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VOL. 129 | NO. 131 | Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Odyssey Building

Memphis volunteer program gets grant to expand its work

By Andy Meek

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It’s fitting that the word “odyssey” is included in the name of Sarah Petschonek’s program she launched in March 2013 as a volunteering platform for job seekers.

Sarah Petschonek is the founder of Volunteer Odyssey, an effort that promises participants a robust volunteering experience while preparing them for a new job. 

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

That’s because her Volunteer Odyssey effort promises participants a robust volunteering experience, one that’s already seen 25 people complete the program and which is preparing to expand even more beyond its initial concept.

Chicken of the Sea, the 100-year-old seafood products brand, presented Volunteer Odyssey with a check for $10,000 in April. That gift was part of Chicken of the Sea’s centennial celebration this year, during which it’s investing $1 million in charitable individuals and nonprofits around the country.

Volunteer Odyssey is using that money to launch Odyssey Forward, a new program that will allow five job seekers to participate in an Odyssey week at no cost.

“It’s basically an amped-up version of our job seekers program,” Petschonek said. “What we do is look for really talented people in Memphis who are looking for a way to stand out in the job market and give back to the community at the same time. We’re using this as an opportunity to add some additional features and flesh out some of the things we’ve done in the past that our job seekers have liked.”

As part of the new program, each participant will volunteer for seven organizations and blog about their experiences. Among other things, the five people chosen will be assigned a mentor, get a one-on-one life coach and be paired with a Volunteer Odyssey alumnus.

Volunteer Odyssey is announcing the five people chosen on July 21.

“This is all designed to keep them engaged in volunteering and to increase their chances of finding a job,” Petschonek said, hinting at the new range of life and work experiences that volunteering brings. “I got an email from Chicken of the Sea that said, as part of their 100-year anniversary, they were looking for ways to pay it forward. And they were looking at different cities all over the country and would pick one or two nonprofits in each city to support.

“We always are looking to improve and to make this the best program it can be, and the money came at the perfect time. The vision we have for this is it’s kind of the kickoff of a more in-depth and more involved job seekers program.”

At launch, the idea for Volunteer Odyssey was to put participants through a weeklong program of developing marketable skills while in the process also giving back to the community. From there, new layers got added.

Petschonek added a component, for example, for employers and corporate teams. The organization quickly began lining up corporate clients, the first being the Memphis Cook Convention Center.

The convention center brought 35 employees to the Mid-South Food Bank warehouse to volunteer for a day. Convention center general manager Pierre Landaiche said his organization wants to make as big an impact as it can in the community, and Volunteer Odyssey seemed like a perfect, community-focused way to do that.

For Petschonek, meanwhile, the interest is as much personal passion as it is professional. After she turned 30 and left Nashville to move back to Memphis, she spent an entire month on a personal project she called “Mission Memphis: 30 Days of Volunteering.”

For a whole month, she volunteered with a different organization each day. She blogged her experiences and tried to gin up interest in the groups and causes she helped and encountered.

She’s continuing that passion by helping her Volunteer Odyssey organization add a new layer to its work.

PROPERTY SALES 41 308 2,265
MORTGAGES 47 379 2,607
BUILDING PERMITS 128 1,018 6,068
BANKRUPTCIES 53 255 1,787