Raise your hand if you’ve ever gathered with a youth group, sorority or fraternity, office team, or other well-meaning band of folks to volunteer. Maybe you painted a wall or two, played with children, or cleaned a building—and no doubt, your group left that place better than you found it. But did it really make a difference?
While the tasks being performed may not always feel world-changing, there can be a huge impact on volunteers who gain a new perspective—they see a new neighborhood, begin to understand a few of the causes and effects of poverty, or witness the effects of a great school on its students.
That impact is where the magic happens, and this week, about 60 AutoZone interns and managers sparked some magic by participating in a Day of Service. They spread out across the city—and worked virtually—serving Give901 educational nonprofit partners like Grizz Prep, New Hope Christian Academy, MAM, Streets Ministries, New Hope, and Stax Music Academy.
We can take this knowledge and share it with those we are with now, and change the world from where we stand and where we’ll go.
VOLUNTEER SERVING IN MEMPHIS
Classrooms were cleaned, gardens were tended, grounds were maintained, and volunteers were pegged with dodgeballs by delighted children. These acts of service matter in the moment, as the nonprofit staff feel supported and feel their workload lightened. They will also matter over the coming week or two, as children return to clean, sanitized classrooms and after-school programs—but they also matter on a more long term timeline, for some more complex reasons.
Those reasons have a lot to do with the future and with tackling the problems of Memphis—and the problems of any large city.
Here’s why we believe this. For more than 10 years, the staff at City Leadership, through Serve901 and, more recently, Give901, has organized volunteers and planned volunteer experiences for over 10,000 high school students, college students, and interns, helping Memphis nonprofits receive 250,000 hours of service. In the short term, nonprofit programs get a boost, but we believe some of the most powerful effects of group volunteering happen in the lives of the volunteers in the years that follow a group volunteer experience.
In short, group volunteering gives people a glimpse at the forces that shape a city and its people. It also gives us a way to see how our actions can change the course of a life and a community. And that clear-eyed vision of what we’re up against and what we are capable of doing to create change is what many people carry away from a group volunteer experience.
Whether it’s the AutoZoners we saw this week or the students from Iowa State, Rutgers, or dozens of other colleges who have visited Memphis to serve in recent years, we have witnessed firsthand the power of volunteer experiences in the hands of leaders. Those leaders will leave a day of gardening and dodgeball and turn it into conversations that advocate for communities, careers that lead the charge for social responsibility, and lives of giving back. They’ll choose to tackle the biggest problems we face—and they will make a difference.
That’s why it matters. Yes, walls are painted. But the impact goes well beyond that moment. So thank you, AutoZone and businesses across Memphis and the country, for providing that spark of service. Thank you to college groups who provide service trips. Thank you to sororities and fraternities that volunteer together, and to churches who head out together to serve the city. We know it matters, because we’ve seen the magic.