Spring Break volunteer opportunities for the whole family

It’s Spring Break! With temperatures finally getting warmer and the kids home for the week (or the past year, depending on your situation), you may be going a little stir crazy looking for ways to keep them engaged while also building memories as a family. Well, we’re here to help! Below are a few options for things to do together, ranging for kids as young as 5 years old to those who are young at heart. 

Here’s a quick and easy video that explains how to volunteer as a family! 


Wrap and pack diapers for new parents in need as a Diaper Bank Volunteer
Age minimum with an adult: 12  
Minimum age: 16+  

Nashville Diaper Connection is looking for volunteers to help count, wrap, and package diapers. The diapers will then be labeled and organized for distribution to the Diaper Connection’s community partners. Opportunities are offered from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. 

Compile hygiene relief kits with the Community Resource Center 
Age minimum with an adult: 8+ 
Minimum age: 15+ 

Volunteers are essential to setting up production stations, sorting materials (like soaps, shampoos, and toothpaste) and compiling kits for distribution. These kits are then given to people in need all over the community, from tornado survivors to those currently experiencing homelessness. Opportunities are offered from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. 

Write letters to seniors and people with disabilities to brighten their day 
Age minimum with an adult: 1+ 
Minimum age: 16+ 

Help bring some cheer to isolated seniors by creating drawings and writing letters to those in nursing homes and those who are in disabled living facilities. Families can create their drawings at home, and after “expressing interest” in this opportunity a volunteer leader will share how to mail them. For March the theme is “Spring and Easter.” 
This opportunity is virtual and can be completed at any time. 

A child writes letters for seniors and those in assisted living communities.
A young volunteer writes letters for the elderly and
those with disabilities with the Greater Nashville Regional Council.

Prepare a meal for families in the hospital with a loved one
Age minimum with an adult: 10 
Minimum age: 18+ 

The Hospital Hospitality House is looking for volunteers to graciously provide dinner to the patients and caregivers who are staying at the Hospitality House while receiving treatment in Nashville. These dinners provide comfort and a sense of community. This opportunity is offered with a flexible schedule. 

Plant trees at at Westmeade Elementary
Age minimum with an adult: 6+ 
Minimum age: 16+ 

Planting trees provides shade, helps filter air pollution, creates an oxygen rich environment, and reduces flooding by absorbing great amounts of groundwater. Together, families can learn how to plant and care for trees, while also joining forces to make Nashville a greener community! This opportunity is from 1 to 3 p.m. on Saturday, March 20. 

Help remove weeds at Ellington Agriculture Center
Age minimum with an adult: 7+ 
Minimum age: 18+ 

Help remove invasive species of plants from Ellington Agricultural Center to prepare the ground for planting. Once the invasive plants have been cleared, white oak seedlings will be planted in their place! This opportunity is from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, March 20 

Unload donations with GraceWorks Ministries
Age minimum with an adult: 7+ 
Minimum age: 18+ 

Unload donations from people’s cars and assist in getting them sorted. GraceWorks Ministries  collects donations for its thrift store on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. This opportunity is offered daily, from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. 

For a full list of our opportunities, click here.

Want your organization to host an Ingram Scholar? Here’s how

After a successful pilot in early 2021, Hands On Nashville and Vanderbilt’s Ingram Scholars Program (ISP) will expand our partnership for the fall academic semester, connecting additional undergraduate Scholars with nonprofits and civic agencies across Davidson County. The ISP, founded in 1994, strives to facilitate service opportunities relating to each Scholar’s respective interests and to prepare Scholars for professional careers grounded in social progress.  

“We are beyond thrilled to join Hands On Nashville’s incredible network,” says Garrett Singer, ISP Service Coordinator. “The Ingram Scholars Program is known for its long-standing commitment to reciprocal and durable service. Our newly established partnership with HON will allow our Scholars to better meet the needs of Nashville’s nonprofit community, simultaneously deepening their commitment to social progress and accelerating their personal development.” 

Scholars pursue their chosen passion though a rigorous four-year curriculum that emphasizes durable, sustainable service initiatives. Each of Vanderbilt’s 40 Scholars is required to complete 16 hours of service per month during the academic year, for a total value of nearly $4,000 per community partner per year.  

Early in 2021, Scholars served remotely, but Singer says the program is looking to have remote and in-person options for Scholars this fall. 

Hands On Nashville and the ISP will host a virtual information session for interested nonprofits on Wednesday, March 31, at 1 p.m. to discuss: 

  • Curricular overview – What projects are Ingram Scholars equipped to participate in? 
  • Ensuring reciprocity – Coaching Scholar development in organizational capacity-building 
  • Finalizing opportunities – A timeline for the summer and fall 
  • Q&A 

If your organization is interested in learning more about hosting an Ingram Scholar later this year, please email A.T. Branch (at@hon.org) and copy Garrett Singer, ISP Service Coordinator (garrett.j.singer@vanderbilt.edu) for an invitation to the virtual information session! 

Join us in celebrating AmeriCorps Week!

“This program is changing lives. These members are creating a greener and more equitable city. They are so passionate and we are so fortunate to have them here loving on our community.”

Nicki Avila, Hands On Nashville AmeriCorps Program Manager

It’s officially AmeriCorps Week! In the past year our AmeriCorps members have faced challenges we could never have predicted, but they continue to astound us with their positivity, ingenuity, and most importantly their commitment to service. This #AmeriCorpsWeek we’ll be featuring outstanding servant leaders from across Middle Tennessee, and showing what it’s like to #ServeLikeMe.  

Join us on Instagram Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of this week, when three AmeriCorps members will take over our stories and give you a behind-the-scenes peek at how they serve Nashville. 

Tuesday: Dalia from The Nashville Food Project 

Wednesday: Kelsea from Shower The People 

Thursday: Rachel from Turnip Green Creative Reuse 

Follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn any time to see what the HON AmeriCorps cohort is up to, and how you can get involved today.  

In it for the long haul: The Davidson County Long-Term Recovery Group focuses on getting resources to survivors

Several members of the Davidson County Long-Term Recovery Group (LTRG) — of which Hands On Nashville is a part — reflect on the recovery efforts since the March 2020 tornadoes that devastated many of Nashville’s iconic neighborhoods.

In the video above, several representatives of the LTRG share their stories and updates on how recovery is going: Kathy Floyd-Buggs, Director of Neighborhoods for the Nashville Mayor’s Office; Keith Branson, Executive Director of Westminster Home Connection; Tina Doniger, Executive Director of Community Resource Center; Amy Fair, Vice President of Donor Services at The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee; Alisha Smith Haddock, Community-Based Services Director at Catholic Charities of Tennessee, Eileen Lowery, Director of Tornado Recovery Connection at Tn Conference of UMCOR; and Lori Shinton, Executive Director of Hands On Nashville.

Finding and serving tornado survivors — in the midst of a worldwide pandemic and economic crisis, no less — remains the laser-like focus of the LTRG.

The LTRG is a volunteer collaboration of multiple organizations, including but not limited to nonprofit agencies, community civic and service groups, faith-based, and educational groups that meet and work together to address the long-term needs of Metro Nashville residents who have been affected by disaster.

As detailed in its bylaws, the LTRG’s mission is to provide coordinated management of the long-term recovery response to individuals in Nashville/Davidson County affected by disaster.

The LTRG offers additional long-term assistance to individuals affected by the disaster who do not have adequate personal resources, and stewards volunteer, material and financial resources.

Its goal is to provide cost-effective and coordinated delivery of services so that survivors receive unduplicated assistance in a timely, efficient and equitable manner.

With more than 80 individuals representing 30 organizations participating on regularly scheduled calls, the group has, to date:

• Identified the areas of greatest need

• Identified organizations capable of addressing those needs

• Worked to ensure it is supporting each organization’s services while providing support to survivors from all of the impacted areas in Nashville

Learn more at www.nashvillerelief.com.

‘You always have something you can do,’ says volunteer who logged hundreds of hours of tornado relief activities

When the tornadoes hit, Melissa Alexander wasted no time finding a volunteer project to help survivors.

That’s who Melissa is, though — she goes above and beyond for people, and doesn’t seem to think twice about it. That makes her among the most prolific tornado-response volunteers in HON.org’s database, having registered for dozens of projects and logged hundreds of volunteer hours.

“After the tornado hit, I knew I couldn’t just stay home,” she says. “I’m from Texas, and that’s just not what you do there. After a disaster, if someone needs your help, you just go.”

Melissa Alexander, left, spent more than 300 hours volunteering in response to the 2020 tornadoes.

Melissa lives in Hermitage, about a block away from the path of destruction that spanned more than 60 miles overnight on March 2, 2020. She was without power for four days, and, looking back, is grateful to have had the opportunity to get out of the house and be of service to others.

She began volunteering at the Hermitage Community Center, sorting donations of apples, oranges, and other food and essentials. After about a week, when the center was running smoothly, she began looking for other ways to help. She had already attended volunteer leadership training at the Hands On Nashville headquarters. A liaison from Mayor John Cooper’s office determined she would be a great fit to begin supporting case management by alerting survivors to the resources that were available.

Melissa began canvassing the Hermitage area daily, going door to door to ask residents a series of questions:

“Are you working with a good contractor? Are they licensed?”

“Do you have your tetanus shot?”

“Do you know how to get to the community center?”

“Do you have your water and power turned on?”

It was more or less what she had been trained for, Melissa says, and she enjoyed the spark of hope residents would show when she was able to share information on a resource they were previously unaware of.

“‘They would ask, ‘Who are you with?’” and I would say, ‘Oh, I’m just a volunteer with Hands On Nashville, going around to make sure you’re aware of all of the services available in the community after a tornado.’ They loved it,” she says. “They were so grateful that somebody was just coming around and checking in on them.”

Melissa volunteered for weeks this way, reporting each morning to the city’s liaison, receiving her neighborhood assignments, then heading out with her bags of apples and oranges to distribute throughout the community. She estimates she spent more than 300 hours volunteering over the course of three months.

One day in particular stands out to Melissa — the day she was reassigned to North Nashville, on March 27. Rain was moving into the area, and the city needed additional help identifying houses that needed tarps.

“I went to Project Connect Nashville and started volunteering over there, four days a week, for about three months,” she says. “I’m still pretty committed to Project Connect. They do a lot for that North Nashville community.”

Once in North Nashville, Melissa says she found strength in the community to keep coming back day after day. The work was tiring, but, without fail, each morning when she arrived, there would be 30 people waiting outside Project Connect’s doors for a hot meal.

“When you see that many people waiting to get a hot meal, you can’t just say no,” Melissa says. “And the people were so eager for help. They wanted to know what resources were available or how to do something.”

Melissa Alexander and Mary.
Melissa (left) with Mary.

And that’s how Melissa met Mary.

“She’s the lady who made me cry on my first day,” Melissa says. “A neighbor had called to bring her meals, and I was the first one to have checked up on her since the storm. That day she was upset because her FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) request was denied, and she just bawled.”

Melissa bonded with Mary, who is 83 years old, right away. She worked to get Mary’s phone back in service, reinstall her security light, and create some raised garden beds for her. They still talk or text regularly.

“I even helped her organize the inside of her house, and we shredded papers for three days,” Melissa says. “She kept everything. She had checkbooks from the ’80s. So I helped her shred papers, and it was so fun. Older people have the best stories.”

Throughout the COVID-19 lockdowns, Melissa continued to work with Project Connect. She’s an avid mask-wearer, and says she practiced good hygiene long before the pandemic, crediting her work as a behavioral analyst who often worked with clients with auto-immune disorders. She says the Red Cross and Project Connect were thorough with their protocols, and that she never felt unsafe while volunteering.

Call the Tornado Recovery Connection at 615-270-9255 to get help.

Melissa’s background has proved invaluable throughout her time volunteering. Being from Texas, she was familiar with disaster response and FEMA, and by working with lower-income families she’s also familiar with food-assistance and housing programs. As Project Connect transitioned their services to working mainly from the resource center, Melissa jokes that she became known as the “resource guru.” To this day she has about 60 bookmarks — in multiple languages — stored in her phone to offer to people for help.

“You always have a skill,” she says, “and you always have something you can do that goes toward something that someone else needs.”

And while the recovery process has spanned the past year, Melissa knows there’s still more recovery and healing that needs to happen.

“There’s so many houses still not touched,” she says. “You can drive through Hermitage now and see the changes. But in North, there’s still boards on the windows, tarps on the roofs. There’s still so much work to be done.”

Tornado survivors can get access to a variety of resources and support through the Tornado Recovery Connection. If you know any tornado survivors, please make sure they know to call TRC at 615-270-9255.

Guest post: Navigating a tornado watch vs. tornado warning

Note from Hands On Nashville: The following post on getting prepared for a tornado and knowing what to do in a watch or warning situation is from the Nashville Severe Weather website (shared with permission). As we mark one year since the devastating March 3, 2020, tornadoes, many are feeling strong emotions, including anxiety, about potential severe spring weather. Preparation is one strategy for coping with storm anxiety. We hope this post helps provide some context and useful information about how to prepare for a tornado. 

A Tornado Watch means Be Ready — conditions are favorable for a tornado.

Be sure you can very quickly get to a safe place if a tornado warning is issued. Know where you are on a map so if a warning is issued, you know whether it applies to you. 

While under a Tornado Watch, mobile or manufactured home residents should closely track approaching storms and timely relocate to another, safer structure well before the storms arrive. If you wait for a Tornado Warning, you may not have time to find safe, secure shelter. Mobile and manufactured homes are unsafe, even in weak tornadoes. Identify a safe building well before severe weather strikes, and know where you can go morning, evening, holidays, at any time. 

Everyone should have a helmet. Adults too. Bike helmets, batting helmets, hockey helmets, whatever. Put helmets in your safe space. Wear helmets if in a tornado warning. 

Wear pants. Heard from at least one person who found herself without her pants as the tornado hit. 

Corral pets, especially cats. You don’t want to have to chase them to shelter them in a crate when you’re trying to get yourself to safety. 

Close your garage door. Your house is more likely to collapse once tornado winds enter your garage. So close the door. 

Charge your phone. You will need to access information if your power goes out. You will want to contact friends and family in the event a tornado strikes. 

Wear hard-soled shoes. Even if you have minor damage, there will be all sorts of hazards to your feet strewn about. You don’t want to be left barefoot. 

Essential food and medication should be in a backpack in your safe spot, or otherwise secured on your person. 

Have your driver’s license on you. That way, if your neighborhood is hit, you have proof of your address and can get back to your home. 

Have a whistle or air horn. That way, search and rescue can find you. 

A Tornado Warning means Take Cover Now — a tornado is imminent or occurring. 

Don’t go outside to see the tornado. Most of our tornadoes have very low cloud bases and are obscured by rain. You won’t see the tornado. We don’t have photogenic tornadoes like they do in the midwest or on movies such as Twister. Our storms also move fast. Don’t waste time trying to see something you won’t be able to see. 

Tornado Warnings are issued by a team of meteorologists in a local National Weather Service office. Ours is in Nashville. Tornado Warnings have a start time and an end time, although they can and often are continued or reissued. 

You know you’re in a Tornado Warning if you are inside the warning polygon. Remember from geometry class — a polygon is just a fancy word for a multi-sided shape. A polygon looks like this: 

If you’re in the red box (sometimes the box is purple), you are in the warning and should take cover. If you’re outside the red box, you’re not in the warning. 

In Davidson County, the sirens were upgraded in 2020 and now go off based on a Polygonal Alert model (rather than all sirens going off any time a tornado is spotted anywhere in the county, which was the previous system). This upgraded system will provide warnings to a focused polygonal alert area based on information coming directly from the National Weather Service. So if you hear a tornado siren in Davidson County, that means a tornado has been spotted near you, and you should take cover immediately. (Editor’s note: This paragraph has been edited from the original post, before the siren system had been upgraded. Learn more about Davidson County’s tornado siren system here.)

Sirens are not designed to be heard indoors. Do not rely on them. 

Take cover in a site-built home or structure, in a small room on the lowest floor, putting as many walls between you and the outside as possible. You will survive the most tornadoes by doing this. 

Do not try to drive away from a tornado. 

Overpasses are unsafe. 

If you’re in a mobile home, be out of it and in a safe place before the storm arrives. 

Wear your helmet. Serious injury to the head is common in a bad tornado. This is especially true for kids. The simple act of putting a helmet on them may save their life. 

Do not ignore a warning. 

Odds are the tornado will not strike you, and you will spend 30 or 45 minutes holed up with family and friends. This small inconvenience is a small price to pay for safeguarding and protecting you and your family from injury. Have a nice discussion. 

To recap:

As always, follow multiple reliable sources for severe weather information. You can get us on Twitter @NashSevereWx. You should also watch your favorite local TV station (2, 4, 5, or 17). We’ll have live coverage on Twitter with a link to watch us on YouTube Live. National providers like The Weather Channel and most forecast apps will not give you all the information you’ll need during a warning. 

Visit Nashville Severe Weather’s website here for more information on severe weather in Middle Tennessee. You can also download and print useful information on tornado survival at Ready.gov.

Guest post: A letter to our Riverside neighbors

Ben Piñon was a Hands On Nashville AmeriCorps member in 2019-2020. His Riverside neighborhood sustained significant damage during the March 3, 2020, tornado. With the help of countless volunteers, Ben and his neighbors worked to clean up, offer each other comfort, and put their lives back together. Ben also led tornado-recovery volunteer projects for Hands On Nashville across the Metro Nashville area through the end of his term in November 2020. 

Ben Piñon

By Ben Piñon

I’m going to miss Dave. I’ll miss each of you too, don’t get me wrong. But I’m really going to miss Dave. 

Dave would walk his tiny but feisty little dog past our house every day after work. Princess, he calls her. I’ll miss the care in Dave’s eyes every time he would repeat his signature phrase: “Anything you need, just call me, you got my number.” 

Every so often Dave would stop by with a box or two of donuts, leftovers from the store he manages. One day, he brought us 17 dozen. 

“Dave, what am I going to do with all these donuts?!?” 

“Every so often Dave would stop by with a box or two of donuts, leftovers from the store he manages. One day, he brought us 17 dozen.”

“Give ‘em away. You know people.” 

I really don’t know that many people in Nashville. I wish I did. Definitely didn’t before surviving the tornado — didn’t even know Dave before then. It probably looked like I knew people as I hugged several of you on your front lawns, directed volunteers showing up to help out that first week, let our living room become a donation storage space. I was just trying to be a good neighbor. It was over so quick though, and a year later, with all but that one remarkable week under the cloud of the coronavirus pandemic, it wasn’t so easy to keep building on those connections the tornado had brought into being. 

By the time you read this, we will have left. Moved out a couple weeks short of the one-year anniversary. I write this letter from our new house, still in East Nashville, only 2 miles down the road. Far enough though that we won’t simply run into each other anymore. Far enough that Dave can’t stop by with the same regularity, far enough that we’ll be just as anonymous to our new neighbors as we were to you 16 months ago back in October of 2019 when we packed up the car in Oregon and landed two weeks later, by some weird twist of fate, on East Nashville’s Riverside Drive. 

I imagined a whole lot for us even before the leaves on the broken branches had lost their color. It’s what we dreamers do. I imagined us having big block parties, coffee and tea in each other’s living rooms, emotional community forums, the fences separating us never getting rebuilt. I wanted us to be good neighbors. To stay good neighbors. 

“Stay Human. On the second day of the cleanup, I borrowed a can of spray paint and on a piece of plywood that used to live under your roof I wrote those two words as big as I could for the world to see.”

Recovery is not glorious as you well know. It’s not a neat fairy tale that magically ends happily ever after. I’m not sure it ever really ends. Remember how fast the tornado made us the center of attention? How we became yesterday’s news just as quickly? The world keeps turning, my friends, and it turns brutally. Another, bigger crisis made our situation no easier to solve and much easier to overlook. Some of you still haven’t moved back in. Some of you ended up out of work, out of money, low on your dignity. You lost family members, friends, or mentors since then, all while houses were still being repaired, developers were hawking, and landlords were itching to sell, raise the rent, or build back those destroyed rentals around the corner taller, skinner, and more expensive than the old tenants could afford. Just like you can’t stop a tornado from coming, you can’t just put all the pieces back together again once it’s passed. If that was the goal, we’ve lost. 

One of my favorite musicians has this song — “Stay Human.” On the second day of the cleanup, I borrowed a can of spray paint and on a piece of plywood that used to live under your roof I wrote those two words as big as I could for the world to see. 

The song starts like this: “I remember when I was just a boy, Mama said this world was not always a paradise.” Ain’t that the truth. 

I get sad sometimes about what might have become but never did, I can’t lie. But I also don’t feel like we lost. 

We may not have gotten our fairy tale, but we did what we had to do to keep moving. For me, it was growing a garden in our freshly cleared backyard — never before did it have the sunlight or open space to support one. We called it our farm. Like good neighbors, you graciously took all the cucumbers and cherry tomatoes we didn’t adequately prepare for off our hands. 

“Don’t you give up on me,” the song continues. “’Cause I won’t give up on you.” 

“You let us join your cookout on July 4th, gave us plates of leftovers to take home, treated us like family.”

How could I? You painted tree stumps with words of encouragement, so we stopped by on our walks to say hello, a thank you of sorts, only to receive even more nuanced advice on life. You let us join your cookout on July 4th, gave us plates of leftovers to take home, treated us like family. You were genuine with us, speaking openly on the pain of losing an adult daughter or son. And Dave, your vulnerability in sharing with me stories of the harassment you faced growing up Black in Nashville in the ’60s and ’70s, that was a real gift. You and so many of the neighbors held onto your generosity, your sincerity, and your humanity through just about everything. 

“All I’m trying to do, is stay human with you.” 

I found a lot of joy and comfort in sharing the same three square blocks of real estate with y’all for as long as it lasted. At least for me, being your neighbor helped me stay human through some strange times. I’m grateful to all of you for that. I can only wish some of that same peace befalls you as all our lives keep moving forward, if only just a little further apart. Oh, and I wish you some more good neighbors now that we’re gone. You deserve good neighbors. 

New children’s book examines what was gained and lost during 2020 tornado

The House the Storm Built is a new children’s book written by Rebecca Rose Moody and illustrated by Lauren Reese. The book describes the effects of the deadly tornado outbreak on March 3, 2020, which devastated multiple neighborhoods and killed several Middle Tennesseans. The destructive storms caused extensive damage, including to Lauren’s home, which has had to be rebuilt. 

Hands On Nashville talked with Lauren and Rebecca about the book and how they’ve been doing in the year since the tornado. 

Q: It’s been a year since the tornado. How are you doing? 

Rebecca: What made March 2020 so hard is that we, like so many other families, went straight from processing the tornado to being in lockdown. Our home wasn’t hit in the tornado, but Lauren and her family are some of our closest friends, so that night I remember getting a text from her that her house had been damaged and that the roof was collapsing — it was very surreal. The next day my husband and I went to help them move everything out, and just later that week schools started closing down due to the pandemic. It’s been a year unlike any other, with lots of personal losses.  

Lauren: It’s pretty surreal that it’s been a year since the tornado. My family has spent this year processing and hopefully minimizing the trauma through therapy and open discussions. My children struggle a little when big storms hit and my daughter wanted to make sure we built a safe place in our new home where we could go if another tornado hit. There’s still a lot that hasn’t been processed. We had so much help the first few days after the storm and then everyone went into quarantine. We’ve been in a rental home for almost a year and can count on our hands how many visitors have been over. It’s been extremely isolating. We went from this crazy natural disaster, moving, a global pandemic, figuring out virtual school, trying to get through the steps of rebuilding a home, etc. It feels as though we have been holding our breath all year. Though I’ve had a few good cries, I think once I officially move back into our home (on the same lot as our last), I’ll probably cry and let out a big breath in relief. 

Why did you make this book? 

“The House the Storm Built,” by Lauren Reese and Rebecca Rose Moody, is a children’s book about the March 2020 tornado in Nashville.

Rebecca:  Lauren is one of my closest, dearest friends, and I wanted to write this story as a tribute to her experience in the tornado. The night of the tornado, I was so scared for her and her family, but she is one of the strongest people I know, and has handled losing her house and living in a rental while her new home is being built, with an extraordinary amount of grace — and this is, of course, in addition to the pandemic. Lauren is an amazing mother, so many of her efforts have been geared towards helping her children process everything they’ve been through. Hopefully this book will be a small part of their journey as they continue healing from a very difficult year. And hopefully it can help other families too.  

Lauren: Pretty much what Rebecca said! She wrote the story and sent it to me. I read it out loud to my husband and we teared up! It is such a sweet story and it captures all the feelings of fear, impatience, uncertainty, hope, love, and excitement. I read the story and we knew we had to make a book! I started to illustrate each page and it was extremely cathartic. From painting my old house and remembering beautiful moments to imagining my new home, it was all a wonderful and healing process! I hope this book brings healing to our family but also to so many others who may have been through a natural disaster. 

Do you volunteer? What does volunteering mean to you? 

Rebecca: I have volunteered with Hands on Nashville before and I appreciated how easy it was to find a volunteer opportunity that was a good match for my energy level and abilities. For me, volunteering is all about showing up for one’s community, either by cleaning up a creek or park or by helping an individual or family. It is so important that we take care of each other, and I love that Hands On Nashville and other volunteer organizations make that possible when it’s a stranger or other neighborhood that is in need.  

Lauren: I too have volunteered with Hands on Nashville in the past and other volunteer organizations. Recently, with young children, it hasn’t been as easy, but we still find ways to help those around us. It doesn’t take much to give up some time or money to those who are in need. After the tornado, I wanted to help other victims. My husband was able to tarp roofs, remove debris, etc., but I was in too much shock. I spent that week sitting with my neighbors, listening to their stories, giving them space to cry and laugh. In these moments, I built connections that are still strong now! I learned the needs of those around me and I was able to connect them to those who could help. We were able to get D a brand new roof with a church group, and B’s brother new furniture for his home (this was all done through social media and word of mouth!). I haven’t been able to join a volunteer group in awhile but I’ve volunteered my time to help meet the needs of my community. 

Pre-order The House the Storm built here. A portion of the book’s proceeds will go to support Hands On Nashville, whose mission is to meet community needs through volunteerism.  

Guest post: Strategies for dealing with storm anxiety

Note from Hands On Nashville: The following post, written by licensed professional counselor Samuel Rainey, originates on the Nashville Severe Weather website, and is a useful guide for folks who feel anxious when thinking about or experiencing storms. As we mark one year since the devastating March 3, 2020, tornados, many are feeling strong emotions, including anxiety, about potential severe spring weather. We hope this post helps provide some context and useful information about how to handle stress that’s connected to storm anxiety. 

By Samuel Rainey via Nashville Severe Weather (shared with permission)

There’s a feeling it’s always storm season. I have a general appreciation for storms and a healthy respect about what they can do. Sometimes, my respect for the storms can make me feel a little crazy as I attempt to corral my wife and four kids into the tiny coat closet under our stairs. Each time we do this, I’m reminded of being 4 years old in my childhood home in Arkansas. A tornado was on its way, I’m in the bathtub with my siblings, and my parents have just put the twin mattress on top of us. It was a terrifying experience. Today, we don’t have room for a twin mattress, so I put bike helmets on my kids. My teenagers are especially appreciative of me when I make them put these on.  

Most people I know have a strong reaction to storms. They either love them, or hate them. I think this is because storms remind us that we are small, fragile, and incredibly powerless. Despite some really bad movie plots about weather and storms, the bottom line is that there’s really nothing you or I can do about a storm. We can’t change the direction, alter the intensity, or tell it to stop producing dangerous results. To many of us, that is a really scary experience, even to the point of creating anxiety as a storm approaches.  

Feeling anxious about storms is completely normal, and it doesn’t mean that anything is wrong with you. It’s natural to experience a wide range of emotions: from panic to stress to a general unease as a storm comes your way.  

Stress limits the body’s production of serotonin (the happy, calming chemical). We all need serotonin to feel good, safe, and happy in life. Instead of serotonin, our body produces adrenaline. Adrenaline is the chemical that amps us up for survival, a fight, or to face a threat. Storms are a legit threat to our lives and our brains don’t really care if we’re happy or calm. Our brains think serotonin won’t save us, but adrenaline might. So we lose that happy, calming chemical, and end up on edge. Stressed. 

Because we are small, fragile, and limited humans, we are deeply impacted by our surroundings. When a storm pops up, it can trigger significant feeling unsafe. At a basic level, our brain knows that when a storm is near, it has to gear our body up for a fight. Because of this, we’ve got to take care of ourselves so we can handle the incoming storms.  

Three Strategies to Combat Storm Anxiety: Preparation, Process, and People 

Preparation  

Fear is the feeling that there is danger near and that we need to do something about it. So prepare for the fear by assembling a storm kit you take with you to your “safe space” in your home. You might also consider putting a smaller kit in your car in the event a storm arises when you’re not at home. This storm kit will have everything you need before, during, and after a storm. 

Your kit needs to have:  

  • Water 
  • Something nonperishable to eat (Twinkies don’t count) 
  • First aid (Band-Aids, Neosporin, etc.) 
  • Flashlight 
  • Socks 
  • A picture of loved ones 

Optional items to include:  

  • Battery-operated handheld radio 
  • Cell phone batter recharger and cable 
  • Something to do/a project (a craft, knitting, drawing, bourbon tasting, Solitaire with a deck of cards, etc.) 
  • A weighted blanket: These work in the same way that a “thunder jacket” works with a dog, or how swaddling a baby makes them feel safe and secure. A weighted blanket helps provide external stimuli that can produce serotonin (the calming chemical). 

Process 

When stress happens, we need a process to follow to calm us down. Developing a process to follow each time a storm arises will help you to move out of reactivity. A process will comfort you.  Your process needs to become a habit you practice every time a storm comes. This routine will help you trust in something other than the “impending doom” of the storm. You’ll have a process to comfort you. 

Some processes to follow:  

  • Put your storm preparation kit in an accessible place near your safe room.  
  • Limit information intake: Smartphones are great for information, but sometimes too much information is actually more stressful. Flooding our mind with too much information can heighten the feelings of anxiety. Pick one or two sources of information to follow. Watch local TV or reliable social-media feeds.  
  • Do something along with watching the weather feed. (Projects listed above) 
  • Gratitude Jar: At the end of each severe weather threat you encounter, get a notecard and write down the date, time, and experience you had in this particular storm. Get a Ziploc bag and deposit the notecard in the bag. We are going to call this your victory bag. In the future when a storm is near and you’re getting nervous or afraid, get your kit (below), open the victory bag, and read through all of the storms that you’ve not just survived, but thrived. This will be a process for you to remember that you are ok.  

Remember, storms do their thing, and we need to do our thing. Experiment with some processes to follow and find what works for you. 

People 

This is the most important of the three strategies: we need people in our lives. We need people not just when weather happens, but when other emotional storms show up in our lives. One of my favorite authors, Frederick Buechner, says this, “Welcome to the world, where beautiful and terrible things will happen.”  

We’re not made to deal with the beautiful and terrible things on our own. This is the reason why Tom Hanks’ character in the movie “Cast Away” creates a friend out of a volleyball. He can’t live in isolation on that island. From an existential standpoint, anxiety is about being isolated. At some level we all fear being left, abandoned, betrayed, or alone by ourselves. Nervousness and worry come from a legitimate fear we have that has not been taken care of. Fears are natural to being human, and when we don’t tend to the needs associated with our fears, they can transform into life controlling worry, and sometimes even anxiety.  

The single best way to help combat storm anxiety is to be known. To be with other people. Surround yourself with people who you can care about, and who care about you. If you live alone, call someone or get on a video call with them. We are better equipped to handle difficult situations when we know that someone else is with us to face the danger. It’s amazing what happens to our stress when someone who cares about us holds our hand or gives us a reassuring hug.  

It might be that your storm anxiety is alerting you to your need to have more people involved in the difficulties of your life. Growth is a relational experience. We don’t grow in isolation; we grow because of relationships. 

Following these three strategies won’t solve all your storm related problems, but they are a great next step for you to take. If you only do one of the three above ideas, please invite people into your life. I know of no better way to reduce my own situational anxiety than having someone help me carry the burden I’m facing. 

Lastly, if you find that this anxiety you’re experiencing happens in other places of your life (work, relationships, making decisions, etc.) then it might be helpful to talk to a professional counselor about that. 

Follow Nashville Severe Weather on Twitter: @NashSevereWx.

It may be cold now, but spring is almost here! Check out these outdoorsy volunteer opportunities coming up

Middle Tennessee feels like a frozen tundra lately, but we’ve got dreams of spring. As the days grow longer and the weather warms, lots of local organizations are planting trees, prepping gardens, and getting park and public spaces cleaned up and ready for prime time.  

Want to get out of the house for a workout that will also help beautify the city? Here are some upcoming volunteer opportunities soon blooming near you: 

Prep the BELL Garden for the upcoming growing season (several shifts)

The Bellevue Edible Learning Lab is gearing up for another growing season and needs community engagement! The garden serves as teaching and learning lab for volunteers, students of Bellevue Middle Prep, and for the community. No gardening experience is necessary. Children are allowed with adult supervision.  

SIGN UP HERE (several shifts available) 

Clean out the Inspiritus gardens in preparation for planting (multiple dates)

The Inspiritus Healthy Garden Program empowers families in public and subsidized housing to grow their own food in raised-bed gardens right outside their doors. Volunteers are needed to clean out the gardens and prepare them for spring planting. Inspiritus will provide tools — just dress warmly and bring gloves! 

SIGN UP HERE (several shifts available) 

Take back the earth from invasive species during Weed Wrangle (March 6, multiple locations)

Nothing says spring’s coming like the annual Weed Wrangle! Hundreds of people will take to parks and public spaces to pull up invasive plant species — honeysuckle, privet, winter creeper, and more. Weed Wrangle is being held in Shelby Bottoms, Cumberland Park, Two Rivers Park, Harpeth Hall, Forest Hills, Cheekwood, Owl’s Hill, and Warner Parks.   

BROWSE LOCATIONS AND SIGN UP HERE  

Replenish the urban canopy with Nashville Tree Foundation (March 3 and March 6)

NTF’s Releaf 2020 campaign aims to restore Nashville’s canopy, which took a huge hit during the March 3, 2020, tornado. Two upcoming events will help establish trees in East Nashville. Both opportunities are family friendly and allow for children as young as 6 to participate if they are accompanied by an adult.  

SIGN UP FOR MARCH 3 HERE (East Nashville) 
 
SIGN UP FOR MARCH 6 HERE (Shelby Park) 
 

Help beautify Radnor Lake State Park (several dates in spring, summer, and fall)

Volunteers are needed to build and mulch trails, remove invasive plants, and occasionally to help clean trash out of the park and streams. The work can be strenuous but it’s very rewarding to support such a beautiful state park right here in our back yard. Projects happen rain or shine. 

SIGN UP HERE 

Help Turnip Green Creative Reuse establish a community garden (Feb. 20)

Volunteers will get their hands dirty to help build out a community garden and outdoor learning space in Wedgewood-Houston. Activities may include creating composting and rainwater collection site, building and maintaining garden beds from reusable materials, and building pollinator hotels from recycled materials. 

SIGN UP HERE (full but you can join the waiting list)  
 

Friends of Shelby Park small tree planting (Feb. 20)

Volunteers will transplant seedlings from the tree nursery to their forever homes in Shelby Park, which was hit hard by the March 3, 2020, tornado.  

SIGN UP HERE (full but you can join the waiting list)