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Hands On Nashville meets community needs through volunteerism. Join us at HON.org

Meet the 2020 Strobel Awards finalists: Civic Volunteer Group

This category of the Mary Catherine Strobel Volunteer Awards recognizes representatives of civic, membership, faith-based or non-corporate groups that volunteer together for a specific cause or issue. 

This year’s finalists are:

Chicktime

Chicktime 

Volunteers at Youth Villages 

During their visits to the Youth Villages Wallace Group Home, Chicktime members spend their time getting to know the girls, providing emotional support, love, and life skills — paired with a little bit of fun.  

There are 10 young women at Wallace Group Home who have been separated from their families by the State of Tennessee and are awaiting reunification or a foster home placement. Each month, Chicktime volunteers visit the girls, and provide all of the supplies, food, and their “chick power” to brighten the girls’ day. Activites range from crafts and poetry, to karaoke nights and visits to local farms.  

“The Chicktime members are dedicated to not just serving foster youth, but they are dedicated to serving teens in the foster care system that have a history of abuse, neglect, and/or trauma, and that do not generally trust or respect adults,” said Julie Abbott, the Volunteer and Outreach Coordinator with Youth Villages. “The members come back month after month to a revolving group of youth and continue to shower the girls with love, understanding, and patience.” 

Holly Stewart and Stephanie Mullenax, Co-founders of the Chicktime Nashville chapter, serve to lay the path for everyone who wants to make a difference in children’s lives by bringing women together to serve. 

“We enter these girls’ lives as caring members of the community focused on restoration and just doing what we can to bring a bright spot into their lives,” Stewart says.  

Friends Life Community

Friends Life Community 

Volunteers at FiftyForward 

Every Thursday and Friday, a smiling, energized group from Friends Life Community delivers meals, provides safety checks, and socializes with homebound senior adults through FiftyForward’s Fresh/Meals on Wheels program. 

Through their weekly service, Friends Life Community members are delivering more than food — they’re offering a friendly face, andbuilding a relationship with FiftyForward’s clients. 

Friends Life Community members are teenagers and adults with disabilities who participate in service-learning activities in order tobuild valuable employment skills and share their talents and time with local nonprofits.  

For 80-year-old Alberta, Friday is one of the most exciting days of the week.  

“The beautiful group that delivers my meals on Fridays is a joy in my life,” Alberta said. “I always give them a peppermint and let them know how much I look forward to them delivering my meal each Friday. I’ve even found myself getting up earlier to get dressed nicely so I can spend time talking with them!”  

The consistency and dependability shown by Friends Life Communitymembers gives Meals On Wheels participants an abundance ofjoy and encouragement, as well as show that they are not alone.  

Tennessee Volunteer ChalleNGe Academy

Tennessee Volunteer ChalleNGe Academy 

Volunteers at the American Liver Foundation-Mid South Division 

When at the Tennessee Volunteer ChalleNGe Academy (TNVCA) cadets learned what it meant to be a part of the Volunteer State through discipline, structure, education, and service.  

The mission of the TNVCA was to intervene in and reclaim the lives of at-risk youth and produce program graduates with the values, life skills, education, and self-discipline necessary to succeed as productive citizens of Tennessee. 

During the 2018 and 2019 Liver Life Walks for the American Liver Foundation (ALF), cadets proved to themselves and to their mentors that they were ready and willing to serve. 

Cadets helped with a variety of tasks, from setup and teardown to parking cars and refilling water stations. One thing most appreciated about these cadets was their willingness to help with a variety of tasks, even things other volunteers didn’t care to do.  

“They are always courteous and willing to do the work, which makde them a delight to have as a volunteer group,” said Teresa Davidson, the National Director of Engagement at ALF-Mid-South.  

Cadets at the TNVCA are not only helping with the Liver Life Walk but learning how to be a part of their community and serve other nonprofits in the future.  

Note: Unfortunately, due to funding restrictions in light of COVID-19, TNVCA has been permanently shuttered. Learn more here. 

Join Hands On Nashville for the 2020 Strobel Volunteer Awards on Sept. 14, 15, and 16.

Meet the 2020 Strobel Awards finalists: Corporate Volunteerism

This category of the Mary Catherine Strobel Volunteer Awards pays tribute to businesses that have robust employee volunteer programs with high levels of participation and impact. 

Here are this year’s finalists:

Creative Artists Agency

CAA — Creative Artists Agency Nashville 

Volunteers at Whitsitt Elementary School 

Throughout their time at Whitsitt Elementary School, Creative Artists Agency (CAA) volunteers were known for their dependability, kindness, and willingness to help. 

Prior to COVID-19, CAA was a staple at Whitsitt students’ first day of class. Among all the hustle and bustle, volunteers guided the students to their classes, and offered support wherever it was needed. This first day of school was where CAA’s support began, but far from where it ended.  

“CAA has made a huge impact at our school in the way they consistently and thoughtfully partner to provide the highest level of education to our students,” said Whitsitt Elementary Literacy Coach Heidi Wright. “They have been a staple in helping our community and school connect to further the development and achievement of our students.” 

Throughout the school year, CAA volunteers engaged with students as reading buddies and mentors. During three months of their initiative, students read more than 2,000 books. CAA also supported Whitsitt’s music program by donating multiple musical instruments for the classroom, and provided educational and fun field trips to their office annually.  

“Not only do they support the school, they support education in a profound way,” said Chris Echegaray, Community Achieves Site Manager. “They are socially conscious, and an organization that truly cares about moving the needle.” 

The Surgical Clinic

The Surgical Clinic 

Volunteers with the Amputee Blade Runners 

The Surgical Clinic (TSC) is a group of private practice surgeons whose specialties span across the board. One of their specialty divisions, the prosthetic institute, has partnered with nonprofit organization the Amputee Blade Runners (ABR) to create free running prosthetics for amputees.  

One of the founders of ABR, Aaron Fitzsimmons, is a prosthetist with The Surgical Clinic, and has grown TSC’s volunteer staff to 10 people; all willing to donate their time and energy to improving the lives of amputee athletes across the country. 

“It is not an uncommon thing for multiple TSC employees to stay at work until midnight, helping an athlete regain mobility,” said Joshua Southards, Executive Director of Amputee Blade Runners. “The Surgical Clinic prosthetic staff is the engine that makes the Amputee Blade Runners run.” 

Due to health insurance companies deeming running prosthetics “not medically necessary,” it is often impossible for families to afford them on their own. The Surgical Clinic provides prosthetic blades necessary for training and athletic performance. Many of their clients are adopted children from other countries who were given up by their biological families due to their congenital conditions. 

One of these athletes is Samuel Tyler, a 16-year-old who received his first pair of sports blade legs in 2015.  

Now, as Samuel walks into his local YMCA, he strides with confidence, knowing he will soon be jogging around the track and independently switching out his prosthetic blades when he is ready to use the exercise equipment. He is one of hundreds of people whose lives have been changed by The Surgical Clinic.  

Comcast of Nashville

Comcast of Nashville 

Volunteers at Two Rivers Middle School 

Now in its 18th year, Comcast Cares Day is one of the largest corporate commitments to volunteerism and service in America. Comcast of Nashville, the local branch of the national internet service company, has participated annually in the corporate-wide event, making a difference for local schools and the children they serve.  

Comcast Cares Day is more than just a day – it is an illustration of the spirit of volunteerism that Comcast employees bring to life each day.  From using technology to create positive change, to mentoring youth, stocking food banks, and beautifying parks, Comcast NBCUniversal employees volunteer during this celebration and throughout the year to make a lasting impact. 

“Comcast firmly believes that corporations have a responsibility to give back to the communities where their employees and customers live and work and to partner with local governments, organizations, and nonprofits to make our communities stronger,” says Terry Vo, a Community Affairs Expert with Comcast. “We take this mission to heart every single day, and care very much about giving back to our communities to make a long-lasting impact.” 

At last year’s Comcast Cares Day, volunteers sorted more than 18,000 pounds of food and packaged nearly 15,000 diapers and 650 backpacks for Metro Nashville Public School students at Two Rivers Middle School. They’ve also opened nine computer labs in Middle Tennessee, painted and installed murals at Two Rivers, and completed landscape maintenance. These service events often involve 70-plus Comcast volunteers.  

“Our school’s hallways are more colorful than ever before. We reference one of the murals every week because it inspires our students,” said Hannah Tapp, a 7th grade teacher at Two Rivers Middle School. 

Join Hands On Nashville for the 2020 Strobel Volunteer Awards on Sept. 14, 15, and 16.

Meet the 2020 Strobel Awards finalists: Capacity-building Volunteer

This category of the Mary Catherine Strobel Volunteer Awards honors individuals who provide significant operational or administrative support to a nonprofit agency, faith-based ministry or community organization, or developed an innovative approach to significantly improve an existing program. 

Here are the 2020 finalists:

Susanne Post 

Susanne Post

Volunteers at YWCA of Nashville & Middle Tennessee 

In 2017, Susanne Post partnered with the YWCA to launch Shear Haven, a training program for local stylists to be able detect signs of domestic abuse among clients. 

As a victim of abuse herself, Post knew she wanted to help other women facing the same issue, and as a hair stylist, she knew she was in a unique position to be trusted by victims. 

“Often the victim is isolated from their closest family and friends and simply needs to speak their truth to a listening ear and to know that there is support available,” Post says. 

Since then, Post has provided significant operational support to the YWCA and has expanded their domestic violence education reach into a specialized community not previously on their radar. This has allowed them to reach victims of abuse with whom they hadn’t previously connected. 

She was instrumental in passing domestic violence legislation for stylists through the Tennessee House of Representatives, and continues her advocacy work today. 

She hopes to continue broadening this training to reach stylists across Tennessee. 

Paige Atchley 

Paige Atchley

Volunteers at Boys & Girls Clubs of Middle TN 

As part of the advisory board for Boys & Girls Club of Middle Tennessee, Paige Atchley is a leader dedicated to service. 

She founded Club Blue, the young professional association that supports BGC. With her drive, Atchley hosted 12 fundraising and networking events last year, and recruited 49 new members who are now monthly donors. She has built this new group of advocates and kept them engaged by driving social media interaction and inspiring volunteer events within the club. 

The mission of Boys & Girls Club of Middle Tennessee is to enable young people to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens. It’s a mission Atchley strives to embody.  

One of her most successful fundraising events is Dash to a Great Future. Not only did Atchley design the event, but she spearheaded the entire marketing and communications strategy to ensure its success.  

Because of her hard work, BGC expects to raise more than $1,000 through this campaign in 2020.  

“I love serving Club Blue because it is full of people that care about kids and who they turn into as people,” Atchley says. “They are kind and welcoming, and these are the people that I want mentoring Boys & Girls Club kids so they can grow up to also be successful and giving.” 

Sherri Mitchell-Snider 

Sherri Mitchell-Snider

Volunteers at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt 

Sherri Mitchell-Snider volunteers her time as Co-Director of Flashes of Hope at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. Flashes of Hope is a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating powerful, uplifting portraits of children fighting cancer and other life-threatening illnesses. 

Mitchell-Snider builds capacity for Flashes of Hope by organizing, planning, and coordinating monthly Flashes of Hope photo shoots at the children’s hospital. She partners with local salons, makeup artists, and photographers to create a seamless photoshoot experience for the families, and often organizes up to a dozen family photos in a day.  

These photos are then given to the family as a memento of the day. They provide a happy hospital memory for them to treasure forever. 

 “I love helping to bring some joy into the lives of these very brave children who are going through so much, and to recognize how special and beautiful each and every one of them is,” Mitchell-Snider says.  

Katie Beard, a Child Life Specialist at the hospital, says Mitchell-Snider is in a unique position to offer compassionate care for these children because of her own life experience. Mitchell-Snider lost her 1-year-old daughter to Leukemia. Mitchell-Snider recalls wishing she had had the opportunity for a family photoshoot when her daughter was alive. It brings her joy to offer that service to families today. 

Join Hands On Nashville for the 2020 Strobel Volunteer Awards on Sept. 14, 15, and 16.

Meet the 2020 Strobel Awards finalists: Direct Service (ages 50+) category

This category in the Mary Catherine Strobel Volunteer Awards recognizes individuals who have contributed significant volunteer time, energy, and/or resources to help an agency’s constituents. 

Ellen Wolfe and Copland 

Ellen Wolfe

Volunteers at Abe’s Garden 

When Ellen Wolfe walks into Abe’s Garden with her dog Copland, the residents of the memory-care facility are transported to another time in their lives. Suddenly they remember their own pets through the years — their names, their markings, their funny habits. Their day instantly gets brighter. 

“They never cease to amaze me with their stories of pets from their past and how gentle they are with Copland,” Wolfe says.  

Susan Burdorf, Volunteer Coordinator for Abe’s Garden, says a visit from Wolfe and Copland can be transformative for residents in that moment: Those who are quiet and reserved come to life around the dog, while others who may have been struggling with frustration feel more calm. 

“As dementia and memory loss progresses, little is remembered, but the sight of Copland brings out thoughts and reminders of dogs and other pets in their past,” Burdorf says. “This is so important for those who every day lose a little bit more of themselves.” 

James Doran 

Volunteers for Legal Aid Society of Middle TN and the Cumberlands 

Dealing with the stress that accompanies legal proceedings is difficult enough, but for marginalized populations, the stress begins with the struggle to find competent representation that will bring about justice without breaking the bank. This is where James Doran of Waller Law steps in. 

Believing that a simple act can change the course of someone’s life, Doran has accepted more than 200 pro bono cases since 2013 through Legal Aid Society‘s (LAS) Volunteer Lawyers Program.  

LAS’s mission is to advance, defend, and enforce the legal rights of low-income and vulnerable people in order to secure for them the basic necessities of life. 

Doran guides clients through the judicial process, explains complex issues, and gives our community’s most vulnerable members access to the justice they deserve.  

Through his work, Doran provides safety to domestic violence victims, maintains income and benefits for those struggling to make ends meet, and much more. Doran continues to utilize his expertise and combine it with his passion for justice to ensure all voices are heard within the legal system.  

Claudia Prange 

Volunteers at Gilda’s Club Middle Tennessee 

During a relaxation and imagery session with Claudia Prange, Gilda’s Club members – men, women, teens, and children who’ve been affected by cancer – are given a sense of community and hope and encouraged to feel at peace.  

Gilda’s Club is a cancer support center that focuses on five critical components: support groups, education, healthy lifestyle, social connectivity, and information. Prange leads sessions that encourage mind-body stress reduction. 

“Claudia’s sessions are so inclusive. She makes sure everyone has an opportunity to share their personal stories, feelings, and challenges,” says Gilda’s Club Program Manager Allison Yonker, LCSW. “Most importantly though, Claudia teaches a tool that people can use anywhere to better manage their circumstances – things like chemo, scans, and other anxiety-creating events.” 

For Gilda’s Club member Julianne, relaxation sessions helped her cope with and maintain a sense of mental well-being when both her husband and son were diagnosed with cancer.  

“In addition to the time spent meditating, I can use the techniques I learn from Claudia to feel at peace no matter where I am,” she says.  

Martha Johnson 

Martha Johnson

Volunteer at Williamson County CASA, Inc. 

When children are cast into the complex, chaotic, and uncertain environment of courtrooms and foster care, it is imperative to their well-being that they receive support. Williamson County CASA volunteer Martha Johnson meets this need by listening to their stories, speaking to courts on their behalf, and finding them a safe place to live. 

Williamson County CASA’s mission is to advocate for the best interests of abused and neglected children and ensure that each child finds a safe and permanent home.  

For the past 11 years, Johnson, as a court-appointed special advocate, has offered exceptional compassion and support to each child and individual in the child’s life. 

Johnson goes above and beyond in every case she’s involved in, from taking over a challenging case that another CASA volunteer had to back out of, to working on cases that move from foster care to adoption – no matter how long the process takes.  

“The joy of being able to help children who find their forever home after years of abuse is like no other,” Johnson says. “And I have such respect for families who, with such commitment and perseverance, open their homes and their hearts to children who often present challenges they weren’t really expecting.” 

Join Hands On Nashville for the 2020 Strobel Volunteer Awards on Sept. 14, 15, and 16.

Meet the 2020 Strobel Awards finalists: Direct Service (Ages 21-49) category

This category of the Mary Catherine Strobel Volunteer Awards recognizes individuals who have contributed significant volunteer time, energy, and/or resources to help an agency’s constituents.  

Adam Crookston 

Adam Crookston

Volunteers at Nashville Dolphins 

When a Nashville Dolphins swimmer gets into the pool to begin their lesson with Adam Crookston, they are transported to a fantasy world where skills like blowing bubbles underwater earn them invisible treasures and imaginary points.  

Crookston, a volunteer assistant to Nashville Dolphins’ instructors, creates imaginative swim lessons for participants based on their interests to ensure they feel comfortable, excited, and challenged. 

Nashville Dolphins is a nonprofit whose mission is to bring the physical and emotional benefits of swimming to people with special needs regardless of age, ability, or financial circumstances. Through free aquatic programming, participants develop physical fitness, build confidence, establish friendships, and experience the pride and joy of being part of a team.  

Crookston has set the bar high for swim lessons by creating a standard of engagement that inspires other volunteers and instructors. Swimmers can’t wait to swim with Crookston, and at times won’t start their lesson until after he has arrived.  

Aidan Pace 

Aidan Pace

Volunteers at Preston Taylor Ministries 

Every Thursday, the students of Preston Taylor Ministries’ after-school program are met by Aidan Pace, a weekly volunteer who is there to help them with their schoolwork and be a positive presence in their lives.  

Preston Taylor Ministries operates their after-school program at the McGruder Family Resource Center, and in addition to tutoring, provides students with a safe space to go when they are done with school for the day. Students use this time to prepare for school and get extra help and attention from mentors.  

Pace is a frequent Preston Taylor Ministries volunteer and, in addition to his work at their after-school program, meets with eighth-grade student Arkee every Thursday for breakfast and Bible study. During these meetings, Arkee can express himself and explore his faith. 

“Aidan has jumped in at McGruder, and even brought four friends with him his first day back!” says Emily Gitter, Youth Resource Director at Preston Taylor Ministries. “The kids he has interacted with before remember him by name, and he knows them well enough to greet them by name.”  

La Rhonda Potts 

La Rhonda Potts

Volunteers at CASA Nashville 

When La Rhonda Potts volunteers, she thinks less about what she can get out of the experience and more about how she can make a difference in a child’s life. Potts is a court-appointed special advocate for CASA Nashville, a program that supplies advocates for abused and neglected children caught in the court system. Advocates help children find safe and permanent homes.  

Potts has been a volunteer advocate with CASA Nashville since 2014, and during her time with the organization she has served on three cases. For each of these cases, Potts has gone above and beyond in her advocacy.  

Always concerned about how decisions affect the life of the child, Potts does everything in her power to make sure each decision made will lead to a positive outcome.  

“From the first moment I met La Rhonda, I knew she was committed,” says a foster parent who has worked with Potts. “She has been on top of making sure the case continues to progress. Not only is she knowledgeable about the system, but she has a passion for the children she’s supporting.”  

“Her presence in [the children’s] lives has been key. From attending multiple T-ball games to making them feel special at Christmas, she always wants them to feel cared for.”  

Catharine Hollifield 

Catharine Hollifield

Volunteers at Best Buddies 

For the Best Buddies program at Montgomery Bell Academy, the impact of Catharine Hollifield’s involvement has been astronomical. This is most clearly illustrated by the success of the Best Buddies annual Friendship Walk.  

Best Buddies is a nonprofit dedicated to establishing a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment, leadership development, and inclusive living for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. 

“Catharine and her chapter were hands-on with the walk preparation,” says Missy Naff, Director of Programs at Best Buddies. “They spent countless hours helping us execute one of the best walks that I have seen in my eight years with Best Buddies. Because of their efforts we were able to host over 2,000 of our participants for a day filled with pure joy.” 

Hollifield leads students at Montgomery Bell Academy in order to provide social opportunities to the participants of the Best Buddies program. Through her work, Hollifield has helped Montgomery Bell Academy implement new initiatives to further inclusion and awareness.  

Under her guidance, Montgomery Bell Academy has been twice selected as Chapter of the Year by Best Buddies International. 

Join Hands On Nashville for the 2020 Strobel Volunteer Awards on Sept. 14, 15, and 16.

Meet the 2020 Strobel Awards finalists: Direct Service (Ages 5-20)

This category of the Mary Catherine Strobel Volunteer Awards recognizes individuals who have contributed significant volunteer time, energy, and/or resources to help an agency’s constituents. 

Emily Phan 

Volunteers at The Little Pantry That Could 

As guests arrive at The Little Pantry That Could, volunteers like Emily Phan are there to walk with them through the aisles and help them choose the foods they need for the week. Phan has been volunteering with The Little Pantry since she was 12 years old. 

The Little Pantry provides produce and shelf-stable items free of charge on a weekly basis to anyone in need, no questions asked. Their volunteers do a variety of tasks, from sorting donations and stocking the shelves to working one-on-one with guests.  

Since starting high school, Phan has served more than 200 hours and is a favorite among the guests of The Little Pantry, who often request that she be the one to shop with them.  

Working one-on-one with guests is personal and at times overwhelming as volunteers learn about guests’ lives and struggles with food security. However, Phan is always able to lend an ear and give her heart to each guest.  

“Talking with the people who come to the pantry for help extends my worldview and teaches me to be grateful for the things I have,” Phan says.  

Through her volunteering, Phan has become an incredible spokesperson for The Little Pantry, and is always trying to figure what else she can do for the community members it serves.  

Elizabeth Graham Pistole 

Volunteers at The Dancing Divas and Dudes 

At 13 years old, Elizabeth Pistole had many opportunities to learn teamwork, life skills, and achieve personal goals as a competitive dancer. However, her sister Natalie, who was born with Down Syndrome, was not given the same opportunities as there weren’t any programs that would fit her unique needs.  

Five years ago, Pistole recognized this reality after experiencing it secondhand through her sister. She created The Dancing Divas and Dudes, a nonprofit organization that serves the special needs community through dance.  

During a session with The Dancing Divas and Dudes, participants work on their physical fitness by improving their balance, technique, and strength. They also spend time learning and perfecting performance pieces that are shared at community events so audiences can experience the abilities and value of individuals with special needs. 

Although Pistole is now a full-time college student, she still manages to spend around 30 hours a week scheduling team events and activities, as well as coordinating volunteers.  

Pistole’s hard work has allowed for many people with special needs to find their place in society, develop the confidence to excel in life, and ultimately offer them a supportive community. 

Join Hands On Nashville for the 2020 Strobel Volunteer Awards on Sept. 14, 15, and 16.

Volunteer Andrew Befante trims tree debris.

After losing friends in the March 3 tornado, local musician and bartender turns to service to help others

By Ben Piñon HON Disaster Response Coordinator AmeriCorps member

Thousands of Nashvillians rushed to volunteer in the wake of the March 3 tornado. Andrew Benfante wasn’t one of them. 

“I didn’t have the emotional energy to do it,” Benfante says. “Normally I do — I like volunteering, I like helping people, but the time wasn’t right. Then COVID happened and the time really wasn’t right. It was kind of a hectic time for me, so I stayed away from everything.” 

Volunteer Andrew Benfante
removes storm debris from a
home.

Six months and a global pandemic later, Benfante is more than ready. He has now volunteered on four of HON’s debris-removal workdays since cleanup projects resumed in late June. Some days he has worked both the morning and afternoon shifts — cutting apart a mangled fence or moving heavy logs that came down in the storm. All for fellow Nashvillians he’s never met. 

Back in March, Benfante narrowly missed the worst of the damage where he lives in Germantown. He was out of power for four days. But that was just the beginning. The tornado had also taken not only his job, but two of his friends. 

Benfante worked at Attaboy, an East Nashville bar damaged by the tornado, which is still undergoing repairs. It’s also where he met his friends and co-workers, Michael Dolfini and his fiancée, Albree Sexton. They were all hanging out together shortly before the couple lost their lives in the tornado.

“He called her his hippie wife,” Benfante remembers fondly, “they had been together for so long.” 

“It was a tough night,” Benfante recalls, describing the Attaboy staff as a small, tight-knit group. He had left the bar only 30 minutes before the tornado touched down. “Those were some sad phone calls to make in the middle of the night. Calling just to see how everything was going, finding out that it wasn’t going well.”  

Volunteer Andrew Benfante
removes a wheelbarrow full
of storm debris from a home.

Benfante moved to Nashville four years ago. Like many, he came chasing music dreams. Just last year, he walked away from a band he had played with for eight years. Doing so led to a more recent reassessment of several aspects of his own life. Volunteering has been a really healthy part of that process, he says. 

Through his struggles over the past few months — navigating a pandemic, scraping by on unemployment, grieving friends — Benfante remains grateful for what he has to give.  

“I feel like if I have the time that others may not, I should freely give that time to the community while I’m being taken care of, at least temporarily,” he says. 

Giving back has left Benfante hopeful and inspired, humbled undoubtedly by the way he’s seen the Nashville community persevere in the face of tremendous challenges. 

“I think the less afraid we are of new things, of change, and each other… I think the more we trust each other, trust that everything balances out when it’s all said and done, the more joy we can find together as a community,” he says. “That’s most apparent to me right now in the kind of volunteer work that Hands On Nashville does. I’m happy to be a part of it.” 

Visit hon.org to find volunteer projects that meet critical needs in our community.

Sponsor spotlight: Darrell Waltrip Automotive Group

When a tornado devastated parts of Nashville on March 3, 2020, leaders at the Darrell Waltrip Automotive Group knew they wanted to do something big to help with the recovery effort. The company donated $120,000 — its largest ever one-time gift — to Hands On Nashville to support its mission to meet community needs through volunteerism. 

“We have been following along with Hands On Nashville’s efforts for years,” says John Gallagher, Vice President and Executive General Manager of Darrell Waltrip Automotive Group. “And knowing that recovery from the devastating tornados would take months — if not years —we knew it would require lots of volunteer hours. Hands On Nashville seemed like the perfect fit for our donation.” 

The donation directly supports ongoing tornado-relief efforts, including paying for supplies and staff salaries spent on disaster-recovery activities. 

“The support from the Darrell Waltrip Automotive Group is a game-changer for our tornado-relief efforts,” says HON President and CEO Lori Shinton. “Those funds are going directly to recruit and manage volunteers who are doing the important work of helping people put their lives back together after a major disaster.” 

For more than 25 years, Darrell Waltrip Automotive Group has had an active role supporting Middle Tennessee charities.  

From being the first corporation to enroll in Waves Office Recycling Program, to assisting those who lost their vehicles in the 2010 flood, to now supplying personal protective equipment to Williamson Medical Center – DWAG aims to be a company that cares about helping others.  

Gallagher says the company focuses much of its outreach and resources into two major programs, Hometown Heroes and Darrell Waltrip Automotive’s Drive Away Hunger Challenge

Hometown Heroes is a program honoring those who have shown a commitment to serving others and making a difference in their community. Community members nominate individuals, and each month a new hero is selected by DWAG, which makes a $500 donation to the charity of that hero’s choice.  

Volunteers of Darrell Waltrip Automotive Group participate in a breast cancer awareness fundraiser.

“One thing we learned through our Hometown Heroes event is just how many amazing people are at work in our communities, and how they are making a difference in big ways,” Gallagher says.  

This spring DWAG had planned to celebrate their 100th hero, but, due to COVID-19, plans have been tentatively postponed until May 2021.  

The company created Drive Away Hunger in 2013 as a fundraising event partnering with Williamson County high schools and GraceWorks. Through Drive Away Hunger, hundreds of thousands of pounds of food have been collected and donated to food pantries throughout Williamson County. The initiative has since expanded to include the Franklin Special School District and Williamson County elementary and middle schools.  

“We are so proud of all we have done in the community, and thankful for our customers who make it all possible,” Gallagher said.  

The automotive group’s first dealership – Darrell Waltrip Honda – opened in 1986. Since then, they’ve opened three more dealerships across Middle Tennessee.  

For more information about Darrell Waltrip Automotive Group’s history of service, click here

Darrell Waltrip Automotive – Disaster Relief Donation To Hands On Nashville

Darrell Waltrip Cares logo

NIC Inc. specialists assist Alive Hospice in increasing capacity for health care students

GeekCause matches Nashville’s most talented techies with community partners in need of their services. From tech consultation to solution implementation, GeekCause provides a low-cost platform for agencies to solve tech-based challenges through the support of skilled volunteers. The HON team periodically shares GeekCause project highlights to help show how skilled volunteers are having an impact in the community. 

Alive Hospice is a Middle Tennessee-based nonprofit that provides compassionate end-of-life care, palliative care, bereavement support, and community education. Each year, they engage hundreds of college students studying healthcare to help them learn about end-of-life care and gain real-life work experience.  

Prior to this year, members of the Alive team manually scheduled and tracked students’ progress within their Institute, and spent weeks compiling student data at the end of each semester. 

But they knew there had to be a better way. So they reached out to GeekCause to see if  skilled volunteers could help them find a solution. 

GeekCause paired Alive with volunteers from NIC Inc., the nation’s largest provider of government websites and digital services. NIC volunteers brought expansive knowledge of data storage and management solutions to the table — a great fit for Alive’s needs.  

The team of volunteers worked with the hospice provider to envision a solution for registering students and creating an all-in-one platform for them to enroll and assist with a variety of roles within the company. 

The registration portal feeds into a database that stores students’ data, allowing them to sign agreement forms virtually, sign up for shifts, and log other relevant information in the database. Volunteers were able to build a cloud-based storage system, which Alive can maintain for a low monthly fee. 

“With our complex needs, they were able to deliver an automated student onboarding platform that we’ll start using for fall registrations,” says Debbra Warden, Director of Contracting, Quality and Data Analytics at Alive Hospice. “The GeekCause team was wonderful to work with and accommodated our multiple requests for changes while we worked through our needs. They did everything with a smile every single time.” 

Deb Kilpatrick, a Project Manager with NIC Inc., led the volunteer team through the project. She and her team are proud of what they have been able to accomplish despite this year’s challenging circumstances.  

“We’re really just grateful the MSP (Microservice Platform) team had the opportunity to give back to our community,” Kilpatrick says. “Alive Hospice does so much to support those in unimaginable situations, and they handle themselves with such care and grace. We sincerely hope the effort our team has provided is a benefit and helps to simplify scheduling student experiences so they can focus on what they do best.” 

By tracking students’ progress through the Alive Institute, Alive staff will be able to more easily give educated, informative feedback to students’ professors, and use their data to apply for future funding opportunities. 

More about the Alive Hospice Institute 

Currently, Alive Hospice offers observational experiences for students enrolled in professional health care programs at Belmont University, Lipscomb University, Meharry Medical College, Middle Tennessee State University, Motlow Community College, Vanderbilt University, and University of Tennessee. 

While working with the Institute, students are under the direct supervision of a health care professional at Alive Hospice. This provides students the opportunity to begin understanding how Alive provides care to those with life-threatening illnesses, supporting patients’ families, and how Alive Hospice provides service to the community in a spirit of enriching lives. 

Did you know? Skilled tech volunteers have contributed 1,368 hours of service so far this year and provided the equivalent of $144,000 in services and support to our community partners! 🤯🤯🤯 

Could your nonprofit use some tech help? Does your tech-savvy work team want to give back to the community? Learn more about GeekCause here. 

Cheers to the outgoing 2019-2020 AmeriCorps members!

It is hard to believe August is nearly halfway over, which means it’s time to say goodbye to the 2019-2020 HON AmeriCorps cohort. For the past year, the HON AmeriCorps program engaged 19 civic-minded individuals in a yearlong term of service at local nonprofits. They received skills training, professional development, and networking opportunities, while building programmatic capacity at the agencies they supported. 

Between the devastating March 3 tornado and the communitywide impacts of COVID-19, this has been a challenging year. These AmeriCorps members have proven to be creative, resilient, and impactful in the face of these challenges, and they stepped up to lead in a time of crisis in our community.  

Please join us in wishing them well and read on to learn more about their most memorable experiences and teachable moments, and how the nonprofiteers at the organizations where they served feel about them. We could not be more grateful for this group, and they will all be dearly missed!  

Let’s hear from the leaders at the agencies where they served  

Ellen Barker, Community Partner Engagement Leader at Hands On Nashville

“Ellen has been a true joy to serve alongside for the past year. Every aspect of our operation she’s been involved with has been improved. I cannot image the last year with her as part of the team. Her spirit and willingness to learn will be dearly missed.” — Drew Himsworth (Community Partner Coordinator, Hands On Nashville) 

Paige Dawson, Sustainability Outreach Coordinator at Tennessee Environmental Council

“Paige’s infinite positivity and incredible work ethic will certainly be missed here! Oh, and let’s not forget all the entertaining animal rescue stories … A compassionate spirit, that one.  Incredibly quick learning and efficient.” – Julia Weber (Program Manager, Tennessee Environmental Council)   

Mary Eaton, Volunteer Outreach Leader at Hands On Nashville

“When the tornado hit in March, HON was inundated with emails and social media messages from people wanting to help and looking for access to services. Mary helped our team navigate and respond to thousands of inquiries, all while working a second job. She brings levity and humor to everything she does, and we’re so excited to see what her future holds!” — Lindsey Turner (Director of Communications, Hands On Nashville) 

Hayley Elliott, Volunteer Project Leader at Hands On Nashville 

“Hayley is a wonderful team member — always up for a challenge (hello, chainsaw!), ready to pitch in and work wherever needed, warm, funny, dedicated, and thoughtful about how she carries out her responsibilities. We’ll miss her terribly. She’s going to be a great success in the field of nonprofit management, and anyone who works with her will be fortunate to have her!” – Karin Weaver (Corporate Project Manager, Hands On Nashville) 

Samantha Estes, Citizen Science and Volunteer Restoration Project Coordinator at Harpeth Conservancy

“Samantha has been a pleasure to work with during her time at Harpeth Conservancy. Her passion and work ethic helped us develop a well-rounded volunteer engagement program and communication strategy.” — Ryan W. Jackwood, Director of Watershed Science & Restoration

Katin Liphart, Watershed Education and Renewal Coordinator at Richland Creek Watershed Alliance

“All programs outcomes and outputs have close to doubled with Katin on our team. She brought skills, commitment, team work, dedication and enthusiasm the position.” — Monette Rebecca (Richland Creek Watershed Alliance)

Ezra Schley, Sustainability Outreach Coordinator at Tennessee Environmental Council

“Ezra is one of the hardest working individuals we’ve ever gotten the pleasure of working with. He maneuvered through these trying times with grace and confidence.” — Julia Weber (Program Manager, Tennessee Environmental Council) 

Alex Stark, Environmental Education Coordinator at Cumberland River Compact

“Through her service term with the Cumberland River Compact’s education programs, Alex taught over 1,300 students across our region about the value of our water resources and inspired the future water stewards. Her contagious enthusiasm, creativity, and can-do attitude were an important asset to us in these changing times and she will be missed next year. Thank you, Alex!”  — Catherine Price (Education & Outreach Manager, Cumberland River Compact) 

 Matt Trotsky, Stream Restoration Coordinator at Cumberland River Compact

“Matt’s can-do attitude was a welcome addition to our AmeriCorps team. His willingness to jump in and help was always a welcome sight during the past year!” — Gray Perry (Program Manager, Clean Streams) 

Dylan Vines, Urban Tree Coordinator at Cumberland River Compact

“Dylan is a hard worker who takes initiative, and everyone who had the opportunity to work with him — staff, community volunteers, and more — enjoyed his easy-going nature and professionalism.” — Meg Morgan (Campaign Manager, Root Nashville) 

Let’s hear from the members themselves 

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Meriweather Bean, Community, Education & Outreach Coordinator at Harpeth Conservancy

“My favorite memory was seeing our Fall Wild & Scenic Film Festival come to fruition. This was really my first major responsibility in my service year and a great learning experience in event organizing, but also organizing with community partners. It was very rewarding to see it become a success and gave me confidence continuing through my service year.” 

Lexi Bolinski, Volunteer Project Leader at Hands On Nashville

“Serving alongside fellow AmeriCorps members and staff at Hands On Nashville during tornado cleanup efforts was by far the most memorable and life-changing moment of this year of service. Being able to assist those impacted by the disaster while learning from the talented staff at HON was an experience unlike any other.” 

Amber Lopatine, Urban Forest Strategic Initiatives Coordinator at Nashville Tree Foundation

“The most rewarding part of my service year was helping with the tornado relief efforts. It was really impactful to see so many people come together during this time and lend a hand in whatever way they could.”

Jasmine Lucas, Communications & Community Engagement Coordinator at Plant the Seed

“I’ve learned about a variety of stages nonprofits can operate out of. Rolling with the punches is a MUST when serving with nonprofits, but it is quite rewarding in the end when everyone takes on the punches and powers through together. You see the resilience of community through nonprofits.” 

Ben Piñon, Disaster Response Coordinator at Hands On Nashville*

Ben speaks on his favorite memory: “During the tornado response as I was walking the streets directing volunteers, I got a call from a guy offering his assistance including some heavy machinery he had. When he said he was from Maryland all of a sudden, I was speechless. He said hello a couple of times thinking the call had dropped. I told him I was just at a loss for words, touched that people wanted to come help from so far away.” 

*Ben also served with Plant the Seed but transitioned to HON when schools closed in the spring as a result of COVID-19.

Lily Sronkoski, Garden Programming and Partnerships Coordinator at Plant the Seed

“I thought I was adaptable before this year, but I was wrong. I truly learned how to be adaptable this year.” 

Jessa Tremblay, Programming and Partnerships Coordinator at Plant the Seed

Jessa speaks highly of her time serving over the course of the year: “Kids are hilarious. The things they say to you are so bizarre, but so wonderful. It was absolutely wonderful getting to know my students over time and I always went to work grateful that I was getting to teach them and get to know them better.” 

Haley Tucker, Citizen Science & Restoration Coordinator at Harpeth Conservancy

When asked what new skills she learned: “Website building/design, volunteer organization, science/restoration, etc., all of which can be carried into future jobs.”