Volunteer Odyssey has provided many volunteers to UBFM and allowed to establish relationships with people as well as other organizations in Memphis. We are very happy this organization is part of UBFM and we look forward to collaborating with them in 2014!
Photo by Steve Roberts
Sarah Petschonek: Spinning a New Type of Volunteerism
Story by Leah Fitzpatrick
For Sarah Petschonek, the president and CEO of Volunteer Odyssey, taking a normal approach to volunteering holds no appeal. Take, for instance, the fact that Petschonek did 30 consecutive days of volunteering in November 2012 for an effort called Mission Memphis, and then followed that experience the next month with a cross-country volunteer trip she organized and blogged about. She took her deep passion for philanthropy a step further last February when she ushered in Volunteer Odyssey, an organization that provides customized volunteer experiences to Memphians, namely to job seekers.
Commenting on how she came up with the name, she says, “Since I think about volunteering as a lifelong journey and something that’s supposed to challenge you, I kept coming back to the word odyssey.” Petschonek adds that the compass incorporated in the organization’s logo, which can be viewed on volunteerodyssey.com, symbolizes that people should stand out from the pack or make a statement wherever they go. In this case, volunteerism is the implied avenue for making a statement.
Volunteer Odyssey upholds the notion that good deeds shouldn’t be relegated to a single location, which is why Petschonek opted to only have a meeting space (located inside the Start Co. office in Playhouse on the Square) for the organization, and not a stand-alone building. Coffee shops are also a regular spot for meetings, but the bulk of the action occurs in the community, specifically at the 27 nonprofits that Volunteer Odyssey pairs participants with for a weeklong volunteering/ blogging tour of the local nonprofit scene. Volunteer Odyssey especially likes to showcase the “little guy,” including the Urban Bicycle Food Ministry (in the background of the photo at right), which enlists volunteers to deliver food and basic necessities on bikes to the homeless. Petschonek mentions that Urban Bike is a group that she personally enjoys donating her time to, and clarifies that each organization she sends a volunteer to is one that she has prescreened and volunteered for herself.
“We look for places that have quality volunteer experiences,” she emphasizes, “but we’re not a static list of volunteer experiences. Sometimes if we have a blogger with a specific interest, I’ll reach out to a group, but people reach out to us, too.”
More importantly, Volunteer Odyssey wants its participants to be engaged in experiences they enjoy, aiming to make the clearest path possible for them to do so. For instance, one man with a Ph.D. in medieval studies in England wanted to do something related to that area, so Petschonek contacted the National Ornamental Metal Museum so he could do some blacksmithing. Examples of other volunteer experiences have included helping out with the dessert hour on Sunday evenings at the Dorothy Day House, handing out tickets and taking donations at the Indie Memphis Film Festival and assisting in the greenhouse at the Memphis Botanic Garden. These examples are just a glimpse, however, into the varied activities that participants can do throughout the course of their Odyssey Week, which entails volunteering at a nonprofit for five hours a day, followed by roughly three hours of social media/blogging—part of the storytelling piece that Petschonek feels is a vital and compelling component.
“The stories and specifics are how people connect—we want volunteers to become a catalyst for more people to volunteer,” she says.
For those who don’t have a week to give, Volunteer Odyssey rolled out programs for corporate teams and congregations, as well as VolunCheers, a monthly happy hour where people can enjoy an adult beverage while doing a simple volunteer task. Just RSVP on the Volunteer Odyssey Facebook page for any posted VolunCheers events, and remember that there’s no wrong way to give back. As Petschonek says, “Find something you like, and you’ll keep doing it.”