Giving Time 

Memphian spends 30 days volunteering — and writing about it.

With hundreds of nonprofit organizations in the Bluff City, it's easy to overlook some.

Sarah Petschonek is hoping to change that with "Mission Memphis: 30 Days of Volunteering." She's committed to volunteering with 30 organizations — one for each day in November — and blogging about each experience.

 "I thought if I showed people what it was like to [volunteer] place to place, then they'll read about the experiences and want to go volunteer too," Petschonek said. "I wish I didn't have to worry about bills and things like that. I could keep doing this project indefinitely. It's been amazing."

 After resigning from her job earlier this year, Petschonek decided to spend her spare time volunteering. This blossomed into her contributing between two to six hours each day at nonprofits and sharing her thoughts on the experiences.

More than halfway through her project, she's volunteered for GrowMemphis, St. John's United Methodist's soup kitchen, Knowledge Quest, Sunny Meadows Safe Haven for Pets, and the 2012 Indie Memphis Film Festival among others.

Petschonek was one of 12 soup servers for the Memphis Empty Bowls project, an event that brought awareness to hunger.

"She provided service with an awesome smile and great spirits," said the project's volunteer coordinator Ashley Baker. "In addition to that, she stayed late after the event and helped us pack up all the things."

Petschonek also volunteered for the Dorothy Day House of Hospitality, which provides shelter and resources to homeless families. While at the Dorothy Day House, she helped children make cookies and attended its weekly gathering, "Sunday at Six," which includes fellowship, prayer, and dessert.

 "We are glad to have volunteers interact with our families, because we believe it helps them to realize many people in the Memphis community care about the plight of homeless families and want to help them," Sister Maureen Griner said.  "In addition, doing activities with the children is always special, because it helps them build good memories of their stay at the Dorothy Day House."

Petschonek's interest in volunteering began at an early age, when she helped her parents collect donations for a food bank. More than two decades later, she continues to contribute her time to various nonprofits.

"Volunteering is a way to connect with people I wouldn't normally meet," Petschonek said. "It's a way for me to make a difference in the community and to give back. I'm really fortunate for all that I have, and I feel like I need to share and help other people."

On her blog, confessionsofavolunteer.com, she details her experiences in a positive but honest fashion. Because of her honesty, some of her reviews might sway people away from contributing their time to certain nonprofits. She said it's important to give people a realistic preview of what could come with volunteering.

Although she's volunteering for a wide range of nonprofits this month, Petschonek said she loves working with organizations that address hunger and homelessness the most.

 "I've done a lot of different things, and I've had great and interesting experiences everywhere I've been," she said. "I love to learn new things, meet new people, and build relationships. Also, the feedback that I'm getting from people saying they've started volunteering because of what they've read on my blog has been the most amazing part." 

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