CY volunteer says it’s the small things that matter

By Stephanie Gonzalez

You don’t have to be a long-time Cooper-Young resident to recognize Debbie Sowell. In fact, when my husband and I moved onto the same block as Sowell and her husband, Chris McHaney, it only took them about 12 hours before they stopped by to welcome us to the neighborhood … and tell us to join the Cooper-Young Community Association, of course!

Sowell, this month’s Volunteer Spotlight, is familiar to many as one of the city’s leading real estate brokers, specializing in Cooper-Young. When Sowell looks to sell potential home owners on Cooper-Young, its not just for the commission; she truly believes in the neighborhood. She has been the president, membership chair, and now the volunteer coordinator for the CYCA. She’s a regular fixture at meetings, clean up days, and every community event, including the Festival 4-Miler, which McHaney chairs. But even with these high-profile roles, Sowell says it’s the small stuff about volunteering in CY that she loves the most.

“The first event I participated in for CY was the Mulch to Members,” she says. “I remember meeting Eric Schroder (then CYCA board member), and he was so nice and just loved helping the neighborhood. I guess I was hooked!”

That was in the early 2000s. Since then, Sowell’s volunteer career has flourished. She and McHaney even won the neighborhood’s highest volunteer honor, the Alexia Hampton Memorial Award, together in 2011. Those aren’t the type of things that stand out most in Debbie’s memory though.

“I really feel good when I can do something small that really means a lot to someone,” she says. “Catching a neighbor’s dog that got out, giving assistance to a neighbor on the fly, or sharing veggies from my garden with neighbors.”

That drive to do good has led Sowell to get to know a variety of neighbors she also calls friends here in Cooper-Young, which she describes as “a little village inside a bigger city.”

For those just getting started, Sowell says to “just get up and get out there.” In addition to making friends, “it’s a great feeling to accomplish something either by yourself or with a group. That, combined with making your neighborhood the best it can be, is just a really great feeling.”

Do you know someone who should be featured as the Lamplighter’s Volunteer Spotlight? Email your nomination to

Author: LampLighter

The voice of Cooper-Young, a vibrant, diverse neighborhood to live, work and play, in the heart of Midtown Memphis, Tennessee.

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