Deeds of Mercy

A guide to volunteering.

Photograph by Amie Vanderford

Raise your hand if you’ve ever reached out to someone in need. If your hand is up, you’ll be interested in the many ways you can carry out acts of kindness all across our city. If your hand is idle, well . . . maybe you’re one of those who could use some kindness.

Hands up or down, check out our sampling of organizations that depend on volunteers to accomplish their missions. Whether you serve a hot meal, lend a listening ear, help build a house, tutor a child, befriend a senior, walk a dog, paint a room, or plant a garden, you’ll enrich those you serve — and yourself as well.

You may also use the guide to advise people who could benefit from the services described here. At some point in our lives (to paraphrase Blanche DuBois) we all may depend on the kindness of strangers.


Volunteer Coordinating Organizations

Metropolitan Inter-Faith Organization (MIFA)

Founded in 1968, MIFA serves over 60,000 people in West Tennessee. Its mission is to help seniors maintain independence, transform the lives of families in crisis, and give teens the tools for success. Its programs address homelessness, nutrition, education, and legal and financial concerns. Among many volunteer opportunities are assisting parents with child care, landscaping property, helping build community gardens, teaching a life-skills class, advocating for the rights of nursing home residents, befriending a homebound senior, helping staff prepare teens for work, and delivering meals and gift bags to MIFA meals clients.

Volunteer Mid-South

As this region’s full-service volunteer action center, Volunteer Mid-South works to build a network of individuals, nonprofits, and businesses whose goal is to improve the community. The organization helps the networking groups develop programs, and it mobilizes volunteers in areas that range from adult literacy and employment assistance to disaster relief services and hospice support. For busy people who want to help but can’t always commit to a firm schedule, the Flex Project Calendar offers many ways to serve each month.



House of Mews

House of Mews is a nonprofit cat sanctuary and gift shop dedicated to the rescue and care of abandoned cats and kittens in Memphis. Since its inception in 1994, it has found homes for more than 8,500 felines. Volunteers are needed to feed the animals, clean cages, screen clients for adoptions, work directly with the cats as caretakers, and serve in the retail area. (272-3777,

Humane Society of Memphis and Shelby County

Since 1933, this organization has provided food, shelter, and medical care to animals who are neglected or abused, sick or injured. Volunteers help by grooming and socializing dogs and cats, cleaning the kennel areas, collecting money from donation canisters, and providing foster homes for animals who aren’t quite ready for adoption. Other opportunities include office/telephone assistance, humane education, and assisting with mobile adoptions, special events, and programs that raise money for the animals’ medical needs. (937-3900,

Mid-South Spay & Neuter Services

This nonprofit provides affordable spay/neuter services to Memphis and the tri-state area. Volunteers are needed to sterilize surgical instruments, help check in animals for surgery, monitor them, assist in post-surgical recovery, explain after-care needs to their owners, and help with laundry and cleanup. (324-3202,



CASA of Memphis

CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) of Memphis and Shelby County empowers volunteers to be a voice in court for abused and neglected children needing a safe, permanent home. After receiving 44 hours of training, they are appointed by judges to represent the best interest of children whose cases are before the Juvenile Court of Memphis and Shelby County. Volunteers conduct a thorough investigation of the child’s case and make recommendations to the court on the child’s behalf. Volunteers receive one case at a time and are supported by the CASA staff. (522-0200,

Exchange Club Family Center

The Exchange Club Family Center’s goal is to help end family violence and child abuse through parenting education, anger management programs, and more. Volunteers are needed to provide refreshments for program graduation ceremonies, make presentations to community groups, recruit new volunteers, and help with fundraising and special events. (276-2200,

Youth Villages

Dedicated to serving emotionally and behaviorally troubled children and serving 17,000 clients this year, Memphis-based Youth Villages aims to build strong, functioning families and ensure that each child has a safe, permanent home. Volunteers can give their time as mentors, tutor children in various subjects, teach job and interview skills, adopt a campus cottage or cabin, assist at special events, organize regular volunteer activities, and recruit or serve as a foster parent. (251-4827,


Disability Services

The Arc of the Mid-South

This organization’s goal is to empower people with developmental and intellectual disabilities to achieve their full potential. The Arc has a variety of volunteer opportunities, including teaching, communications, advocacy, mentoring, family support, office/clerical work, and more. (327-2473,

Clovernook Center for the Blind & Visually Impaired

Clovernook works to foster self-sufficiency and a high quality of life for those with visual impairments. Volunteers are needed to transport clients, serve as companions in a trusting relationship, accompany them on recreational outings in the community, work in the Braille production facility, or perform administrative tasks. (523-9590,

Memphis Center for Independent Living

The Memphis Center for Independent Living promotes action and advocacy for people with disabilities. Volunteers are needed to carry out the center’s various programs, which include transportation, housing, and employment assistance, fostering independence and pride in disabled youth, and working to raise awareness and make the community more accessible to those with disabilities. (726-6404,

Raymond Skinner Center

The Raymond Skinner Center’s mission is to provide community-based recreational opportunities in a safe, attractive facility for those with physical and/or mental disabilities. Volunteers can assist with after-school programs, summer camp, weekly dances, and other activities and programs. (272-2528,, click on communities/parks and recreation)

WYPL Talking Library

WYPL FM 89.3 provides the visually impaired in Shelby County timely access to the news and other printed information over the radio. Volunteers read magazines and newspaper stories on the air, as well as a variety of fiction and nonfiction books, author interviews, and specialty programming. Volunteers are needed all times of the day, and on weekends and holidays. (415-2752,


Health Services

Church Health Center

The Church Health Center’s ministries provide healthcare for the working uninsured and promote healthy bodies and spirits for all. Health professionals from every field are needed to staff the clinic on a volunteer basis. Also needed are workers to make phone calls, perform clerical tasks, sort medicine, tend the grounds/garden, and perform other duties. (272-7170,

Crisis Center of Memphis

The Crisis Center is a free telephone hotline available 24 hours, 365 days a year. Volunteers trained in empathic listening, risk assessment, and crisis intervention provide confidential telephone counseling to individuals who may be suicidal or facing various kinds of crises. Callers are linked to resources to help them cope. (To volunteer, 649-8572; suicide hotline, 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433); other help, CRISIS-7 or 800-273-TALK)

Friends For Life

Friends for Life provides supportive services — including education, housing, transportation, food, healthcare, and life skills training — to persons affected by HIV/AIDS. Volunteers assist in the food pantry and in the Positive Living Center, perform administrative tasks, help with Feast for Friends, a twice-monthly meal program held at St. John’s United Methodist Church,and assist with fundraising and special events. Spanish-speaking volunteers are also needed. (272-0855,

Hope House

Hope House provides day care, respite care, and social services to children and families impacted by HIV/AIDS. Volunteers can mentor children, assist teachers, serve breakfast and lunch, help in school after-care, ride the bus home with children, participate in yard cleanup, paint rooms, and assist with fundraisers or special events, including talent shows. (272-2702 ext. 214,

National Foundation for Transplants

The National Foundation for Transplants provides financial assistance, fund-raising expertise, and advocacy to organ and tissue transplant patients nationwide. For a description of volunteer opportunities go to


Hunger and Homelessness

Habitat for Humanity of Greater Memphis

Habitat is a Christian ministry dedicated to eliminating substandard housing in the Memphis area by building homes in partnership with families who need them and could not otherwise afford them. Volunteer opportunities exist for individuals, businesses, faith-based organizations, and community groups. Besides actually helping to build a house during semi-annual “blitzes,” volunteers can review applications, communicate with homeowners, serve on committees, work in the ReStore with inventory, pricing, or sales, and assist with fundraising and special events. (761-4771,

Memphis Union Mission

This Christian-based organization ministers to the physical, spiritual, and emotional needs of men, women, and children who are homeless, addicted, or in crisis, with the goal of helping them become self-sufficient, drug-free, and reunited with their families. Volunteers can serve meals, maintain the vegetable garden, sort donated clothing, organize food and book drives, assemble hygiene kits, or assist in the office. Other opportunities include baby-sitting, literacy/GED tutoring, mentoring, and participating in chapel services. (526-8403,

Mid-South Food Bank

The Mid-South Food Bank’s mission is to fight hunger through education, advocacy, and the efficient collection of wholesome food. It runs Kids Cafe sites and sponsors the Feed the Need program in local grocery stores. Volunteers can help in the office, sort and box donated food items in the warehouse, clean and stock shelves, serve at Kids Cafes, or fill backpacks with healthy foods for children. (901-527-0841,


Soup Kitchens

Many groups throughout the city operate volunteer-run soup kitchens, where those in need can obtain a hot meal. Among them:

Emmanuel Episcopal Center
(523-2617, 604 St. Paul, 38126)

First Presbyterian Church
(525-5619, 166 Poplar, 38103)

Food, Not Bombs, Mid-South Peace and Justice Center
(725-4990, 1000 S. Cooper, 38104)

Friends for Life’s Feast for Friends
(272-0855/726-4104,1207 Peabody, 38104)

Highland Heights United Methodist Church
(458-5966, 3476 Summer, 38122)

Memphis Union Mission
(526-8403, 383 Poplar, 38105)

St. John’s United Methodist Church
(726-4104, 1207 Peabody, 38104)

St. Luke’s United Methodist Church
(452-6262, 480 S. Highland, 38111)

St. Mary’s Catholic Church
(522-9420, 155 Market, 38105)

St. Patrick’s Catholic Church
(527-2542, 277 S. 4th, 38126)


Literacy and Education

Literacy Mid-South

Formerly the Memphis Literacy Council, this organization offers tuition-free literacy instruction to adults who want to learn to read or improve their reading skills. Programs include life-skill classes, adult basic education, pre-GED, and conversational English classes. Volunteers are trained as tutors and work with students on an individual basis. They may also work in the lab or office, assist family literacy programs, or help with book fairs, open houses, and special events. (327-6000,

Neighborhood Christian Center

The center’s ministries include emergency assistance, the food pantry/clothes closet, several youth programs, marriage enrichment classes, a single-mother empowerment program, education about healthy lifestyles, and more. Volunteers can tutor or help children in grades K-12 with homework, assist in the youth recreational ministry, help in the office, sort donated items such as clothing and food, or perform maintenance tasks such as landscaping, painting, or working in the warehouse. (881-6013,

Streets Ministries

Streets is a Christian ministry dedicated to serving the youth of Memphis in low-income neighborhoods. It has been reaching out to students of the 38126 zip code since 1987, and in 2012 will open a facility in North Memphis. Streets provides an after-school safe haven and programming to meet the specific needs of each student. Volunteers can read to younger children, mentor or tutor adolescents, participate in or provide snacks for club meetings, or help at summer camps. (525-7380,


Senior Services

Alzheimer’s Day Services, Inc.

This program for Alzheimer’s patients provides a safe and stimulating social environment for participants in an effort to help maintain a maximum level of functioning, while providing respite care for their caregivers. Volunteers are needed to serve as friends and companions to patients, engaging them in conversation or other activities, and taking them on walks or field trips, as they are able. Volunteers may also help at holiday parties or special events. (372-4585,

St. Peter Villa

St. Peter Villa is a nonprofit skilled and intermediate care facility. Volunteers can befriend residents, help them with daily activities, serve as small-group leaders teaching computer use and other skills, participate in activities that residents enjoy, and assist with special outings or events. (276-2021/725-3568,


Volunteers Online

National volunteer resources are also available on the internet, including:


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