Memphis Woman on Volunteering Marathon Serves 30 Organizations in 30 Days

Memphis Woman on Volunteering Marathon Serves 30 Organizations in 30 Days

Memphian Sarah Petschonek is taking do-goodery to the next level: she's committed to volunteer for 30 different Memphis organizations in 30 days and chronicle her experiences on her blog, Confessions of a Volunteer, in order to inspire others to get involved.

Currently, Petschonek is about halfway through her marathon month of service. Here, she answers my questions about the project, inspiring others, and some of the stranger things she's done for the greater good. 

Sarah Petschonek, working with Meritan, Memphis, Tenn.

What inspired you to start this marathon month of volunteerism?

I have had some incredibly rewarding experiences as a volunteer and I wanted to share those moments with others in the hopes that it would inspire more people to get involved. My goal is to show the diverse experiences so that everyone can find a way to contribute in a way that's meaningful for them.

How did you find the organizations that you're working with? Did you have any requirements?

In order to identify organizations, I asked in many circles about the best places to volunteer. From there, I narrowed the list based on several requirements. First, I wanted to highlight some of the lesser known non-profits in Memphis; the ones who didn't have as many resources to attract volunteers and who could benefit from the additional exposure. I also wanted to show a wide range of opportunities, so I intentionally looked for groups that went beyond what people typically think of as volunteer opportunities. I tried to cover a lot of ground: hunger and homelessness, children, animals, arts, elderly, economic development, immigrant populations, and many others in order to show the diversity of available projects. I also looked for places that could benefit from a one-time volunteer as well as on-going commitment.

I know a lot of organizations have requirements and training for their volunteers. Were you able to expedite this for your project, or did you do a lot of prep work before the month started?

In some cases, the process could be expedited. Many places asked that I print a volunteer form and fax it back to them, which definitely delayed things. In general, I would love to see non-profits embrace online forms when working with new volunteers.

What's been the biggest challenge so far?

In general, the scheduling and communication aspect of the project has been the most difficult. I reached out to about 90 different organizations in order to fill the 30 days. Many people have said they were surprised that I could fill 30 days in a row with different opportunities. If I could have streamlined scheduling and communication, I would have been able to fill three months easily, without repeating organizations. I have a profound appreciation for the volunteer coordinators who return emails and calls in a timely fashion and the organizations with conscientious coordinators were mostly likely to make it into the project.

Sarah Petschonek, volunteering with Meritan

What's been the most rewarding part of the project?

The most rewarding part of this project is the realization that this work is inspiring others to volunteer. I've gotten messages from friends, family, and total strangers telling me about a particular story from my blog that motivated them to get involved. The fact that this work has motivated others has been fulfilling beyond words. The project creates a ripple effect and generates more good than I can create on my own.  

Are there any organizations that you didn't know about before this month that you're a big fan of now?

There are several organizations that are new to me and that I now love! The DeNeuville Learning Center (Day 15), The Dorothy Day House of Hospitality (Day 18), and Knowledge Quest (Day 16) were phenomenonal, not only in terms of their missions, but also their teams and the experiences.

What sort of tasks have you done as a volunteer? Anything weird?

I've: hooked up a speaker system, collected voting ballots, directed traffic, used a hot glue gun, handed out turkey feathers, assembled a turkey out of a flower pot, ladled soup, cooked pasta in an outdoor classroom, decorated cookies with kids, talked about how to write a blog, presented to 200 teenagers, (accidentally) dug up snakes, read poetry, shoveled compost, was a pronunciation expert (for ESL students), and rationed cheese during a health cooking demo for kids.

What's been the reaction to your project? Are your friends and family supportive?

Friends and family have been incredibly supportive and wonderful. Many people have been involved with the project, suggestion locations, putting me in touch with new organizations, donating supplies, coming to the volunteer projects, sending pictures, and giving feedback and encouragement. I'm also amazed at the amount of support from people who only know me through the project.

Are there any organizations that you've worked with this month that you're definitely going to work with in the future?

I'm sure there are, but I'll reserve that answer until the end of the project.

Anything else you'd like to add?

There are several very simple things that create a rewarding volunteer experience, regardless of the actual task being performed.  I plan to work with our non-profits in order to help them create rewarding experiences that will attract and retain the wonderful volunteers they need to achieve their mission.

You can keep up with Sarah's work via her blog, Confessions of a Volunteer, or on Twitter @spetschonek.

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