“To ease another’s heartache is to forget one’s own.” ~ Abraham Lincoln Volunteering is one of the most immediate ways to make an impact on a community and experience the pressing issues that affect the nation from the ground level. In 2003, President George W. Bush challenged the citizens of the United States to devote two years (4,000 hours) of their lifetime to volunteer service. A lofty goal for sure, but Southerners are never ones to shirk civic duty, from the historically hospitable do-gooders of Tennessee to nonprofits that operate out of Mississippi, the poorest state in the union with one of the highest rates of charitable giving in the country. From feeding the hungry to educating the poor and caring for those with special needs, these volunteers recognize the power of giving through time and service to the volunteer organizations that put the MidSouth on the map.
The faces of volunteering in the MidSouth
Feature | May 2014
The Baddour Center
Mid-South Food Bank
Volunteering at the Baddour Center in Senatobia added a splash of variety to Wanda Newman’s life. Since June 25, 2013, this spicy New Orleans native has reveled in the tranquil diversity provided by the facility. “One day I could be in the flowerbeds picking weeds with residents, painting signage the next day and participating in one-on-one time the day after. No two days are ever the same,” she says. Since arriving in Southaven in 2007, Newman sought a change in her day-to-day career of 28 years as a bank teller. “Two and a half years after Katrina, I thought ‘That’s enough’ and I decided to take a leap of faith,” she says. “I took another banking job in Mississippi and had some extra time on my hands. I’ve always wanted to work with people with special needs and a former customer told me the Baddour Center would be a great place to start.” Newman had never volunteered until moving to the area and wasn’t quite sure what to expect. However, she was greeted with open arms as an active participant in the Baddour community by both staff and residents, with a weekly curriculum that would make most school teachers jealous. “I work currently work in almost every areas at the center, from creative arts to Wednesday one-on-ones and organizing various special events. I love it there. I try to make everything, every event, every meeting, every fundraiser I can.” she says. “I say I volunteer two days a week, but you can usually find me up there more than that.”
While Newman’s resume as a banker includes a ton of people managing, her time at Baddour allows her to work alongside people with special needs, not for them. She can often be found alongside Baddour Center denizens working on art projects or assisting with center maintenance. “They’re all incredible, brilliant people, each one of them,” Newman says with her signature lilting Louisiana accent. “They’re all so unique and whatever capabilities they don’t have are made up for how well they do in other areas. They’re all very special in their own way and each have a unique quality about them that makes them different” The Baddour Center hosts an annual youth fishing rodeo, golf tournament and fashion show for residents to participate in, all of which Newman has had a hand in as of late. And with the center being a short 25-mile drive from her house in Southaven, making a difference has never been easier for Newman. “I originally wanted to try and make a small difference in other people’s lives and it backfired – I’ve made a huge difference in my own life.”
Offering a helping hand has become second nature to the soft-spoken and shy Elizabeth Bardos, who began volunteering for the Mid-South Food Bank in 2013 and is currently on track to bring the organization’s record system into the 21st century. While her work began as handling the immediate needs of different facilities through stocking shelves, the doors eventually opened to a more specialized role that required a bit of extra knowhow. “My duties have changed a little since I started there,” she says. “I started out helping stock canned goods on shelves for various organizations, but as of late I’ve shifted to clerical work.” Like many volunteers, Bardos began her tenure at the Mid-South Food Bank by offering what she could, when she could. Bardos originally handled a bevy of small things needed around the offices in Downtown Memphis on a weekly basis. Many of these actions, like copying records and minor clerical work, are small but crucial to the operations of the Mid-South Food Bank, whose 5,200 volunteers cover 31 counties in the region.
Her most recent and perhaps most important project involves digitizing thousands of Mid-South Food Bank records, a daunting task similar to that faced by many modern librarians and record keepers. “I’ve been happy to fill in and help with whatever I can,” she says. “They do a great job of letting me know what’s needed.” In addition to digitizing the records at the Mid-South Food Bank, Bardos’ service to the community continues throughout the week via her day job as volunteer coordinator at Birthright of Memphis, Inc., an organization that provides expectant mothers with maternity wear, diapers and pregnancy counseling free of charge. “We have so many people who volunteer down here but Elizabeth really stands out,” says Paula Rushing, volunteer coordinator of the Mid-South Food Bank. “She comes in every week and sits in her little corner to get work done and she’s so quiet that the office doesn’t know just how much she does.” While her position at the Mid-South Food Bank keeps at a distance from the needy families who receive the food, much of her work revolves around the actual agencies that distribute the food to needy citizens as representatives of the organization.“No one gets food directly from the food bank, it all has to be on file and distributed through agencies,” Bardos says. “Their permits, their directors, all that stuff needs to be put on file. It’s not a difficult project, just a little bit of knowing which is which”