Category Archives: Volunteer Leader Spotlight

Volunteer Leader Spotlight: Kristen O’Hare

Kristen O'Hare in HON action

Guest blog post by Kristen O’Hare
I got to know Hands On Nashville 10 years ago as a Belmont University student.  Then, I would volunteer periodically and participate in events like Hands On Nashville Day, our community’s largest day of service in Metro Schools.

My real and meaningful relationship with Hands On Nashville began with a simple text message I received on May 3, 2010.  It read, “Sandbaggers are needed immediately in Metro Center to stop the levee from breaking.” While my own apartment had water from Mill Creek filtering in through the front door, I felt an undeniable need to respond to that text; so, I drove to Metro Center.  As I approached the volunteer site, Metro Police warned me that if the levee were to break, we’d all be in danger. With a smile and a nod, I joined dozens of other volunteers.

“The pride I had looking at the volunteers around me was overwhelming.”

With the toss of my first sandbag, something inside of me changed. I could actually feel it. With every additional sandbag I touched over the next 6 hours, the pride I had looking at the volunteers around me was overwhelming.  We were wet, cold, tired, and covered in sand fleas; yet we kept working.  Each of us wanted to lessen the impact of the 1,000-year flood.

We came together as strangers, but we left as neighbors.  For me, the dirty water from the flooded Cumberland River washed me clean.

In the weeks following the flood, I’d deliver food and water; tear down homes; and set up distribution centers.  I even honed my skills driving a big rented Budget truck to deliver supplies. Volunteering had become by passion, and I was glad that Hands On Nashville provided me so many opportunities to make a difference.  In fact, through my HON flood volunteerism, I connected with the Red Cross.  Today, after months of training, I am a certified Red Cross first responder.  I assist in a variety of disasters – from house fires to floods – and I’m grateful for the opportunity to help people when they most need me.

I am also proud to serve as a Hands On Nashville volunteer leader.  One Saturday every month, I guide other volunteers in cleanup projects at the Nashville City Cemetery – our city’s oldest public cemetery.  Due to its historical and architectural significance, the Nashville City Cemetery is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Many prominent figures are buried there – from Nashville’s founders Charlotte and James Robertson to two of the original Fisk Jubilee Singers.

This project is a perfect match for my skills.  As a museum curatorial assistant at the Grand Ole Opry, I have expertise in the preservation and restoration of historic artifacts.  During this project, I teach other volunteers  how to slow the deterioration of headstones.  By clearing away magnolia tree seeds, nuts, and other natural materials, we do our best to maintain this important piece of history.

But, for me, being a HON volunteer leader is even more than completing important service projects.  When I put on my volunteer leader shirt – the one with the handprint surrounded by little circles – I do so knowing that I represent not only Hands On Nashville, but all of the volunteers that go out and give of themselves in their free time.  That’s powerful.

Interested in leading a volunteer project?
> Click here and learn how to get started.

Volunteer Leader Spotlight: Adam Jones

The Goalball team takes a break to pose for the camera. Hi, team! (Adam is second from the right.)

It’s one thing to know how to play ball, but to play without using your vision is an extra challenge most people don’t experience. Volunteer Adam Jones takes pleasure in putting on goggles covered in duct tape and playing goalball with Tennessee Association of Blind Athletes (TNABA). It forces him to get outside of his comfort zone and use his other senses to make his way around the court. And, he feels good about helping the athletes prepare for their next tournament.

Adam moved to Nashville in 2009, looking for ways he could get engaged with the Nashville community. He found Hands On Nashville’s website and, after trying a few different volunteer options, found himself frequenting the TNABA court. By 2011, he was leading these volunteer opportunities as a HON Volunteer Leader, making a huge difference in the lives of these athletes. Adam comments that he loved this particular volunteer experience because “it combines my love of sports with my fervor for volunteering.”

Adam in action playing goalball with the TNABA players. Go, Adam!

While some people find it daunting to play a new game like goalball, Adam encourages more people to sign up and take a chance, especially if you love competition. Adam says, “New volunteers should not be afraid to dive in completely. Try to beat the TNABA athletes when you play them. They are most assuredly trying to beat you.”

The best part about volunteering is “helping to fill a need,” says Adam. He encourages everyone to find an organization or an activity they love and spend time volunteering there. He says, “Whether the need is great or small, local or international, being able to help by giving of myself is both rewarding and uplifting. I appreciate the work that you do at HON and look forward to volunteering with you more in the future.”

Check out the following opportunities where you can volunteer with TNABA this fall:
> Thursday, October 25, 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
> Saturday, November 3, 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.
> Saturday, November 17, 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Volunteer Leader Spotlight: Kymberly Anderson

This mother, entrepreneur, native Nashvillian, and world traveler has a big place in her heart for volunteerism and Music City.

“I was married in Japan and have literally been around the world with my six boys 25 times,” says Kymberly Anderson. She’s been on many worldly adventures, but has always found her way back to Nashville and the people here who make it a wonderful place to live. “[Volunteerism and] Hands On Nashville have made such a great impact on me and my city!” she exclaims. “I was born and raised here. I lived and traveled all over the world, but always return to Nashville!”

While not on the move, Kymberly has been involved with HON since the mid-1990s when she served as a member of Hands On Nashville’s board of directors and in various volunteer roles. When the 2010 flood hit Nashville, Kym stepped up her commitment in a big way and served as a Project Coordinator helping with flood cleanup on Blue Hole Road for three weeks.

“After [helping with] the flood, I knew I had to get back full time with HON and find my groove.” She found a true sweet spot leading volunteers to serve hot meals to Nashville’s homeless and working poor through Catholic Charities’ program Loaves and Fishes, and she’s been doing it for the past two years. “Loaves & Fishes is one of the most fulfilling projects that HON is involved with. I have [led volunteer projects many times] over the years, and I’ve found such a deep connection at Loaves & Fishes.” Her favorite part is the interaction. “I love the stories and seeing everyone each and every month,” she comments. “We are surrounded by so many grateful people.”

If you are trying out a new service opportunity like Loaves & Fishes, Kymberly encourages you to go with the flow. “Even though your project may not run as smoothly as you anticipate, the end result is phenomenal to others. And, wear comfortable shoes!”

“With HON, we can and do make huge differences within our community. HON is so well run, the projects give you the freedom to express your individualism, and the end results actually change someone’s life besides your own,” she says. “I am very proud to be involved with HON, and will continue to be a Volunteer Leader for the next 20 years!”

Loaves and Fishes occurs on the 4th Saturday of every month from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. If you want to participate, click here to sign up for this project. HON’s Volunteer Leaders and volunteers are an integral part of Hands On Nashville’s mission to impact community needs through volunteerism. Thank you, Kym, for your leadership and volunteerism.

Volunteer Leader Spotlight: Camilla Baird


Eight years ago, Camilla made the big move to Music City. This “concert junkie,” as she calls herself, was out to see new things and put her mark on the world.

It turns out that her passion for live music wasn’t the only thing that made Camilla fall in love with Nashville. The city’s culture of service also made it a great fit for this spunky St. Louis native. Camilla’s fond childhood memories of her parents showing her the importance of serving others inspired her to get involved in community service in her new city. Shortly after moving to town, Camilla found herself involved in all sorts of community happenings that helped those in need.

Nashville CARES became a regular project for Camilla.  “After moving to Nashville,” she mentions, “it was important to follow their lead and give back and grow my roots here.”

For the past 6 months, Camilla has stepped up even more and taken a new role at Nashville CARES as the Volunteer Leader. Each week, she leads volunteer groups in helping to pack food that is given to individuals and families in need. She loves this project because “it serves so many in the Nashville area and beyond.” The CARES packages provide food to help an HIV/AIDS victim and/or family member for weeks. “It feels so good to know that my minor efforts are helping in a major way to provide essential nutrition for those in need,” says Camilla.

Camilla moved here eight years ago and it took her a few years to find her niche at Nashville CARES. Why? Because she was eager to experiment with all the opportunities. Camilla encourages everyone to “be open and willing to try new things until you find a good fit.” With so much need and an accessible opportunity calendar at anyone’s fingertips, there is certainly something for everyone to try. “I love feeling like I made a difference, even if it’s just a little part of my time,” says Camilla.

Making CARES Packages occurs every Tuesday from 6 to 7:30 p.m. If you want to participate, click here to sign up for this project.  HON’s Volunteer Leaders and volunteers are an integral part of Hands On Nashville’s mission to impact community needs through volunteerism. Thank you, Camilla, for your leadership and volunteerism!

Serving Up Love at Hope Lodge

Volunteer Spotlight: Kevin Groom
Kevin Groom makes a mean home-cooked meal, and the cancer patients and their families that he cooks for each month at Hope Lodge savor every bite.

This IT expert and country music lover started volunteering with Hands On Nashville in 1997, a few years after moving here. Looking for an opportunity to meet new people, learn more about Nashville, and connect with others to whom he might lend a helping hand, Kevin got involved by helping to plan Hands On Nashville Day two years in a row.

Then in 2000, he got even more involved by serving as co-chair of the event. “This was my most memorable volunteer experience,” Kevin says. “We had almost 1,000 volunteers working on about 50 projects throughout Nashville that year. Helping to plan the event was a huge time commitment and required a great deal of effort. But on the day of the event, the members of the planning committee traveled around to several projects to take pictures and meet the volunteers. Visiting all the different sites really helped me to see just how great an impact Hands On Nashville really has on the city.”

In 2007, Kevin began volunteering regularly at The American Cancer Society’s Memorial Foundation Hope Lodge. This amazing organization provides free housing for out-of-town patients undergoing cancer treatment and their families. HON volunteers provide home-cooked meals to help make the guests’ stay more comfortable.

“I like volunteering at the Hope Lodge because it’s a great opportunity to help others and immediately see a benefit,” he says. “After spending all day at the hospital, the families really appreciate having a home-cooked meal instead of having to prepare something themselves or go out to a restaurant.”

Kevin also learns a lot from the people he serves, and says they serve as an example for how to deal with adversity.  “I’m always amazed at the positive attitudes of the patients and their families even though they are going through such tough times. “

Kevin’s advice to new volunteers? “Sign up for several different projects to see which ones you like the best. Volunteering is an excellent way to gain life experience and meet people from all walks of life.”

Interested in joining Kevin and the other cooks at Hope Lodge? Dinner at Hope Lodge occurs on the third Monday, and the first and second Wednesday of each month from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. 

Volunteer Leader Spotlight: Mario LaGrone

Mario and his team taking a break to strike a pose as they volunteer at Haywood Lane fire station over MLK Day Weekend.

Let’s face it, life gets busy. For Mario LaGrone though, that’s no excuse. Preparing for medical school, working, and raising a daughter keep his schedule jam-packed, but he still manages to find time to give back to our community and make good friends while he’s at it. This Hands On Nashville Volunteer Leader of three years consistently inspires others with his upbeat attitude and spunky spirit.

The best part about Mario is his passion to assist those in need. It’s hard to be around him and not feel inspired by his positive energy. Last month during MLK Day weekend, Mario served as Volunteer Leader for a painting project at the Haywood Lane fire station. When his group of volunteers finished their assigned work early, he was surprised when they didn’t jump on the opportunity to leave and go enjoy the beautiful day. In unity, the group told him, “we will leave when you leave.” Mario says, “I could not believe… a group of volunteers I’d only known for two hours felt so committed to me, Hands On Nashville, and the project.” This group wanted to make a difference and they stayed the entire shift to complete other improvement work. “This was one of my proudest moments,” Mario says. “I had the best team of volunteers and, more importantly, friends.”

Watch out, fire trucks. Mario and his team were busy helping Nashville's Haywood Lane Fire Station on MLK Day weekend.

Mario has always been interested in being a part of the community,  but he never anticipated having so many new relationships in his life. “When I volunteer, I feel that I am helping out my own family. … I am able to interact and meet and thank each one of my volunteers,” he says. And, he gets to do what he loves to do: “share many smiles along the way.” Mario encourages anyone who is looking to give back to “get up and get involved in helping your community. There is always a need for great volunteers who want to make a difference.”

Mario LaGrone is a special events Volunteer Leader for HON, and has led Hands On Nashville Day and MLK Day teams in a variety of service projects over the years. Watch out, though! Word on the street is that Mario will soon be making more frequent appearances as a Volunteer Leader for regular Opportunity Calendar projects.

Volunteer Leader Spotlight: Megan Zarling

Megan Zarling

“I may not change someone’s entire life, but I can be the change for that moment or day,” says 33-year-old Megan Zarling as she reflects on her new role as Volunteer Leader with Hands On Nashville.

This sense of purpose and mission wasn’t always so apparent, though. After working in the music business for 10 years, Megan found that she wasn’t quite as fulfilled by her work as she used to be. She was raised to believe that it’s important to “put others first,” yet she saw herself growing more and more distant from that philosophy. And trying new sushi restaurants with her husband wasn’t enough to tame the adventurer inside.

In May 2010, Megan found herself in her first volunteer experience when Nashville was hit by the flood. The volunteer relief efforts reinvigorated her spirit of community and motivated her to give back. “I could not believe the amount of work HON [volunteers] were able to take on. The results [of flood relief efforts] were mind boggling to me.” In June 2011, Megan decided to dive headfirst into the nonprofit world and make volunteering a more consistent centerpiece of her life.

After trying a few different volunteer opportunities, she found her fit at Nashville Cares where she leads volunteers making care packages for HIV/AIDS affected families. “Before we start, the wall is lined with empty shelves. By the time we leave, those shelves are packed with food bags,” she says. “It’s an amazing feeling to know the food bags we put together will feed Cares’ clients for the next several weeks.”

This busy wife, mother-to-be, workout enthusiast and dog-lover encourages anyone who will listen to integrate service into their lifestyle, too. “It only takes a little time and an open mind to volunteer. There is literally something for everyone. The best part about volunteering is at the end knowing you did something for someone else.  The feeling of being selfless for a brief period of time is priceless.”

Making CARES Packages occurs every Tuesday from 6 to 7:30 p.m.  If you want to participate, click here to sign up for this project.  HON’s Volunteer Leaders and volunteers are an integral part of Hands On Nashville’s mission to impact community needs through volunteerism.  Thank you, Megan, for your leadership and volunteerism!