Congratulations to these three finalists in the Direct Service—Adult category of the 35th Annual Mary Catherine Strobel Volunteer Awards! Vote for your favorite story of service until June 15 at the button below!
Volunteers with Love Thy Neighbors, and multiple other community organizations
Teaka Jackson is an active community member who has fully embodied what it means to care for others. Whether it’s organizing a Valentine’s Day sock drive for seniors, raising awareness during National Autism Awareness Month, acting as a Court Appointed Special Advocate for Children (CASA), or responding in the wake of a disaster, her compassion extends to all kinds of people.
Teaka credits her caring heart to her family. Community involvement was a large part of her childhood, and she remembers consistently volunteering and supporting various charitable causes and organizations.
“As I grew into adulthood my passion became more evident and I knew volunteer service was apart of my purpose leading me to fight for the most vulnerable people and communities by contributing a significant amount of my time, energy, and resources,” she says.
Teaka founded Love Thy Neighbors, which is geared toward engaging the community through programming, events and initiatives that will aide in providing education, tools, resources and opportunities.
In addition to her nonprofit, she is active with organizations like Autism Speaks, Tennessee Justice Center, America Cancer Society, Hands On Nashville, Nashville Rescue Mission, Second Harvest Food Bank, Susan G. Komen, Nashville Cares, the Martha O’Bryan Center, the YWCA, American Red Cross, Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network, and Prevention Alliance of Tennessee.
Teaka was also selected for Nashville’s Black 40 under 40 Award for 2020, and is the recipient of the Mayor’s Advisory Committee for People with Disabilities Award in conjunction with the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center.
“Volunteer service has impacted my life in many ways,” Teaka says. “It has provided me the opportunity to make significant contributions to building a sense of unity and purpose in the community that will aide in improving the lives of others. By volunteering I have gained a unique sense of purpose which manifests in all areas of my life.”
Volunteers with RARE Rescue and Charlie’s Angels Saving Animals
Laura Prechel has dedicated her life to saving animals from kill shelters in rural Tennessee. Last year she saved more than 2,800 animals from being euthanized, and commits to driving three transports per week to rescues in other states.
“Laura is a one of a kind,” says her nominator. “She works a full time job in real estate, all while coordinating the rescue and vetting of thousands of animals a year.”
In addition to transportation, Laura fosters hard to adopt pups that wouldn’t otherwise have a chance, and often spends her own money to vet and transport these animals to rescue partners.
Education is also part of her mission. Laura engages with rural communities about various spay and neuter programs, and supplies rural rescues with necessary vaccines for homeless pets.
“Once I became aware of the volume of companion animals that are euthanized every year I felt compelled to act,” Laura says. “I began by fostering dogs and my involvement has snowballed into a life mission.”
She got involved in animal rescue five years ago, transporting Maury County shelter dogs to shelters in the Northeast that had ample space. For the past three years she’s served with RARE Rescue as the transport director, before founding her own nonprofit with a few friends, Charlie’s Angels Saving Animals. It is this program’s mission to transport at-risk animals out of Tennessee to shelters that can adequately care for and adopt out these pets.
Quickly her transport team has expanded, and now contains a pilot who is able to fly animals across the country, as well as two vans who engage volunteers to make multiple transports per week.
Savanna Rae Starko
Volunteers with Gilda’s Club Middle Tennessee
Savanna Starko volunteers with Gilda’s Club Middle Tennessee, a nonprofit that provides free support to anyone impacted by cancer, in a variety of ways. Over the past year she has led a virtual meditation session twice a week via ZOOM for Gilda’s Club members. These sessions create a safe, calming space for the people of Gilda’s Club to not only practice mindfulness and relaxation, but to also make space for members to connect and share in ways that foster a sense of community, understanding, and connection.
“Teaching meditation for Gilda’s Club of Middle Tennessee has allowed me to share meaningfully of myself as a registered yoga teacher for others with cancer like me or those in their lives affected by this disease,” Savanna says. “We build connection through breath and intention that ultimately lifts us all up together.”
During the pandemic, Savanna also initiated and led Gilda’s Club’s first virtual fundraiser, a 5K that raised more than $5,000. In addition to raising important funding for the cancer support nonprofit, the event was a fun and creative way for those served to connect, and for new audiences to get to know Gilda’s Club and their mission.
Outreach has been an integral part of Savanna’s work, introducing members to new community partners like Small World Yoga, and promoting resources through Vanderbilt University.
“Savanna embodies the Mary Catherine Strobel volunteer spirit—and it shows in every single encounter she has with our Gilda’s Club community,” says her nominator. “She is always kind, encouraging, supportive and emotionally available, no matter how difficult the moment or conversation. We—and the greater Nashville community—are better because Savanna is a part of it.”
Gilda’s Club Middle Tennessee is a place where Savanna says she and her students are seen, heard, and valued as more than people affected by cancer.
“While there, we are whole and complete individuals with so much to offer from our hearts to the world,” she says.
To see a full list of the nominees for the 35th Annual Mary Catherine Strobel Volunteer Awards, click here.