Those Who Can Do More

This post is likely not the last I'll share about service learning, though it completes the posts about our Martin Luther King, Jr. Month of Service Learning. Wow! What a way to start off 2015! I planned to have this posted by the end of January, but I needed time to reflect on the experience as a whole. Okay, that's only partially true. I also got really busy with a family road trip to Louisiana and home renovations. Honestly, I wasn't going to write about our final day at Room in the Inn because I really didn't think there would be anything new to share. I was wrong.

The last day of service learning was a lot like the other days we served at Room in the Inn. We set tables, we made beds, we shared what we knew about homelessness with new volunteers. Of course, by the end of our month of service, these young volunteers needed a lot less help and guidance. In fact, they zipped through all of the tasks and jumped right into discussion with little prompting from me at all. I think it's more accurate to say, they completely took over!

They took turns sharing ideas with each other about how they might continue to help people who are experiencing temporary or chronic homelessness. The discussion not only highlighted what they had learned throughout our project, but how much these brilliant, compassionate, young people have to offer our community. I just sat and listened as one ten year old girl proposed the idea of a hotel for homelessness- a future Memphis institution that would be staffed by the people it aimed to help.

"Maybe people who can afford to stay in the hotel can pay to visit and this can help give jobs to people who can work and live there, until they are no longer homeless."

...As I sat there listening to the budding architect describe the best layout the building, it was so clear that each kid had their own talent to bring to the table- I mean hotel.

I've thought about it every day since then- the grace of a ten year old girl's idea and her passion for sharing it with like-minded kids, who all want to be involved. All this reflection made me realize that behind each one of our service learning projects was a truly inspiring woman. This is not to say that the fellas aren't working hard too. I just think it's worth pointing out that the ladies are doing some really amazing things in this town. How lucky I feel to know these women and see their positive impact on our community... their impact on how other young volunteers see the world around her. 

I bet these women were just as passionate when they were ten.

Sarah at Volunteer Odyssey, who introduced Janie Kathryn and me (and countless others) to all of these organizations and meaningful volunteer work in our community; 

Sister Maureen, whose kindness changes the lives of so many families and makes all who enter the Dorothy Day House feel at home;

Miss Lisa, as she is called by those whose lives she touches as director of Room in the Inn- Memphis- she spreads warmth and compassionate across our city, and not just on the coldest nights; 

Lois, the most organized and dedicated volunteer I know and coordinator of volunteers for Room in the Inn - Trinity;

and Rev Deb, pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church, who leads a congregation in true service to our community.

Lauren at Action News 5, who always highlights the good in Memphis and never gives up pitching the positive stories;

and Erin and Megan at Carpenter Art Garden, whose compassion for children and community is changing lives and igniting a passion throughout Memphis. (Though this wasn't part of our first service learning adventure, I expect it will be in the near future!)

These women are truly, truly inspiring. 
As Las Savell's sign would say, "Ladies, you make Memphis a better place!"


Do the Math: Volunteering Adds Up!

It's seems like so long ago that Volunteer Odyssey introduced us to St. Mary's Soup Kitchen. The first time I walked into the soup kitchen, I remember thinking that it would likely be the ONLY time I ever volunteered there. Was I ever wrong! It's a funny little story, actually.

Since then, St. Mary's has become like home- the people like family. This week marks 34 consecutive weeks that Janie Kathryn and I have volunteered for our Tuesday shift. That's 34 Tuesdays of waking up before the sun, through the hottest weeks of summer and into the coldest of winter. I mention this not to pat myself on the back, but because it's a testament to how much it means to my child and to me to have the opportunity to be there every week. It's an activity that homeschooling affords us and one that engages my child's brain as well as her heart.

There was absolutely no way that we could participate in a month of service projects with other homeschoolers and NOT serve at St. Mary's Soup Kitchen. It would be like asking your friends to come over and not inviting them inside! I knew it might be a stretch to expect a group of youth volunteers to make it downtown by 7:15am, so I inquired about how we might help after-hours. The project: making peanut butter sandwiches and touring the soup kitchen. The sign-up slots filled up almost instantly. How exciting that so many people wanted to come to the soup kitchen- our soup kitchen!

We assembled, 9 kids and 5 moms, and made short work of a sandwich-making session. Everyone brought loaves of bread (30 in all) and together we prepared 360 sandwiches. And yes, we did the math together. It varies by ability, but you might be surprised how much math you can work into making sandwiches. You can actually practice a lot of skills while volunteering at the soup kitchen, but math was not the learning objective of our Month of Service Learning. This group was focused on addressing hunger and homelessness in our community.

During their time at St. Mary's the Service Learners contemplated the challenges of making healthy food choices when eating to ease the pain of hunger. We also considered the fact that people who are experiencing hunger (or food insecurity) are not necessarily homeless. One of my 8 year old friends was quite perplexed by the idea that a parent can work hard at multiple jobs, have a home and a car, and still not have enough money to keep food on the table for the entire family.

We walked through the steps of a volunteer shift at the soup kitchen. The tower of soup was most impressive, while the early morning hours were less appealing. So, of course we talked about other ways to be involved!

Sign up through Volunteer Spot on the soup kitchen's web page. Be sure to take note of the address, so you show up at the right place- a little reference to my first time serving!

You can make donations of food or supplies. Just contact St. Mary's to work out the details. You can also contact me, whether it's leftovers from your party or extra food after a business meeting, I'm happy to help you get your gift to people who need it. You can also make a monetary donation online Every dollar counts

Be Informed
You can sign up to receive newsletters and stay up-to-date on events and opportunities for getting involved at the soup kitchen. You can also follow St. Mary's on facebook.

Now, how about a little soup kitchen math?


One Big Family at Dorothy Day House

Job loss, medical bills, unanticipated debt!  
Financial burdens.

A hurricane, a tornado, an earthquake!
Natural disasters. 

A fire, a crime, an illness or addiction!  
Traumatic events.

Death, divorce, domestic disputes!  
Personal tragedies.

Living in poverty or close to the poverty line! 
And sometimes not so close.

This is a list of some of the answers to a question the Service Learners have been pondering.
What could cause a FAMILY to become homeless?
If you've been following our Martin Luther King, Jr. Month of Service Learning, you know that our month-long service project is focused on addressing homelessness in our community. As we've learned more and more about what it means to be without a home, we've also dispelled some of the common misconceptions surrounding homelessness and discussed the differences between chronic homelessness and temporary homelessness.

A homeless person does not always look like the mental picture we may have of a man sleeping under newspapers, on a park bench. According to Sister Maureen Griner, Founder and Director of The Dorothy Day House of Hospitality, at this very moment in Memphis,  a family experiencing temporary homelessness is living in their car. This is a fact that many adults don't know and one that blew the minds of the kids who volunteered to provide dinner for the residents of Dorothy Day House.

We gathered together to prepare a baked potato bar. A group of 8 volunteers washed and wrapped potatoes and prepped all the toppings. While we worked, we learned that the Dorothy Day House of Hospitality provides housing and support to Memphis families who are experiencing temporary homelessness. We talked about the causes of temporary homelessness (listed above) and considered how our own lives might be changed by any one of those situations. Then, I asked them a question.

"What do you think I would do if I were temporarily homeless?" 

"Go to a shelter!" 

"Sleep outside!"

"Live in your car!" 

"Dorothy Day House!" 

Though no one offered the correct answer, all of the suggestions were very logical and informed guesses. If I personally lost my home due to a traumatic event or natural disaster, personal tragedy or financial burden, I'd call my mama!  It seemed so obvious to them- the idea of calling mom- and yet so inconceivable that grown-ups might still need their parents. It was as obvious and inconceivable as the idea that, during tough times, many people lack the support of family and friends.

This! This is why we prepared a meal. This is why we sat down to dinner with families we just met. This is why we learned that serving The Dorothy Day House of Hospitality helps families stay together during hard times. No matter how people (families) come into homelessness, they need support to overcome it. Sometimes that support comes from a different kind of family- a caring community.

 Spread the Word
People who don't know about Dorothy Day House don't yet know that they want to help. I've said it before and I'll say it again! One of the easiest ways you can help organizations like Dorothy Day House is by telling others.

Get Social
My friend, Lauren Squires, recently wrote, "Social media is now a tool of empowerment." She is so, so right! It seems trivial, but liking, pinning, sharing, and tweeting can garner more attention and even support for non-profit organizations like Dorothy Day House. Click here to get started.

Individuals and groups can sign up to provide Monday Night Meals at Dorothy Day House. From house maintenance to moving furniture, sorting donations to assisting with fundraisers, there are a variety of ways to share your talents and get involved. Click here to find out about volunteering. 

Of course, you can give a monetary donation. You might also consider an in-kind donation. Items like toilet paper, tissues, paper towels, napkins, dish and laundry detergent, cleaning products, and garbage bags are always needed. The next time you're cleaning out the toy box, closet, or linens, consider contacting Dorothy Day House to see what they can use!


Throwing Starfish

We enjoyed another successful session, serving Room in the Inn (RITI) at Trinity United Methodist Church. Trinity's pastor, Reverend Debora Christiansen- or "Rev Deb" according to her friends- took a moment to speak to us about the guests who would sleep in the beds we were preparing. She also shared with us how she was introduced to RITI, through another Memphis church.

Another Room in the Inn?! 
Rev Deb's words led into a powerful discussion and some really great questions from these young volunteers.

Out of the mouths of babes...

 "What if there are lots of volunteers, but not enough locations?"
We learned that Room in the Inn is not one place that serves one night a week. Rather, it is an initiative that can happen in many locations, any night of the week. Memphis just needs more organizations to step up and take part- something that can happen if we all spread the word. I mentioned several ways to get involved in a previous post. (I'll list them again below.) One thing I forgot to mention is that even sharing this post, sharing pictures, or sharing information from RITI goes a long way! What is this social media thing for, if not to make the world a better place?

"What about everyone else, who has to sleep out in the cold?"

I think it can be easy to get lost in the reality that we are serving only 13 people on one cold night of the week. Someone recently asked me, "Don't you feel like it is a futile effort, when only a small portion of the homeless population can be served?" Repeating this question to the group raised some eyebrows and evoked a peculiar remark. "Starfish!" I understood the reference. Janie Kathryn and I actually received the story for Christmas and I was happy to have a chance to share it.

Adapted from The Star Thrower-
There once was a man walking along the beach, when he came upon a boy picking up starfish from the sand and throwing them back into the ocean. The man asked the boy, "What are you doing?" To which the boy replied, "I'm throwing them back, so they won't die." The man questioned the boy again, "Don't you realize there are many miles of beaches and many other starfish lying in the sand? You can't possibly make a difference." The boy smiled, threw another starfish and said, "I made a difference to that one."
 "I'll tell my friends about it and they'll tell their friends... "
That's the spirit! It's true, we may have only helped 13 people on one particular night, but we also made a difference in THIRTEEN lives, in only ONE night. A little perspective from a group of kids can go a long way. Pass it on! Perhaps, someone you tell will organize another RITI site and we'll just keep throwing starfish back into the ocean.

Do you have a kid or teen who wants to join us? 
There are still a few spots left for our Month of Service Learning. You can sign up here.

Interested in starting a new Room in the Inn site?
You can contact the AMAZING Lisa Anderson here.

Want to get involved, but don't have time?
You can buy stuff! Here is a list of RITI needs that you can purchase from Amazon. You don't even have to get up from your computer!

Want to stay updated on how you can help?
Join Friends of Room in the Inn Memphis on Facebook or follow RITI here.


Making Friends and Beds at Room in the Inn

We kicked of 2015 with a month of service learning and we're doing just that... serving and learning. This month-long community service project is a little different than our usual volunteer activities, where Janie Kathryn is often the only kid. All throughout January 2015, we're volunteering with a group of kids.

If our first week of service is any indication, we're going to have some fun and learn a lot from this experience!

All of the service the projects focus on addressing homelessness, with a goal of making new friends and introducing participants to a few ways that kids can help in the community. Parents are often surprised by how many opportunities there are for kids to actively volunteer- something I might not have known, if not for our 2013 Volunteer Odyssey.

One of our projects this week was preparing the sleeping quarters for Room in the Inn - Memphis (RITI). Our team was made up of 8 volunteers, ages 6 though 13. I admit that I was a bit nervous about how it would go, knowing that if it was too much of a challenge, we might lose volunteers or not fill the remaining spots. To say it went well is an understatement! These kids worked hard!

From sweeping the sleeping room to moving mattresses...

We took some time out of our work to talk about who we were helping and what it might be like for guests of RITI without congregations like Trinity United Methodist, who create shelters during the coldest months of the year. The team didn't just learn about volunteering and supporting our homeless community, they also learned a little bit about teamwork and cooperation (even if they didn't realize it). They worked together to carry and arrange mattresses and quickly discovered how much easier bed-making can be when you have a partner. Even our youngest volunteers eagerly collaborated to share tasks like sweeping. 

Arranging chairs and storage bins...
This team made friends and beds like nobody's business!

Do you have a kid or teen who wants to join us? 
There are still a few spots left for our Month of Service Learning. You can sign up here.

Interested in starting a new Room in the Inn site?
You can contact the AMAZING Lisa Anderson here.

Want to get involved, but don't have time?
You can buy stuff! Here is a list of RITI needs that you can purchase from Amazon. You don't even have to get up from your computer!

Want to stay updated on how you can help?
Join Friends of Room in the Inn Memphis on Facebook or follow RITI here.


Read It! Addressing Hunger and Homelessness

We like to use picture books to teach and learn just about anything. This topic is a particularly good example of just how essential picture books can be for learning. Often it's difficult for adults to wrap their minds around the hows and whys of hunger and homelessness. Explaining it to a child can be even more challenging. I think most of us have encountered someone we assume is homeless. And even more of us have encountered someone who is experiencing food insecurity, though we will never know it.

Hunger and homelessness have many faces and many stories. Here are a few titles that offer various perspectives and situations to help start a dialogue about this topic. Most of these books are still in print and available for free at the library. I like Better World Books for great deals on used titles. I also included an Amazon link. Warning: After reading any of these titles, the hows and whys just might turn into...
Why aren't we doing something about this? How can I help?

DiSalvo-Ryan, 1997 | Fiction | Level 3.3

"A straightforward fictional view of an urban soup kitchen, as observed by a boy visiting it with his 'Uncle Willie,' who works there every day....The difficult lives of those fed (including children)--as well as the friendly, nonintrusive attitude of the kitchen workers toward them--are presented sensitively but without sentimentality."

The Can Man 
Williams, 2010 | Fiction | Level 3.4 

"As Tim ponders how he might earn money for a skateboard, he hears The Can Man down the street collecting empty cans. This gives Tim an idea. By the end of the week, Tim has almost reached his goal—until a chance encounter with The Can Man changes everything. --Told with honesty and respect, this timely story shines a perceptive light on current social concerns. Readers will be encouraged to think beyond themselves and celebrate the simple acts of kindness that make a difference in people’s lives."

Fly Away Home
Bunting, 1991 | Fiction | Level 2.7

"A homeless boy who lives in an airport with his father, moving from terminal to terminal and trying not to be noticed, is given hope when he sees a trapped bird find its freedom." 
Bunting, 1997 | Fiction | Level 2.9

"Simon and his mom don’t have much--the cardboard house they built for themselves, a tiny Christmas tree, and a picture of an angel from a calendar pinned to one wall. The angel’s name is December. Simon’s mom says she sings to them when they’re asleep. On Christmas Eve, Simon and his mom take in an old woman who needs a place to keep warm, and the next morning, Simon wakes early to find that the old woman has vanished. Instead, he sees December, their Christmas angel, with her wings fanned out over their cardboard house. Could she be real?"

The Lady in the Box
McGovern, 1997 | Fiction | Level 3.1

"It is wintertime in the city and freezing cold, but not everyone is inside and warm. Ben and his sister Lizzie know that there is a lady who lives outside in a box over a warm air vent. The children worry about the kind-looking lady, and begin sneaking food and clothes out of their apartment for her. Gently told and powerfully illustrated in rich hues, The Lady in the Box deals candidly with the issue of homelessness."

Marie Plays Homeless
Ross, 2010 | Fiction | Level 5

"Marie wants a new Jeannie doll, but her dad won't give her the money. She has a plan to acquire the money, but she never dreamed that the plan would change her mind. Some things are more important than either money or dolls."

Circle of Friends
Carmi, 2006 | Fiction | All Levels

"In this wordless story, a boy anonymously shares his snack with a homeless man, and inspires a cycle of good will."

I Can Hear the Sun   
Polacco, 1999 | Fiction | Level 3.7

"Fondo's life is sad and lonely until he meets Stephanie Michele. She takes care of the geese who live on the shore of Lake Merritt, and when Fondo shows up there one day, she lets him help. But now the geese are preparing to fly south for the winter, and Fondo says that they've invited him to join them. Is hope enough to accomplish a miracle? Patricia Polacco masterfully intertwines themes of friendship, homelessness, and faith to create a beautiful modern myth."

Ivy, Homeless in San Francisco
Brenner, 2011 | Fiction | Level 5

"In this empathetic tale of hope, understanding, and the importance of family, children face the difficult issue of poverty and the many hardships of being homeless through an inspiring young heroine named Ivy. Ivy is a young girl who finds herself homeless on the streets of San Francisco when she and her father, Poppy, are evicted from his artist loft. Struggling to survive day to day, Ivy and Poppy befriend a dog who takes them to the ramshackle home of quirky siblings Eugenia and Oscar, making the start of some amazing adventures. The story relates a hopeful but realistic representation of homelessness that will appeal to young readers and give adults material to discuss with children." 

The Cardboard Shack Beneath the Bridge: Helping Children Understand Homelessness
Huff, 2007 | Nonfiction | All Ages
*Kindle Only

"This book captures all that Tim has seen in his years working on the street with the homeless in a form children can easily understand. Homelessness has been called one of the greatest tragedies of our time. In an age of prosperity and plenty, hundreds of thousands of people, continue to find themselves homeless. Tim Huff has been called, by several national papers, as 'not just another outreach worker, but a tireless activist for the cause of the homeless.'”

The Lunch Thief
Bromley, 2010 | Fiction | Level 3.1  

"Rafael saw Kevin, a new kid in his class, sneak his lunch bag from underneath his desk and tuck it in his backpack. But how can he do something about the theft without picking a fight? Inspired by his mother's advice to use his mouth before his fists, Rafael bides his time, but other kids' lunches are disappearing, too. Rafael discovers Kevin's family might be one of the families who lost their homes in the recent wildfires."

Just Juice
Hesse, 1998 | Fiction | Level 3.8 

"Realizing that her father's lack of work has endangered her family, nine-year-old Juice decides that she must return to school and learn to read in order to help their chances of surviving and keeping their house."

Rosie the Shopping Cart Lady
Martin, 1996 | Fiction | Level 4

"For any parent, grandparent or friend who has tried to explain homelessness to a child, this book will be an invaluable resource. It paints the picture of Rosie through a child's eyes, and shows the magic power of simple love. Makes a perfect gift for the child who is beginning to examine the world around him or herself and ask intelligent questions." 

A Shelter in Our Car 
Gunning, 2004 | Fiction | Level 3.2 

"Since leaving Jamaica for America after her father died, Zettie lives in a car with her mother while they both go to school and plan for a real home."

The Quiltmaker's Journey
Brumbeau, 2005 | Fiction | Level 4.7 

"Escaping from the protective walls of wealth and privilege, a young girl discovers the harsh world outside, where some people don't have as much as others. When she realizes that she has the power to help them, the young girl finds a strength and peace she never knew before. Making the loveliest quilts in all the land, the young girl decides to give them away."

After I put this list together, I found that A Mighty Girl also offers a list of books that address social issues, including homelessness. Here is that list of additional titles, which feature stories about strong female characters and selections for higher-level readers. 


Santa's Secrets

We ran into these guys today, when we dropped off toys for Porter-Leath. We've heard that Santa's reindeer will only fly on Christmas Eve, which explains why this one stays in his containment area. Flying around Union Avenue would cause quite a commotion anyway! 

We were still a little skeptical about the abilities of this reindeer, as we were warned not to get too close. Perhaps, he is an alternate reindeer "helper"? You know, like the various Santas we see around town. We plan to further investigate the Rangifer tarandus. Our local library is a little lacking in this area, but Amazon Kindle Unlimited has a lot of selections. Time for a free trial!

We got a chance to have a little chat with the jolly old elf himself. No luck with details about the taxonomy of flying caribou. However, Santa did disclose (and I hope it's okay to share this) that he no longer enters homes through chimneys. Turns out, he was advised by the EPA that too many chimneys are just too dangerous these days. Wood smoke can not only pollute the air, but also impact our heath (and Santa's)!    Are reindeer and caribou the same thing?

The EPA's Burn Wise program has a lot of good information on how to prepare wood for burning in fireplaces and updating or replacing old wood stoves, including this plan for building a wood shed.  

This PSA has been brought to you by Peachy Skeen... and Santa Claus.