You Help Me While I Help You

Office Headquarters

Day 6 of my Volunteer Odyssey had me headed to Habitat for Humanity of Greater Memphis.  I was not going to be able to play with power tools on a build site, however.  The office where all the behind the scene workers make those events happen needed my expertise.  This would give me a chance to demonstrate some of the skills I’ve learned from nearly three decades in the corporate world and put them to use in the nonprofit environment.  This is my goal by going on my Volunteer Odyssey.

I met with Amy, the Volunteer and Events Manager.  I was tapped to be her helper for the afternoon.  After explaining the process of how families are selected for a Habitat for Humanity home, as well as some of the other services they provide, such as educational programs, budgeting, and emergency repairs, she then reviewed the project I would be handling.  A group of homes will be built this fall, and we needed to line up vendors to supply coffee for the volunteers, ice, and find some ice chests at a reasonable price.

Researching vendors on the internet

Researching vendors on the internet

Now that I had my marching orders, I jumped right in and got to work.  I went online and researched coffee vendors located close to the build site and compiled my list of places to call.  I did the same for ice vendors, and once I knew the lunch rush was over, I began making my calls.  I got lots of leads, but no firm answers.  When Amy stopped by to check on how I was doing, I explained to her that several vendors wanted to follow up via email or a phone call and I wasn’t sure how she wanted to handle that.  “I have plenty of free time right now, and I’d be happy to provide them my email address and phone number and follow up from home if that’s okay,” I told her.   I added that I’m hoping to land a volunteer position similar to this where I can work a consistent schedule and gain more experience in the nonprofit world, and ultimately land a permanent job.  She said that is exactly how she got this job – she started out as a volunteer.  That’s what I needed to hear to reassure me that I’m following the right path towards my goal.

Making phone calls to vendors

Making phone calls to vendors

Amy had a couple of meetings to attend, so I continued with my project at “my” desk. Okay, I admit it – I was pretending like I was working for Habitat for Humanity as a Volunteer and Events Coordinator, and Amy was my boss.  Before I knew it, my shift was over, and I still had follow up to do.  Vendors were reluctant to commit to pricing or, even better, a donation.  I went to Amy’s office to let her know the status and confirm with her that it would be okay for me to continue it from home.  We scheduled another volunteer session for me to come back next week and would see what other projects could use my help.  We also discussed setting a weekly schedule for me to come back and volunteer.

While there was nothing glamorous about today’s experience, it was valuable to me because it helped to boost my confidence.  I felt comfortable handling the task that was given to me, and I felt proud being a Habitat employee for the afternoon, even if I was only pretending.  I also felt proud because I’m taking charge of my goal.  I’m not just sitting back waiting for it to happen – I’m making it happen, and at the same time helping others.   As Amy said, “You help me while I help you!”  So we both win.

Office Headquarters

Office Headquarters

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Week 19, Day 3: Helping ReStore The Community

My dream of becoming a human GPS ended suddenly and tragically today and it’s nothing short of a miracle that I made it to and from the Habitat for Humanity ReStore given the number of wrong turns that occurred.

Enough of that.

After apologizing for my tardiness, I met Amy Paul, Habitat for Humanity ReStore volunteer coordinator. Amy actually started out as a Habitat volunteer before stepping on as the volunteer coordinator. Volunteering nets so many opportunities!

Amy gave me a few options on how to start my morning off, which included my guilty pleasure (data entry). I’m not sure if it’s the case over at Habitat, but when I worked as a volunteer coordinator, the “to-do” data entry pile was just a tower threatening to topple and any volunteer who offered to enter was high up on my list of Awesome People.

20140606_Habitat_Restore_04Diligently taking notes in preparation for some data entry!

Data entry ended soon enough, so off to the ReStore I went. Easily overwhelmed by stuff, I try to live a fairly minimalistic lifestyle (inspired, in part, by some of the volunteer experiences I’ve had) and steer clear of shopping malls. Occasionally, though, I find myself browsing the aisles of local thrift stores, with the Habitat ReStore ranking as one of my favorites. In fact, the best (and only) armchair I ever owned came from a Habitat ReStore in Wichita. Go figure.

ReStore proceeds help to cover overhead and staff salaries –two hugely important expenses. This is important because without offices and staff, nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity would struggle to help those in need. And while there are many grants out there to support projects, like building houses, it can be a tremendous challenge to find grants and funds to cover overhead and salary.  By shopping at the ReStore, you’re helping Habitat for Humanity ensure it can continue its focus of helping families in need.

When you walk into the ReStore, you’re immediately greeted by row after row of incredible furniture at incredible prices. Chairs of every color and material stand aside one another, while a nearby shelf threatens to burst with a multitude of plush pillows.  After admiring all the lovely furniture, I received my very own volunteer vest and my next set of instructions. The Habitat staff is organized and had a to-do list printed out and ready to go. Somijah, another volunteer, and I set to work organizing the linens, sheets, pillows, and overly-ruffled bed skirts.

20140606_Habitat_Restore_03Somijah, hard at work organizing the shelves.

 As someone who once spent two years sleeping in a sleeping bag to avoid buying a real bed, I simply cannot understand the purpose of a bedskirt. I hate to inform you, but after attempting to fold a million ruffled bedskirts today, I’m still baffled. In fact, I might be even more baffled.

20140606_Habitat_Restore_02Not a fan, ruffled bedskirt, not a fan.

My volunteering time came to a quick close and I found myself saying goodbye to Somijah and hanging up my volunteer vest. My only regret? Not finding an apartment closer to the ReStore!

20140606_Habitat_Restore_01Sad to hang up my volunteer vest.

 Thank you for reading! Like what you read? Kat Franchino is a freelance writer and an     avid blogger. She will happily take on any writing challenges. Contact her at katfranchino@yahoo.com or jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com.

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Can we fix it? Yes, we can!

Today I participated in a unique volunteering opportunity.   I joined Sarah Petschonek, the founder of Volunteer Odyssey, along with several others at Habit for Humanity of Greater Memphis.   Volunteer Odyssey organizes a group of volunteers for a fun, monthly function, called VolunCheers.  This group got momentum last December as a way for busy working professionals to take a tour of non-profits in a way that fits their busy schedules.

As most of you know, Habitat helps people attain home ownership.  But that’s not where it ends!  Each family has to commit to help build their home through “sweat-equity”, learn how to reduce their debt-to-income ratio, and become financially stable.

Our "round" table discussion!

Our “round” table discussion!

My first thought about Habitat for Humanity was fear: I cannot build anything by hand!  Really not even in my imagination or wildest dreams!  After getting there I learned that I’d be using my brain instead of my brawn.  I participated in a round table discussion and brainstorming session on how Habitat could improve their services and attract more volunteers.  One of the suggestions that came out of the meeting was to offer classes on basic home maintenance and upkeep, such as plumbing, power tools, etc.  This would be educational for both potential volunteers and the Habitat families building their new homes.  Another idea was to make it clear to the public that not all volunteer opportunities involve construction, so potential volunteers who might be intimidated by that aspect of the program would know they could put other skills to use for this great nonprofit.

It was a great learning experience and I got to meet some awesome volunteers.  I love meeting new people and learning about how and where they serve the community.  I also learned about Habitat for Humanity’s Resale Store. It’s an enormous store that takes donations of furniture and other household items.  The items are resold to the public, and the money goes into building the homes for families.  From what I could tell, they had really nice merchandise – you can check out some of what’s for sale on their website.  I will definitely be going there to shop!

Getting detailed instructions!

Getting detailed instructions!

Lesson learned today: you do not have to be a builder, a tile layer, or a plumber to participate and help at Habitat for Humanity.  You just need a willing heart and a little time to spare.

 

 

 

This non-profit organization depends largely on volunteers and donations.  Without volunteers, the services they offer would be impossible.  To take in a family of four and provide for their needs is costly.  I hope you will go to their website and consider volunteering!

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Like this:

Live from the LPBC Radio Show

Jeremy, Sally, Alexandra, Pete, & Dwayne (from left to right)

Day 1. I feel like there should be some sort of dramatic “Law and Order” music playing right now. This morning I shadowed Jeremy Park – an important mover and shaker you should know if you don’t already. He is the vice president of communications for Lipscomb & Pitts Insurance, a member of its LLC, president of the Lipscomb Pitts Breakfast Club and hosts both the LPBC Radio Show (Saturdays 1-2 p.m. on News Radio 600 WREC) and television show, “The Spark” (the third Thursday of each month at 9 p.m. on WKNO-TV). Additionally, Jeremy writes the “Giving Back” column that appears each Sunday in The Commercial Appeal. The LPBC is an organization which hosts more than 150 free events throughout the course of the year to bring businesses together through community engagement. If you would like to learn more about the Lipscomb Pitts Breakfast Club, visit www.thelpbc.com.

I was lucky enough to shadow Jeremy on a day when he was recording his radio show with

Jeremy, Sally, Alexandra, Pete, & Dwayne (from left to right)

Jeremy, Sally, Alexandra, Pete, & Dwayne (from left to right)

three very special guests: Peter Tosches, the senior vice president of corporate communications for ServiceMaster; Sally Heinz, the executive director of Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association (MIFA); and Dwayne Spencer, the executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Memphis. Needless to say, I was amongst a great wealth of knowledgeable and service-minded people in the Memphis area.

First up was Pete Tosches from ServiceMaster – the umbrella company that owns

Peter Tosches, ServiceMaster

Peter Tosches, ServiceMaster

Terminix, Merry Maids, American Home Shield, ServiceMaster Clean, Furniture Medic, and AmeriSpec Inspection Services. It’s not a coincidence that “service” is the first word in the company name, according to Pete, who explained that service is embedded in the heritage of ServiceMaster and courses through all of its entities. Also a big philanthropist in the community, ServiceMaster often allows its employees to volunteer on company time. For example, every Tuesday Pete has a team that delivers Meals on Wheels while also engaging in a staff meeting during their car ride together.  Additionally, ServiceMaster is a huge advocate of Habitat for Humanity and remains one of the top builders and sponsors in Memphis! Pete explained that building a home together puts everyone on the same level and it’s a great teambuilding activity. You can learn more about what ServiceMaster has to offer at www.servicemaster.com.

Sally Heinz took the microphone next to represent MIFA, an organization founded by various religious leaders to help the community come together immediately following

Sally Heinz, MIFA

Sally Heinz, MIFA

Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. MIFA’s main programs focus on helping both families in crisis and the elderly gain independence through numerous programs.  MIFA distributes 1,200 meals every weekday for “Meals on Wheels,” and during the delivery of these meals, both the recipient and volunteer have a chance to connect by sharing stories and life experiences. Other programs include helping teenagers prepare for college, advocating for rights on behalf of nursing home residents, and making homes handicap accessible. MIFA even has a program where Memphis residents can add $1 to their monthly MLGW energy bills to be donated to MIFA. To learn more about MIFA and all of its programs, check out www.mifa.org.

Last but certainly not least, Dwayne Spencer from Habitat for Humanity of Greater Memphis

Dwayne Spencer, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Memphis

Dwayne Spencer, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Memphis

was highlighted on the show. The organization Dwayne spearheads was originally founded to solve a housing crisis in rural Georgia by helping families in need of housing receive a newly built home to call their own. Habitat for Humanity walks these individuals through the entire homebuilding process from outreach to education and maintenance. This program actually saves the community costs, and it’s important to note that Habitat for Humanity will not build without a sponsorship. Furthermore, Habitat for Humanity operates a thrift store on Winchester Road called ReStore, which keeps furniture and goods out of landfills. The store relies heavily on volunteers for the daily operations. To find out more, go to www.memphishabitat.com and keep in mind that this past Saturday, March 28th was Executive Build Day where local executives were encouraged to come out and work together on a building project. Habitat for Humanity is always looking for volunteers and no construction experience is necessary!

Though I wasn’t in the hot seat, I felt like I was in an episode of “Frasier” while in the radio booth. Jeremy had a producer in the next room who recorded the interviews, which I enjoyed experiencing live because of the energy that emanated from the dialogues. How lucky am I to witness these conversations and meet some pretty fantastic members of the community at the same time!?

After the radio show, Jeremy and I went to lunch, during which he offered me priceless advice on how to set myself apart from the competition in the job market and create a stellar professional reputation. He provided brutally honest feedback on my resume, for which I am truly grateful. He also kindly gave me a copy of his book, Giving Back with Purpose: Fueling Growth through Community Involvement.

My first day of Volunteer Odyssey was a huge success – stay tuned for Day 2!

Thank you for reading! I’m searching for a job in writing, event planning, communications, or teaching. If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com or aesamsell@gmail.com.

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Habitat for Humanity: ReStore “Restoring for the soul”

I am making the sign that reads "BOOKS."
I am with Dee Dee and the pricing cart.

I am with Dee Dee and the pricing cart.

The Memphis ReStore is operated by Habitat for Humanity of Greater Memphis. All proceeds from the ReStore benefit the programs of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Memphis. The ReStore is a place where you can purchase gently used furniture, household appliances, blinds, books, clothes, cabinets and doors to name a few. Habitat for Humanity is a non-profit ecumenical Christian housing ministry that is dedicated to eliminating substandard housing in the city of Memphis and surrounding areas, while making decent housing for all people a matter of conscience and action. The organization works to build simple, quality and affordable homes in partnership with low-income families.

Pricing cart

Pricing cart

As I arrived at Memphis ReStore, I met Joe and Christina.  I was then told to sign-in and to put on a gorgeous orange vest so that customers would know that I am a volunteer.  This was no ordinary volunteer job.  Usually, I would be with a handful of volunteers but today they had about 20 high school students from the YMCA volunteering.  I am really passionate about working with high school students because I feel there can be more of a relational factor in helping them to be a confident person and to teach them about giving back to their community while respecting one another.  Joe gave us a tour of the facility and talked about what items they sell and also showed us where people can make donations.  Then he started assigning jobs.  I got paired with Dee Dee, who was a volunteer from YMCA.  It was our job to put the proper price tag on items. We looked at the price on the item and then find the correct tag to put on it.  We also made sure to put a description of the item on the tag and the date. Most items have a starting price but will eventually go down.  ReStore also offers specials on specific items.  Dee Dee and I definitely made a team effort on putting the price tags on the items. We would help each other by holding the tags down with tape.  It was great getting to know her and to see high school students giving back to our community.

I am making the sign that reads "BOOKS."

I am making the sign that reads “BOOKS.”

Joe then got his creative juices flowing and wanted me to make a sign to display where they keep their books.  He wanted me to get a door and then use cassette tapes to spell out the word “BOOKS.”  Joe’s goal was not only to make the store organized but to make it fun and inviting.  I learned that even though volunteering is a rewarding experience it can also be a creative.  Joe later sent me a picture showing me that they had hung up the sign for “BOOKS” and I have to say it looks pretty awesome.  I love knowing that I was able to help ReStore not only by volunteering but by being creative too.  If you want to help with Habitat for Humanity ReStore Memphis, they can always use great volunteers. It’s easy to donate to the ReStore, and all donations are tax-deductible. You can drop off your new or gently used household items at their Donation Center, Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m.

 

The sign I made.

The sign I made.

Thank you for reading! Blair Hayes is searching for a job where she can merge her enthusiasm for our community with her education and experience; she can bring a positive attitude ministering to high school students, college-aged students and families.  If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com.

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A Place To Call Your Own

A Place to Call Your Own

By: Max Groce

This day started out semi-rough. I had not gotten much sleep the night before then I had to be up at 6 to get ready in time to be at the Habitat-for Humanity build site at 7.  I rise out of my bed like a reanimated body and slowly yet surely get ready and make my way out the door. Eventually, I arrive at the corner of N.Third and Chelsea. I recognize the neighborhood from frequent trips to Tigers game at the Pyramid when it was still open. You can still see little parts of blight, but there are large blocks that have been totally redone and look incredibly good. I park my car in front of an abandoned gas station next to the other cars and make my way out of the car into the cold morning air.

I walk up to the sign in table and meet Mary. She tells me what is going on and some background on the house, which finally starts to compute after I get my first cup of coffee down. Mary explains how Habitat for Humanity isn’t just about building houses it’s about buying as well. The whole point is to allow someone to build and own their home; the logic being that if it’s theirs they will take better care of it and they will have more invested into their neighborhoods then if they were just renting. The program helps them get a loan with a very low down payment and no interest at all, but they do have to qualify, put in certain number of hours for financial literacy, and put in a certain number of houses working on the house.  The house were working on today is a one level handicap accessible three bedroom, and it is for an elderly woman who’s wheelchair bound and her granddaughter, Ms. Jessie and Venita Hill. I meet them and Mary tells me how they have been out here every day the house has been worked on rain or snow.

Ms.Jessie Hill (seated) and Venita Hill

It’s about 7:30 and the other volunteers start to arrive from The University of Memphis and Lynnwood.  Mr. Jimmie gathers us up and begins his speech. He talks about how this house is built in seven days only because of help from volunteers and how what we’re doing really is not only making a significant difference in someone else’s life but that we are giving and building somebody a home. That’s what really resonated with me through the whole experience that day. I’m building somebody’s home. A house where they’re going to live for shelter from the elements and the world. It’s a strange feeling and thought to have but it did make me happy to have it.

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After Jimmie’s speech we broke up into teams and followed the more experienced volunteers who assigned us jobs. Mine was painting all the touchup and trim on the outside of house. I painted literally the whole time I was volunteering all the way around the house. I mean I painted all over that house. It would seem monotonous but honestly they gave such a good speech in the beginning that it didn’t seem that way. You really did feel like you were doing something that made a difference. I finished up the last of the trim work and helped clean up the work site. I made my way over to Mary and Jimmy and thanked them for the opportunity and made my way home.  That trip home made me really reflect on what I truly had. I have a home. It’s not big and it’s not fancy, but it’s everything to me.

IMG_8863

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Why Habitat is Needed

Hard at work
The front of their soon-to-be new home

The front of their soon-to-be new home

Habitat for Humanity is committed to helping those in need, in a very tangible and practical way. When I arrived there to volunteer, I was greeted by Amy, the volunteer coordinator as well as one of the construction managers. Amy and I immediately got busy setting up the registration table with snacks and coffee. Minutes later, construction workers started lining up at the table. Part of my volunteer duties were to have each worker complete a waiver, and give each of them a wrist band and name tag. Once this was complete, the construction manager led the group in the safety talk and morning  prayer. As the construction workers gathered their materials, and got busy working on the house, Amy told me a little about the family that Habitat was building this particular home for. This home was being built for a grandmother and her granddaughter.  The grandmother is in a wheelchair and needed her home to be completely accessible. The grandmother and granddaughter are renting a home just a couple of houses down the street from the site of their new home. Amy explained that their new home was being built with special accommodations to allow the grandmother complete access to her entire household. Later in the morning, the homeowners stopped by to watch their home being built. It was great to meet them; it allowed me to put a face with the project were working so hard to complete. The family loved talking about the different paint colors, carpet, and tile they were going to use in their new home.  I could tell by the smiles on their faces how thankful they were for each of the volunteers and their hard work.

 

 

Working hard on the roof

Working hard on the roof

I really enjoyed my time volunteering with Habitat for Humanity; before volunteering there I was unsure of what the organization was about and how people qualified for the program. Amy, their wonderful volunteer coordinator was excited to share with me about why Habitat is needed. She told me that over 26% of Memphis residents live below the poverty line, and more than 12 % of those have incomes 50% below poverty line. Many of the families in poverty use more than half of their income to pay rent. Three major criteria must be met in order to qualify for habitat housing: a physical inadequacy of a family’s current structure, overcrowding in a family’s living conditions, and overwhelming cost burden. Each homeowner must complete Financial Peace University which is taught by Habitat staff, as well as contribute Sweat Equity hours- by either helping to build their own home or volunteering on another home build. The family’s new home will be ready at the beginning of November. I look forward to being there the day the family gets the keys to their new home. I know they will be so excited.

Working on the porch

Working on the porch

Thank you for reading! I’m searching for a job as an educator to children and adults with special needs. If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: Mail to jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com or Leweaver0428@gmail.com

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