Volunteer State 

New organization pairs job-seekers with nonprofits.

Finding a job isn't a walk in the park these days, especially in Memphis.

The national unemployment rate was 7.5 percent in April, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In Tennessee, the rate is 7.9 percent. In Memphis, it's 9.3 percent — higher than the national and state average.

But Volunteer Odyssey, a new seven-day volunteering and blogging program, may help unemployed Memphians put some of their free time to good use and possibly even create job opportunities.

Volunteer Odyssey gives job-seeking individuals the chance to tour some of the city's nonprofits over the course of one week and blog about each experience.

"When people find themselves unemployed, they can get into a rut, because there's only so much job searching you can do every day," said Sarah Petschonek, the program's creator. "You can't really spend eight to 10 hours every day for two months searching for a job. You eventually start to run out of leads.

"I wanted a way for people who are in that situation to have this thing they can share with people so that when they get to that networking event or interview, they can say, 'I worked on this awesome project. It took seven days. Look at all of my blogs.' It's a starting point for them to be able to talk to people about what they did with their time off."

One person can participate per week at nonprofits throughout the city — some within their career interest and others outside of their comfort zone. Participants are able to gain the attention of local employers, receive interviews, and possibly jobs.

Kevin Nowlin, one of the program's participants, recently got a job interview with Leadership Memphis, a nonprofit that seeks to build community leaders through education and training programs.

"[Participating with Volunteer Odyssey] is a good chance to get outside yourself, especially if you're looking for a job and you're on that hunt," Nowlin said. "It's a great way to pour into the community. No two days were alike."

David Williams, CEO of Leadership Memphis, said he took interest in Nowlin after reading his blog posts and noticing that he had a background in marketing and communications. Williams said he thinks Volunteer Odyssey is an effective tool for obtaining employment.

"I know the next time I have an opening, I'll certainly check [the Volunteer Odyssey website], because those are people who are making an investment in themselves and in the community in a time when some people are just sitting by the phone," Williams said.

Participating organizations include Metro Inter-Faith Association (MIFA), the Dorothy Day House, Habitat for Humanity, Shelby Residential and Vocational Services (SRVS), and the Memphis Botanic Garden.

"The volunteers from Volunteer Odyssey have been absolutely wonderful. They come ready to learn, make connections, and serve time, and they get nothing in return," said Amanda Chisholm of SRVS. "They help in the learning center with cleaning things and in our classroom. They also helped with lunch."

Volunteers normally spend from three to five hours a day with nonprofits. An additional three to four hours a day is spent writing on their blog and promoting it throughout social media.

Anyone interested in participating in the program can go to volunteerodyssey.com. Slots are currently open for weeks in June and beyond.

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