machine at Advance Memphis.

Today I volunteered with the Green Machine, a mobile food market. I met the Green Machine at its first stop of the day, Wesley Madison Towers, an assisted living complex. Sarah, the founder of Volunteer Odyssey, joined me and we waited for the Green Machine to show up. We weren’t the only ones waiting for the Green Machine either. There was a whole crowd outside Wesley Madison Towers, and they were all eagerly awaiting the their arrival. Several of them discovered that Sarah and I were there to work with the Green Machine, and they politely pestered us about when it would arrive because it was running slightly late. I reassured them that it would be there, and sure enough, it arrived a few minutes later.

The Green Machine arrives at Wesley Madison Towers.

The Green Machine arrives at Wesley Madison Towers.

The Green Machine is a MATA bus that has been remodeled into a mobile food market with shelves of fresh produce and dry goods. It operates Monday through Friday and runs a different route each day of the week, stopping several places each day. The aim of the Green Machine is to provide quality produce at competitive prices in areas where access to good fruits and vegetables is limited. It’s called the Green Machine not only because it offers fresh greens, it is also literally a green machine. The exterior is painted bright green with pictures of produce, a work of art by the students of Hollis Price Middle College High School. The Green Machine also provides valuable nutritional information, offering a variety of pamphlets on healthy eating and different recipe cards supplied by the Church Health Center.

Sarah and I met Aaron, who drives the bus, Karlita, who operates the register on board, and Rachel, who helps run things behind the scenes. We were put to work helping customers with their purchases. One friendly gentleman was not able to go in the bus because he gets around in a wheelchair. So I had him tell me what he wanted and I went on the bus and got it for him and brought it back to him. Aaron often does this for many of the customers, and I was happy to help out in this way. I also carried quite a few watermelons into Wesley Madison Towers for residents and staff. It was a hot and humid day, so the watermelons were popular, along with cantaloupe and peaches. Whenever there was a lack of customers, I helped restock shelves and mop the floor.

Michael Garcia restocking shelves on the Green Machine.

Michael Garcia restocking shelves on the Green Machine.

At noon we closed up shop at Wesley Madison Towers and headed to the next stop, Advance Memphis on Vance Ave, an organization that is no stranger to Volunteer Odyssey. Advance Memphis was founded to help revitalize the 38126 zip code area of South Memphis, one of the poorest neighborhoods not only in Memphis, but in the nation. When we arrived at Advance Memphis, the Green Machine was running low on produce, so Sarah and I made a run to their supplier, Easy-Way Produce. When we got back to the Green Machine, there were several people waiting for the grapes, peaches and cantaloupes we brought back.

Michael Garcia restocking the Green Machine with more peaches.

Michael Garcia restocking the Green Machine with more peaches.

Michael Garcia resupplying the Green Machine with an order from Easy-Way Produce.

Michael Garcia resupplying the Green Machine with an order from Easy-Way Produce.

When we were done at Advance Memphis, Aaron and Karlita had their lunch break, so I tagged along with Rachel to several places to drop off Green Machine flyers to let people know when and where it would stop, including Barry Towers and Legends Park. While driving around to drop off the flyers, Rachel and I had an interesting conversation in which she briefed me about the background of the Green Machine and how it developed out of a project concerned with housing redevelopment and urban planning. The main thing I learned from the conversation is that housing development is a complex issue.

Rachel explaining the Green Machine to Michael.

Rachel explaining the Green Machine to Michael.

Michael and Rachel with the Green Machine outside Advance Memphis.

Michael and Rachel with the Green Machine outside Advance Memphis.

I utterly enjoyed my volunteer experience on the Green Machine. I was really struck by the overwhelmingly positive response everyone had. The residents of Wesley Madison Towers were incredibly grateful for the service provided. Almost everyone there showered me and the others on the Green Machine with enthusiastic thanks. One of the residents, Don, talked to Sarah and myself at length at how great it was for him to be able to buy fresh produce right outside Wesley Madison Towers. His only other option for getting fresh produce entails a long bus ride, which is not ideal when you are carrying a bunch of groceries. Don, like myself, likes to cook, and he entertained us with a recipe for stuffed cabbage. Mrs. Bird, one of the staff members at Wesley Madison Towers, also spoke to Sarah and myself about how wonderful the Green Machine is. She emphasized how important it was for the residents to have regular access to healthy food. It was the same everywhere I went with the Green Machine. Everyone was excited to see the big green bus, happy to buy fresh produce, and generous in their praise for the idea. The people behind the Green Machine certainly hit upon a brilliant idea when they came up with a mobile food market to bring produce to people that otherwise would not have access to it. I am glad to have helped out today and I hope to volunteer with the Green Machine again. I took some recipe cards home with me as souvenirs. I’m thinking of trying the recipe for “Simple Summer Succotash”.

Michael Garcia on the Green Machine at Advance Memphis.

Michael Garcia on the Green Machine at Advance Memphis.

Thank you for reading! I’m searching for a job as an historical consultant, researcher or educator. If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com.

Cheers,
Michael

My profile pages:

LinkedIn
Academia.edu

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Week 9, Day 3: Ellen at Advance Memphis

z MAPS 2

38126 – I can’t say I have ever been to this area in Memphis until today.  I learned today that this zip code was ranked the third poorest area in the entire nation in 1999. The symptoms that often accompany impoverished neighborhoods are still present today: large unemployment, crime, low graduation rates and high infant mortality rates.

 Advance Memphis was established to economically revitalize the neighborhood. They offer programs to those who live in the 38126 zip code to help them recognize their gifts, become financially stable, and responsible stewards of their resources. They work under a Christian framework and therefore Biblical perspectives are woven into their classes.

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What I particularly appreciate about Advance Memphis is that its model challenges the way we all do and think about business. Their Biblical perspective is that we are all given gifts to be used for work, but also to be shared and to serve others and God. It gave me pause to reflect on the capitalist society we live in that pushes businesses to make as much profit as possible at any expense. Sharing and serving are not really woven into that mindset. Is that really a healthy way to sustain our communities? Would Memphis be all-around a better place if more companies and businesses in the community recognized that we are home to one of the poorest zip codes in the nation and pitched in, perhaps through partnering with Advance Memphis, to offer training and employment opportunities? If business decisions were based on making its local community an overall better place, would the world have less neighborhoods plagued by unemployment and crime? I know business-savvy people might respond by saying that isn’t the function of a business, but that’s what I loved about Advance Memphis. It challenged me to think about things differently and imagine a world where everyone was more generous with their gifts, including businesses.

38126

Today at Advance Memphis I got to be part of two MAPS sessions. This was really fun. My role was that of graphic facilitator – meaning I drew stick figures. When a participant is ready to do a MAPS session, they are about half way through with the “Jobs for Life” program where job skills such as interview prep, the importance of punctuality, work ethic, etc… are taught. The MAPS session provides a time where the participants’ gifts and dreams are first explored. Then, the participant creates an action plan in which she determines her next steps in order to achieve her dreams. It is all illustrated on a giant piece of chart paper in which yours truly drew representations of stories and gifts of the participants all over it. It was neat to see such a big sheet of paper representing the positive assets and dreams of an individual.  A road map for success is visually laid in front of them.

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Both of the women I got to work with today had some pretty amazing accomplishments. One had won a public speaking contest after having been known as quiet. Once she delved into history and the civil rights movement she found something she was passionate about sharing. The other woman I drew for has been sacrificially giving of herself to both the elderly and young children, whether they are family members or a neighbor in need. After these talented women graduate from the Jobs for Life program they can enroll in the Faith and Finances program where they learn about responsible budgeting   – a useful skill for anyone living in any zip code!

Want to share your gifts? In each program participants are paired with a volunteer who serves as a source of moral encouragement. They are called Champions or Allies depending on the program. As a Champion or Ally you are able to encourage an individual as they seek to establish financial independence. Thanks to Advance Memphis’ intensive research and effective curriculum paired with their passion for positive change they are seeing 38126’s determined individuals establish financial stability each year! Advance Memphis is proof that when people are given the opportunity to receive support, encouragement and the tools needed to improve their own situation they will take it and run.

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El resumen en español:

38126: El código postal del área conocida como la tercer zona más pobre de la nación en 1999. No conocía esta zona hasta hoy. Fui a Advance Memphis, una organización dedicada a revitalizar la comunidad económicamente. Es cristiana y así trabaja bajo principios bíblicos para enseñar clases de preparación para trabajos y manejar sus finanzas personales.

Yo tuve la oportunidad de trabajar en una sesión de  MAPs en la cual una participante del programa “Trabajos Por Vida” tiene la oportunidad de explorar sus dones y sus sueños. Fue impresionante ver los logros y aspiraciones de las dos mujeres con quien hice el ejercicio. Para mí fue una experiencia única porque yo tenía la tarea de dibujar representaciones de los sueños y habilidades. Las mujeres ya han logrado hacer cosas muy extraordinarias en sus vidas. Ahora ya saben que son muy capaces de lograr sus sueños!

Lo que me gusto más de Advance Memphis es la forma en cómo perciben a los negocios.  El punto de vista de ellos es que todos tenemos dones y habilidades que sí, son para trabajar, pero también para servir a los demás y a Dios. Me dio una pausa de pensar que si todos los negocios del mundo pensaran así, tuviéramos un mundo con menos comunidades sufriendo. Quitaríamos el enfoque en ganancias y lo pondríamos en construir comunidades más sanas y justas.

Quiere compartir sus dones? Puede servir como un mentor con unos de los participantes en los programas de Advance Memphis.  Advance Memphis es la prueba que si las personas reciben la oportunidad de recibir ánimo, apoyo, consejos positivos y las herramientas necesarias para mejorar su propia situación, ellos la tomarán y lo lograrán!

 

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