In 1991, 16 people came together with one vision. Their story continues today.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

— Margaret Mead





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In 1991, a group of sixteen Nashvillians came together with one dream — to expand Nashville’s base of community volunteers.

With heart and passion, the group was seeking a more innovative approach to volunteerism. They wanted to offer individuals a flexible schedule of diverse and meaningful volunteer opportunities.  

The group, volunteers in their own right, was led by Hal Cato. Hal at the time served as a volunteer for Meals on Wheels during his lunch break. He had such a rewarding experience that he started bringing friends along to deliver meals with him. Soon, these friends began developing volunteer opportunities with other nonprofits.

As this passion for service grew, Cato became aware of the work that a forward-thinking volunteer group in Atlanta was doing – this group would later form HandsOn Network. After visiting with the folks in Atlanta, Cato and his friends said, “Let’s do this in Nashville, too.” And the idea was born to create an organization that makes it easy for people to find meaningful volunteer opportunities in the Nashville area.

The organization began as a true grassroots effort. In the first year of operation, there were no paid staff or budget, and Cato provided office space in his home. The group set a goal to recruit 250 volunteers, and they created fliers listing volunteer opportunities and left them in people’s mailboxes.

The first project calendar was printed in June of 1991.  By December, the project calendar had expanded to include 10 projects. In 1992, the Board coordinated a city-wide day of volunteerism called Hands On Nashville Day, and on October 31, 1992 1,100 people joined together to “Lend Nashville A Hand”.

Based on other successful groups in New York, Washington D.C. and Atlanta, Hands On Nashville became the fourth “Hands On” agency in America.

Today, their legacy continues, with thousands of volunteers uniting in service each year.

When referring back to the beginnings of the organization, founders have often referenced a quote from Margaret Mead that still rings true for the organization today:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”