“Love in action is service to the world.” Lynne Namka
For some lucky locals, opening their hearts to service also opened their lives to finding love. Here are just a few of their stories, plus some volunteer opportunities that would be a great way for couples to get to know one another!
Cara and Carey
Cara Ince’s love story started when she found a volunteer opportunity in HON’s Hands On Call newsletter in 2010. She found that Nashville International Center for Empowerment was looking for volunteers to teach English as a second language, signed up, and began teaching a class. A few months later, another volunteer named Carey came on as an assistant teacher in her class.
They hit it off and volunteered together at NICE for about two years. They’ve now been married for almost seven years and have two small children.
“We still always talk about our students and have such fond memories of that time,” Cara says. “It was definitely a cool experience, and a really good way to get to know someone when you’re first starting to date.”
And while they don’t volunteer as much these days as they used to because they’re busy at home with their two children, they are beginning to talk about ways, once the pandemic is over, they could engage the whole family in volunteering.
“We want [them] to be appreciative of what we have and also to give back to other people,” Cara says.
Jordan and Kirsten
Jordan Fernandes met his future wife Kirsten as a volunteer with The Bridge Ministry, serving groceries and meals to individuals experiencing homelessness. Kirsten had just graduated college and moved back to Nashville when she decided to volunteer with some friends.
“For them it was a one-time visit, but I liked it so much that I came back again and again,” she says. During one of her shifts, while they were unloading a grocery truck, Jordan spotted Kirsten. He introduced himself not long afterwards and the two became friends. Their friendship evolved into dating, and Kirsten says they fell madly in love.
“Throughout our time getting to know each other, we always knew that we had a guaranteed date every Tuesday night serving the homeless under the Jefferson Street Bridge,” Kirsten says.
Jordan proposed in 2015 and the couple married in 2016. They’re now expecting their first child.
“Volunteering played a huge part of our story together, and volunteering in various capacities around Nashville continues to be so important to us,” Kirsten says. “It allows us to share our love beyond just our family to families and individuals throughout Nashville!”
Ava and Tristan
Ava Suppelsa was feeling helpless last summer in the wake of a deadly tornado and the pandemic. She wanted to do something tangible to help the many people in the community who were hurting. So Ava, a songwriter, started Hope on the Row, a nonprofit that connects music industry professionals with homelessness relief efforts.
Her boyfriend Tristan — also a songwriter — was a source of strength and support as she launched the nonprofit. Ava says the two of them grew up in families that emphasized giving back, so they had volunteered together over the course of their two-year relationship. But starting a nonprofit was a whole different ballgame.
“I didn’t really know exactly how much work I was getting myself into, and I wouldn’t be able to do this without Tristan,” Ava says. “He’s been there with me for every stressful, hard, frustrating, beautiful, and rewarding moment that comes with running and organization like this, and that only brought us closer.”
Now the organization serves more than 50 people each week, and helps individuals navigate the low-income housing system with a goal of getting as many people off the streets as possible.
“We’ve both seen each other at our best, truest selves that come out when you’re doing work like this,” Ava says, “and I think I speak for both of us when I say that seeing that makes you fall in love with your partner all over again.”
Patrick and Patti
When Patrick Lyons moved to Nashville in 1993, he didn’t know a soul. Then he saw a writeup in the Nashville Scene for Hands On Nashville volunteer orientation.
“I thought, ‘What a great way to meet people,’” Patrick says. He went to orientation and learned that he could volunteer in the evenings and on weekends, which fit his travel-heavy work schedule.
One day he volunteered at an event at Cheekwood, taking tickets. That’s when he met Patti, who had also found the volunteer opportunity through HON.
“We found out more about each other and talked about how hard it is to meet people,” Patti says. “Then he called me up and asked me out.”
Patti and Patrick quickly realized they both shared a heart for service.
“I knew he was a good guy because he was volunteering,” Patti says. “We knew we were like-minded people.”
“It was a pre-screening we didn’t have to do,” Patrick says, laughing.
Patrick and Patti took their relationship — and their commitment to volunteering — to the next level. Patti became HON’s executive director and Patrick served on HON’s board of directors. While Patrick and the rest of the board reached out to nonprofits to tell them about HON, Patti compiled the volunteer opportunity calendar manually by making phone calls to local organizations, typing up volunteer needs, and making copies of the calendar to distribute around town.
The couple live in Savannah, Ga., now, but they still believe in the power of giving back — volunteering, delivering meals, mentoring, serving on advisory boards. Patti says she sees HON in the news sometimes and is so proud of how the organization has grown.
Volunteering through HON is a great way to meet people in a new city, Patrick says. He found love with Patti, but he also made lifelong friends.
“The organization did wonders with putting together like-minded people,” he says. “I’ve probably got seven close friends I’m still in touch with after 26 years.”
Volunteer opportunities that would be great for dates
Looking for a way to spend some time with your sweetie over Valentine’s Day? Check out these volunteer opportunities!