Category Archives: Uncategorized

Resolve to Serve Stories: Nashville Clean Water Project

Walk around nearly any Nashville neighborhood, and you’ll see how the area earned its “It City” nickname. New construction and increased traffic are daily symptoms of a growing population. Unfortunately, increasing pollution levels in Middle Tennessee waterways are also a result.

Enter the Nashville Clean Water Project (NCWP). In 2017, the organization launched the Adopt-A-Storm-Drain Program, which includes an online database that maps the city’s thousands of storm drains. Individuals, local businesses, housing associations and any other Nashvillians can adopt location-specific storm drains. By committing to checking drains for debris, litter, construction site runoff and pollution, adopters help clean water flow into local lakes, rivers and streams while improving the region’s environmental health.

“The importance of the project inspired me,” said Jana DeLuna, a volunteer who adopted more than 30 storm drains in her Donelson neighborhood. “We all want clean water to use in our homes and offices – and every citizen can play a role in environmental preservation. It is super easy to take a walk with a trash bag and clean while I walk. The drains are in a short distance of my home, and I check them in the mornings on my day off.”



Mark Thein, executive director of NCWP, shared that one of the program’s top intentions is to help spread awareness about water quality and environmental health. “Our goal has been to reach new advocates,” said Thien. “99 percent of adopters were not previously engaged in Nashville’s clean water cause.”

For example, in two neighborhoods, housing associations (HOAs) stepped up to adopt 100 percent of local storm drains. Drain adoptions give HOAs and employers a quick way to engage in social responsibility without committing an unsustainable amount of time.

NCWP volunteers are advancing the way environmental fieldwork takes place. By adopting a storm drain near your home or place of work, spreading the word with friends and neighbors, or encouraging your neighborhood or housing association to get involved, it’s easy to help build a cleaner, greener future in Middle Tennessee.

The Nashville Clean Water Project provides residents and corporations across Middle Tennessee a platform to demonstrate environmental dedication and service commitments. To continue the conversation or set up a meeting with an HOA or community organization, reach out to the NCWP today


Resolve to Serve Stories: Nashville Adult Literacy Council

Every day, Hands On Nashville’s community partners and volunteer community build stronger communities through service. HON celebrates these partners through Resolve to Serve Stories. We’re inspired by their work, their missions and their dedication – and invite you to get involved.

Imagine not being able to read. Imagine not being able to speak or understand the English language. Imagine not being able to fill out a job application or communicate with your doctor. Imagine never having a chance for a better job or job promotion. Imagine not being able to help your children with their homework or not being able to attend a parent-teacher conference. Imagine having to rely on someone to pay your bills for you because you can’t read them. Imagine the feeling of your children asking for a bedtime story, and you are unable to read to them.

Imagine yourself changing someone’s life.

Last year, the Nashville Adult Literacy Council (NALC) worked with hundreds of volunteers to help nearly 1,700 adults learn reading, writing, conversational skills and information about U.S. citizenship. Most of the agency’s volunteers do not come from a professional teaching background. Through NALC’s training, individuals become one-on-one tutors who help adults in Nashville become successful, thriving parts of the community.

Julie Kramer photo.jpg

Julie Kramer, ELL Specialist at NALC, manages the one-on-one tutoring program for adult immigrants. She draws from her own personal experience as an example of what volunteering for NALC means.

“I worked in the corporate travel industry for 30 years, but wanted to find a meaningful volunteer opportunity that would directly benefit someone,” says Julie. “I never thought of myself as a teacher and never thought I’d be teaching anybody anything, but I decided to get outside of my comfort zone to help someone in the Nashville community. I was pretty unsure of myself in the beginning.”

Julie’s first student was a biology teacher from Egypt, who was working in hotel housekeeping at the time. As the student gained proficiency with his English skills, he became more confident and landed a job in a biology lab. Though Julie met with her student in Antioch, Julie lived in Bellevue and worked near Nashville International Airport.

One in eight Nashville adults is functionally illiterate, and 12 percent of Nashville’s population was born outside of the United States. With more than 100 people on NALC’s waiting list, the need for one-on-one tutors is great, especially in the Antioch and south Nashville areas of the city.

Julie says, “I felt like this was the most rewarding volunteer experience I had ever had, so much so that I decided to change careers to work with adult immigrants who were learning English. I knew I had found my calling right away.” Now, she manages the program.

It wasn’t just Julie’s calling. The entire Nashville Adult Literacy Council staff began their work as volunteer tutors, many after careers in completely different fields.

Consider stepping outside of your neighborhood and meeting someone you would never come in contact with in your everyday life. NALC has trained accountants, IT professionals, college students, FBI investigators, doctors, project managers, waiters, scientists, homemakers, and healthcare workers to help adults learn to read and improve English skills.

Over and over, volunteers state they get more out of the experience than the learners. Participants enjoy the experience while making a huge difference in someone’s life.

The Nashville Adult Literacy Council is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to teaching reading to U.S.-born adults and English skills to adult immigrants. The agency’s vision is for all to learn and for all to help build a community of adults empowered through literacy. Browse all volunteer opportunities with NALC and visit the agency’s website for upcoming volunteer training dates.

HON Day 2017: Altria Volunteers and the Value of Showing Up

At 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, September 23, HON Day volunteers started arriving at Metro Nashville Public School site. For many, the day was just beginning. However, a handful of employee volunteers from Altria had started their “days” the previous night. The volunteers had worked from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Instead of heading home, the group reported to Cora Howe School to lend a hand.

Preparing to expand the school garden.

Altria has been a dedicated HON Day sponsor since 2012, serving as presenting sponsor for the past two years. The company’s participation in HON Day 2017 is a testament to the power of private organizations connecting with their communities – and the value of showing up and making a difference. With Altria’s 2017 support, more than 1,000 volunteers had the resources needed to make a difference at 15 MNPS schools. On top of that, Altria volunteers always show up with positive attitudes, roll up their sleeves and turn project resources into results.

This year, the Altria volunteer team brought massive energy, laughter and hard work to Cora Howe, despite the long hours and hot Nashville sun. Led by community partners Cumberland River Compact and Nashville Tree Foundation, volunteers helped build a rain garden and plant trees on school grounds.

One of seven new trees at Cora Howe School.

“HON Day builds camaraderie within our team, and it’s so great to be helping schools,” said Altria’s Jennifer Simpkins. 2017 marked Simpkins’ second HON Day, and she was one of the volunteers who reported for duty after working through the night.

James Harvey and Robert Klein, training leader and plant manager at Altria (respectively), also shared why they’ve supported HON Days past and present. “When it comes down to it, we’re blessed and fortunate,” said Harvey. “Whenever we can give back – that’s the right thing to do. As a business and as a person, it matters.”

Starting work on the new rain garden.

To the entire Altria team: thank you for your commitment to HON Day as not only the presenting sponsor, but a team of community members ready to pitch in and work for a shared cause.

View photos from Hands On Nashville Day 2017.


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.”

Resolution Tree

One principal describes how volunteers helped lay the foundation for the school’s path forward.

“This project with Hands On Nashville actually set the foundation for the changes we wanted to see – not only with the vision to have visual statements throughout the building, but it set the path forward for the Napier way.”

— Dr. Lawless

Walk into the cafeteria at Napier Elementary and you will find a 10-foot tree constructed by a group of volunteers.

But this is no ordinary tree – according to Napier Elementary Principal Dr. Watechia Lawless, it is the focal point for her school’s positive path forward.

“The resolution tree is the center of our restorative justice program, “Dr. Lawless said. “It has transformed the culture of our school.”

“The resolution tree is a way for us to resolve conflict with students that would have usually resulted in suspension,” she continued. “It provides a place for students to articulate feelings, and say ok, ‘There‘s another way to do this than fighting.”

The tree was constructed in an afternoon by a team of volunteers from Competitive Carriers Association visiting Nashville for a conference in the April 2016.

According to Dr. Lawless, the tree represent a shift away from a punitive system, in which students are suspended or taken out of the classroom for negative behavior, to one focused on peer-to-peer conflict resolution.

“If students don’t feel loved and safe, they won’t learn. And if we don’t train them how to resolve conflict they will go back to what they know. We have to train them on the appropriate ways to deal with conflict… Hopefully these skills will prepare them for life, and not just for a test or to do well here: we want them to do well when they leave here.”

Beyond constructing the tree, the group revitalized the playground, enhanced the landscape with flowers and mulch, painted murals with the schools vision statements, assembled classroom care kits, and created learning tools for students.

“This project with Hands On Nashville actually set the foundation for the changes we wanted to see – not only with the vision to have visual statements throughout the building, but it set the path forward for the Napier way,” Dr. Lawless continued. “We’ve worked hard to transform the way people feel when you come here and that made a huge difference.”

“It was a breath of fresh air to know people were supportive of us and our goals,” she said.

Since the project, the centerpiece has since inspired resolution trees to be placed in nearly every single classroom, as well as one outside for our students and community members to use.

Painting Community

In the summer of 2016, Hands On Nashville partnered with Nashville Public Library, a local artist and Dollar General to paint a bright picture for our community.

Library directors at six branches worked closely with Nashville artist Kim Radford to develop their own customized, color-by-number design that reflects the spirit and history of their branch. Hands On Nashville organized and engaged Dollar General volunteers to complete the vision.

The artwork is now displayed at the Donelson, Edgehill, Edmondson Pike, Hadley Park, Inglewood, and Old Hickory Branches of the Nashville Public Library.

As NPL Director Kent Oliver said, the project is “rewarding because it combines volunteerism and art in a way that will benefit thousands of patrons and guests who visit Nashville Public Library in future months and years.”


JJ Rosen, Hands On Nashville’s first ever intern, reflects on being a part of something from the beginning.

The projects at that time would fill up. It was like getting a table at a restaurant now in Nashville.

— JJ Rosen


“When I was in college at Vanderbilt, part of our requirement was a full semester internship. Hands On Nashville was just forming with Hal Cato and the original members. I heard about the opportunity, and at the time there was no office. For my interview, we met in the clubhouse at Hal’s apartment complex. I interviewed in my jacket and tie to be there intern – I was 21 years old.

Hands On Nashville was a brand new organization, and Hal had just come up with the idea after seeing a story about something similar starting in Atlanta. It was a chance to be part of something from the ground up, and to help build it from the beginning.

Getting the Word Out:

I was the only intern, and at that time there were no other employees. After a few weeks, Hal came up with this office, which was a little more like a closet, over on 21st avenue that someone very generously donated. I moved in there by myself and it became the original Hands On Nashville office.

This was well before the web, so we created a paper newsletter along with a calendar [of volunteer projects] we mailed out.

Meeting Community Needs:

We would go talk to agencies and nonprofits and ask them what needs they had. Then we would create a calendar with the list of opportunities volunteers could sign up for.  

Each project had a project coordinator – since this was before email, it was all by phone.

So we would write out ‘Meals On Wheels’; sign up and call ‘so and so’ — we need 5 volunteers. Or, we are painting a house on Saturday and we need 15 volunteers.

We would literally print labels and mail them back out and people would just sign up. The projects at that time would fill up. It was like getting a table at a restaurant now in Nashville.

Favorite Memories:

The first Hands On Nashville Day, we arrived downtown at the memorial and everyone was paranoid – ‘Was this going to work?’ We got there at 3 o’clock in the morning to set up… we probably over worked and over did it. But it worked.


Hands On Nashville gave me the nudge I needed to get involved with something beyond my own needs.

I remember at one point, as part of the newsletters, I wrote as a joke, ‘JJ the Intern was promoted to Chief Executive Intern at Hands On Nashville…’

In a way, I felt like I was the Intern / Executive Director — it was awesome. I really didn’t know what I was doing, but the Board was very active and felt like I was starting something from scratch.  

It’s a really great group and it’s very hard to start something like that. Hal was the catalyst but there were a lot of folks who were very active in making it happen…To see that many years later Hands On Nashville still has the same energy and that it has grown…it’s just great.