Week 8, Day 4: Miki at Knowledge Quest

If you live in Memphis, I don’t have to explain to you the difference between East and South Memphis. In my thirteen years as a Memphian, I can count on one hand the amount of times I’ve been to South Memphis. Janie Kathryn, well, our visit to Knowledge Quest was her first time. As I weaved through the narrow streets, I wondered what she would take away from the experience. Would she notice the teddy bears hanging from various telephone poles, makeshift memorials for victims of violence who lost their lives on the very streets on which we were driving? Would I… Should I… Could I explain this to her? How do you explain to a 7 year old that the children we are about to meet live in a neighborhood where worse things than raccoons in the attic keep them up at night.

She didn’t see the teddy bears or if she did, she didn’t ask.

IMG_3733When we arrived at Knowledge Quest, I reminded Janie Kathryn to save all of her important questions for the ride home. We took a brief tour of the grounds, admiring a lush community garden that put our measly little sprouts to shame. We entered the main building and joined a morning assembly, where the children were engaging in a discussion about what it means to be a friend. It seemed as if we were miles away from teddy bear clad poles, in a little pocket of hope, love, and learning. Ms. Ward invited Janie Kathryn to sit on the front row with nine other rising second graders. She politely accepted, taking a seat farther away from me than she would have liked. I watched her as the assembly continued and I knew she was afraid. My fearless daughter was sitting on the front row, stiff with fear but showing nothing but confidence to everyone else in the room.

DSC05103What was that fear? Did she sense that she doesn’t belong? Did I overestimate her ability to acclimate to any environment? A short time later, we boarded a small bus with the other second graders. As she clung to me, breaking my own rule, I asked her why she was uncomfortable. “I don’t know these kids mommy. They all know each other, but no one knows me.” Of course she doesn’t know anyone! What child wouldn’t feel awkward in that situation? So, when we unloaded the bus I initiated introductions to two girls and we entered the Gaston Community Center.

DSC05114It was there that we met Mr. Jason, who engaged the children in a little stretching before beginning a lesson about tee ball. While Jason brought each batter up to the tee, I chased after the wiffle ball and practiced a little classroom management in the “dugout”. Janie Kathryn? Well, she was her usual silly self, laughing and carrying on with her new friends as she waited for her turn to bat. After all the children practiced hitting, catching and running the bases, we dismissed for lunch.

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Accompanying her new friends to the community park outside, Janie Kathryn joined the picnic and played on the playground. After lunch it was decision time… catch the bus back to the Knowledge Quest building or stay for arts and crafts time? “Oh, please mommy, can we stay a little longer,” my child begged. Of course, we stayed a little longer. We stayed and we played and our new friends took turns taking pictures with my camera.

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On the way home, I asked Janie Kathryn what she thought and if she had any questions about our experience. She replied, “When can I go back and play with my new friends?” It was the most inspiring response I could have received. By the way if you don’t know the difference between East and South Memphis… Well, if you ask a seven year old, all you need to know is that it’s nothing that a game of tee ball can’t resolve.

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Week 7, Day 3: Alicia Wooten at Knowledge Quest

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Today I ventured into an area of Memphis I was very unfamiliar with and probably, had I been lost, I would have called my dad asking how to get out of South Memphis. What I found was a hidden gem, Knowledge Quest, tucked away on a street corner. When I walked up, a small, old church and classroom type portables, I was greeted by warm, smiling faces, welcoming me. I walked into a small sanctuary of kids and adults excited to start another day of summer camp. If I am being honest, for the first few moments, I was uncomfortable and felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb; for the first time in my life I was the minority. This feeling and thought quickly subsided, as I was introduced to the adorable Pre K through 1st graders that I would be helping with that day and met their lovely and inspiring teacher Ms. Hill. In that moment, I was reminded that kids just want to have fun and they don’t care who you are, as long as you are there to have fun with them. They are looking for a friend to have fun with, as we all are in life.

Knowledge Quest has grown so much in the community, they have actually out grown their main buildings. K.Q. opened in 1998 as a community initiative to help the children and youth of the community. K.Q. has an after school program that cultivates young minds not just academically, but creatively as well. They also offer a summer camp program for children who have completed Pre K through 8th grade. They have expanded to have a site at College Park and use the gym, rooms, and play ground at Gaston Park. K.Q. does not require a fee for the children to attend camp and that most of the staff are volunteers. Outside the structure activities and learning opportunities, K.Q. provides the children with breakfast, lunch, and a snack. The children participate in normal summer camp activities: sports, arts, a dance class, and will even help to cultivate a garden. Each class is responsible for coming up with a class color, mascot, cheer, and song with a dance. I became an honorary member of the K.Q. Lions who were working hard on their roar, masks, and song and dance. The kids are so creative and as all kids do say the some hysterical things. I think one of the high-lights of the day was trying to explain my freckles to a 5-year-old!! And the most heart warming was when I got hugs from all the kids as I was leaving!

The kids had art today and worked on making the outside a part of their art work. They drew a picture of something in the sky and something on the ground. Their pictures will eventually all be put together to make a “quilt”.

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Then it was onto lunch time! Today the kids had chicken quesadillas, pear, chocolate milk or water. And then a small snack of chex mix and juice or water.

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After lunch we headed back inside for sports. A little stretching first and then “playing” soccer as only 4-6 year olds can!

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As a former summer camp kid and summer camp counselor, I understand parents worries about leaving their children all day. As a child I didn’t worry about that, every day I got to see my friends, and have a new adventure. As a counselor, I would hear parents talk about the trust they put in the staff. South Memphis is an area the news likes to talk about. We hear about the poverty, violence, and schools. But, what they should be talking about is Knowledge Quest. The children attending K.Q. are well taken care of by the staff, who entertain them and take care of them in a safe environment all day long. The kids are excited to be there every morning and ready to tell their parents all about the day when they are picked up. The area of town might be different, but the love of the kids, the activities of the day, and the devoted staff are the same in South Memphis as in the suburbs.

Thank you for reading! I’m searching for a job as a Dental Hygienist. If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com or to aliciawooten@gmail.com

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Week 6, Day 1: Brittany Tuggle at Knowledge Quest

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Volunteer Odyssey, Day 1: Knowledge Quest

Today is my first Volunteer Odyssey and I had the opportunity to visit Knowledge Quest. Knowledge Quest is an after-school program that has 3 different campuses in the South Memphis area. When I pulled up, all I could see were little kids smiling and playing! I was given the honor to hang out with 4th and 5th graders for the day. There were 9 kids in my group, and they made me feel right at home.

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Today was a very special day at Knowledge Quest.  It was graduation day!!! Students who were entering elementary, middle, and high school were recognized today. All of the kids in the program came to the Gaston Community Center location for the ceremony. It was just a happy place to be. There were student presentations showcasing the talent of Knowledge Quest.

 

20130520_160630  One group of boys performed their drum circle routine. They were taught by a member of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra. They created a chant and had the audience  participate. I found myself getting into it. I was clapping, snapping, and chanting along with everyone else.

20130520_161550 One young child gave a speech that spoke about what he wanted his community to be when he grew up and how he was going to help. He was little nervous, but he got through it. Once he was finished, he had the biggest smile on his face.

Each campus gave out awards and called the names of students who were moving on to the next level. I was standing and clapping after they were finished that one of the kids in my group asked me, “Do you know one the kids up there?” I told her no, but I was excited because they are moving to a new adventure at a new school and I know they are going to love it.

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U.S. Attorney for the Western Tennessee District, Edward Stanton III, was today’s speaker. Mr. Stanton, a Memphis native, has met President Obama and is an example of how continuing an education can lead you to anywhere you want.

Mr. Stanton shared with the students the 3 C’s: Conduct, Character, and Company. Mr. Stanton told them that with good conduct, character, and company that there was nothing they could not be when they grow up. Judging by the amount of raised hands, there are a lot of future doctors and teachers at Knowledge Quest.

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I was inspired today. Knowledge Quest is helping young children embrace their natural talents and ensuring they continue to excel in their education. I appreciate Ms. Toria Brown, Site Director, and her staff for allowing me to tag along today.

Thank you for reading! I’m searching for a job opportunity where I can apply my PR and Marketing knowledge at a nonprofit organization. I am also interested in development, event planning, and fund raising. If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com

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Week 5, Day 4: Samantha Hicks at Knowledge Quest

Okay, I don’t mean to be over the top or anything but today was AMAZING! On day 4 I had the opportunity to hang out with the awesome kids and staff Knowledge Quest. Once again, being new to the area, I did not know much about the program. When I pulled up to the campus there were children running around everywhere playing and releasing energy after a long day at school. Across the street was a very large garden area where community members were working tilling the ground. There were flowers, fruits, and vegetables planted in these amazing raised garden beds. It was a sunny day and everyone, kids included, seemed to really enjoy being there.

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I was given the grand tour by Andy from whom I learned about the awesome things that were going on there. Knowledge quest is spread out into several different campus (there are hopes of being in one large facility one day). These campuses welcome neighborhood children to come and hang out after school. By hang out I mean enjoy a healthy snack (ranging from white meat chicken nuggets to a turkey sandwich on wheat accompanied by low fat milk and a piece of fruit), get exercise, receive tutoring and educational services from certified teachers, and learn about different things including community and music. Children are welcome to come and stay from the time they are released from school until 6 o’clock in the evening. Many of these children would be what you might call “latch key” kids if it weren’t for the center. I asked one fifth grade girl if she went to a babysitter’s house after school before she started coming to Knowledge Quest. She looked at me kind of funny and said “well no. I babysat my cousins after school.” This was coming from an 11 year old little girl. What a relief it must be for her to be able to go to Knowledge Quest after school where she can play with friends and work on her homework without all of the responsibility! Did I mention that all of these services are free to the families?OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Once again, AMAZING! Knowledge Quest is staffed by both full time and part time employees. They also receive lots of help from the community members and families. On this particular day there were both teenagers, adults from the community, and parents volunteering their time to help out with the children.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAlthough I was able to meet and talk with children of all ages, I found my niche working with the fourth and fifth grade girls. The kids have been working on making a model of what they would like their community to look like. My group, led by a sweet girl named Infinity, was working on the “Glamorous Hotel!” After all, every community needs a glamorous hotel! J Other students were working on different parts of the community which included restaurants, a post office, and a bank, just to name a few.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The girls were beyond sweet. They asked lots of questions and were very interested in what I was doing there. They also thought I was 17 or 18 years old which was especially sweet! This was a great opportunity for me because it is the perfect place for me to bring my daughter along! I hope to return with her in the next couple of weeks! Speaking of the next couple of weeks, summer break is right around the corner. This means that kids at Knowledge Quest will be there for their summer program which is every day of the week and includes before and after care. What am I trying to get at? Well, there is an extraordinary amount of need for volunteers during the summer. I can’t think of a better way to spend my summer than hanging out with these awesome kids! Have I mentioned that I can’t wait to go back?

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Thank you for reading! I’m searching for a job opportunity where I can apply my social work skills and improve our community. If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com

Want to know more about Samantha? Check out her bio:
http://volunteerodyssey.com/participants/#samantha-hicks

Week 5, Day 3: Atina Rizk at Knowledge Quest

South Memphis comes on gradually as you drive. Broken glass here, a boarded up house there. It’s a neighborhood marred by evidence of neglect, that no one cares: chipped paint, litter, and overgrown weeds.

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The view from Knowledge Quest’s front door on this balmy spring day was breathtaking.

And then you come across Knowledge Quest– there are murals, a church, a well-tended garden, a colorful playground, and what seems like hundreds of kids. You can tell that people care here. Knowledge Quest’s main site is off Walker Street, and there is so much need that they have expanded to two additional locations. There are three elementary schools full of children who need help, and rather than going home to empty houses and blaring televisions, they get after-school care at Knowledge Quest.

How cool does this gym look? Its in a depression era builidng with an art nouveau facade.

The children play in this gym after school to get rid of some of that pent-up energy before homework time.

The guiding principle behind Knowledge Quest is that kids deserve the chance to play and interact in a safe environment where no one forces them to sit still. Each kid gets a substantial snack because the staff know that this is the only dinner some of the kids will have. Then the kids get to work on fun projects. Some work in the garden and learn about where food comes from, some play games in the gym, and some get help with their homework.

I helped with homework at one of the new locations, a beautiful building constructed during the depression as a works progress administration project. The class was quite full, and as soon as the students saw that I was there to help with homework, they all seemed to need special attention.

Christen was the student, but soon she became the teacher.

Christen was the student, but soon she became the teacher.

My favorite moment was with a little lady named Christen who was struggling with simple algebra, but who wouldn’t be at age 7? After we talked it over, she absolutely knew what to do and finished her whole worksheet without a hitch. She then pointed out that the little boy sitting next to her was copying off her. Christen seemed upset, but I explained that the best way to stop him from copying was to teach him how to do it too. I listened with delight as she explained how to do each and every problem to him, and led him to the right conclusion on every blank. She really had learned it, and her neighbor was well on his way.

The thing that struck me most about Knowledge Quest is the overwhelming need for more volunteers. The kids don’t just need help with their homework; they need someone to notice their talents and encourage them. Just because they live in South Memphis doesn’t mean these kids should be forgotten; they need help to realize their true potential like any other child in Memphis.

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