The holiday season, the time when people try to give back and generosity is at its peak, is upon us. For students willing to be generous with their time in order to help others, Volunteer Odyssey, a volunteer center based in and built for Memphis, is looking for helpers. The one-stop shop for meaningful volunteer opportunities was founded by Dr. Sarah Petschonek in 2013. "It is important to do volunteer events because Memphis has a critical shortage of volunteers right now," Petschonek said. In addition, Petschonek emphasized how volunteering can expand one's worldview by providing immersive experiences, which boosts one's physical and mental health.
Dr. Petschonek believes that in order to first approach any community need, it is vital to look to the existing experts in that field. Volunteer Odyssey works with organizations that are experts within their field and fully understand the local culture. A few examples of Volunteer Odyssey's collaborators are the Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association's Meals on Wheels program, the Catholic Charities of West Tennessee's mobile food pantry, St Vincent De Paul's food mission and Memphis Rox Community's food program.
Although Volunteer Odyssey has many collaborators, there is a vast shortage of volunteers. "Often, many of the opportunities to serve or share food have zero volunteers to sign up," said Petschonek. Another need for volunteers is to assist with transportation and increase the ease of accessibility. Often, those who need these services have a difficult time traveling to and from the distribution site, either due to a lack of transportation or a conflict with their work schedule. Volunteers can be a part of this solution. For example, volunteers can greatly aid staff programs like Meals on Wheels, which take food directly to home-bound seniors in our community.
The overall goal of Volunteer Odyssey is to meet community needs through volunteerism and to enrich the lives of everyone involved. For those who are interested in volunteering with Volunteer Odyssey, you can go to serve.volunteerodyssey.com to sign up for volunteer experiences or email firstname.lastname@example.org for a custom match. Despite difficulty finding volunteers, Petschonek stays motivated by an hourglass she keeps on her desk, which reminds her of all the people in the local community who are cold, hungry or lonely.
"Every single volunteer can make a dramatic impact and be a force for good, yet most people don't volunteer," Petschonek said. "My personal mission is to get everyone involved in being part of the solution."