Finding your volunteer niche: words of wisdom from a Luckyday alumnus

by Sarah Dixon

“I’m a little concerned that I am going by myself to volunteer.” These were the words freshman scholar Hadley Howell confessed when she came into my office one September morning. What developed from Hadley’s willingness to seek help is a story of discovery and relationships that continues to be written as the semester progresses.

I decided to go with Hadley for her first day of volunteering at Edwards Street Fellowship Center. Our freshmen scholars take a seminar class focusing on social change and servant leadership. Each of the four sections of the class is paired with a local nonprofit organization with which the students volunteer throughout the semester and have several assignments to reflect on their experiences.

Hadley’s role on that first day at Edwards Street involved talking with constituents as they came into the waiting room for the Fellowship Health Clinic, a service that is offered for area residents on the 1st and 2nd Tuesdays of each month. The center started a new walking program to encourage people to increase their physical activity by providing a safe walking area on the trail behind their center. Social workers also walk with people, providing for some friendly company as they make their way around the pine-covered pathway.

As we were waiting for visitors to walk through the door, a familiar face came in the room. Jim Grenn, a Luckyday almunus who graduated in May of 2017 and is now the Director of Client Relations at Raanes Capital Advisors, came in to volunteer as a screener for the health clinic. Jim has volunteered with Edwards Street since his junior year in college. I asked him to share his story, in hopes of inspiring freshmen like Hadley and others who want to find their place as servant leaders in Hattiesburg.


 

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Jim Grenn and Hadley Howell at Edwards Street Fellowship Center

by Jim Grenn

As a freshman and sophomore, I jumped around volunteering at different organizations including The Greater PineBelt Community Foundation, the ARC, Habitat for Humanity, Venture Church, and the list goes on. I enjoyed each of them, but I had not really found my niche yet.

As a freshman, I began delivering papers for the Hattiesburg Post and Signature Magazine to have a little extra cash. My boss saw through social media that I enjoyed writing and photography, so he asked if I’d like to spend a summer interning for them as a staff writer. Throughout college, I remained on staff as a part-time writer and photographer, and the winter of my junior year, I interviewed Mrs. Ann McCullen, the Executive Director at Edwards Street Fellowship Center, for an article I was writing that had to do with donating to and volunteering with nonprofit organizations during Christmas time. Her daughter and one of my best friends are engaged, so we knew of one another and began talking about career goals as well as the latest happenings at Edwards Street.

I was working on a degree in biochemistry, and at that time, I was planning on going to medical school. When Mrs. Ann told me they were starting a free clinic, I thought, “This is perfect. I’m going to get in, shadow some doctors, do some volunteering for Luckyday and medical school; this is a win-win.” I told Mrs. Ann I would get in touch once the clinic opened to come and volunteer. Little did I know, that Fellowship Health Clinic would completely change my career path and joys in life.

As a volunteer, I was setup doing financial screening of the patients as well as some simple administrative work around the clinic. I did everything but actual medical stuff.  And I loved it. I’ve always been good with numbers and talking to folks, so it was just natural to sit down with patients, go over their expenses, and figure out what all we were able to offer them at the clinic. I’m stubborn though. I was studying for the MCAT, and hadn’t realized how much the administrative and financial side of the world really put me in a place of being able to lead by serving others.

Midway through the summer before my senior year (about a month before my MCAT), I had that “aha” moment while volunteering at the free clinic one Tuesday morning.  Traffic in the clinic had slowed down, and I had a moment to look up and see all the beautiful faces that needed medical care as well as the incredible people I was privileged to volunteer alongside. The next morning, I kept thinking of that feeling I had that made me think, “I am exactly where I need to be doing exactly what I need to do.” So, I straight up canceled my MCAT, signed up for a couple of business classes, and decided to pursue a lifestyle that would allow me to continue volunteering at the clinic and hopefully one day fund one, build one, expand one–only God knows what.

I began working part-time at a financial advising and investment firm in Hattiesburg halfway through my senior year, and they asked me to come on full-time after graduation. I have an incredible job that lets me sit down with anyone and everyone helping them review their finances and how to plan their retirement, children’s college savings, how they want to give–anything really. With that, I’ve been able to continue going to Fellowship Health Clinic doing the same thing–going over people’s finances and doing my best to help them get the best and most care they need.

Go find your niche and run with it. It will make you more grateful and whole than you ever knew possible. I’m willing to bet that it will change the way you live, the job you pursue, and the perspective you have with the world and community around you.

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