Tag Archives: AmeriCorps

AmeriCorps Q&A: Stephen Decker, Refugee Cultural Orientation Specialist

Working with Hands On Nashville and Volunteer Tennessee, Catholic Charities of Tennessee welcomed two AmeriCorps members for the 2016-2017 term. As his term came to a close, we asked Steven Decker, refugee cultural orientation specialist, to share thoughts about what he’ll take away from a year of service.

Is there a community project or moment in the past year that particularly resonated with you? Why?

I always was trying to improve my cultural orientation class by working with community organizations and PSOs that could help me develop new materials for the class. My outreach to the Metro Nashville Police Department resulted in much more than I expected; not only did we get some great information and materials to pass on to clients, but with MNPD’s help, I was able to organize a field trip for clients. They met police officers in Nashville and learned more about the role of the police in American society. This was the kind of community building I came to AmeriCorps in order to do, and I was glad to see my outreach efforts bear fruit.

What has been the most challenging part of your term so far?

The political dimensions surrounding refugee resettlement in the U.S. right now make working in an agency like Catholic Charities awfully interesting, to say the least. With funding cuts and other related changes, we are down to a skeleton crew compared to the staff we had, but are still expected to deliver the same level of service to our clients within the same kind of timelines as before. Lucky for us, we have a great staff that has banded together to weather the storm. It’s a great team that continues – and will continue in the future, I’m sure – to perform ordinary, everyday miracles!

What about the most rewarding? 

There are two answers I could provide for this question. The first thing I’d mention is the chance to work with some remarkable people who have overcome terrible hardships, and yet could teach many of us a thing or two about compassion and respecting your fellow man. The second is helping others in the Nashville community and surrounding area better understanding the facts surrounding the refugee experience before and after resettlement. I have found the best way to fight prejudice borne of ignorance is to provide people with the means to break their own ignorance.

What do you like most about working with Catholic Charities?

This is one of the best staffs I have ever been a part of; it’s been a true privilege to work with and be counted among this group, and I have been blessed with plenty of “take-aways” or lessons I can apply to my future work from this experience.

What’s something you didn’t expect about living in Nashville?

T-R-A-F-F-I-C. You can say want you want about Nashville residents, but they sure do know how to clog up a road!

Learn more about Catholic Charities of Tennessee.

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AmeriCorps Q&A: Breanna Rack, Corporate Partner Program AmeriCorps Member

By Natalie Hurd

Last August, Hands On Nashville welcomed a new class of AmeriCorps members to serve on our environmental, youth and education, and corporate teams. With the team nearing the end of the service year, they’re sharing their experiences, lessons learned and favorite memories.

As an AmeriCorps member, Breanna Rack helped direct corporate projects and create partnerships between businesses and community organizations. Now, as her AmeriCorps term comes to an end, she’s embracing a new role – as manager of HON’s corporate partner program.

Is there a community project in the past six months that particularly resonated with you? Why?

Our project with Jackson National Life Insurance at Maplewood High School built capacity for two student-led community initiatives: Project LIT Community and the Garden Club. Project LIT Community installs mini-libraries in barbershops, restaurants and community centers, focusing on neighborhoods that don’t have easy access to a public library. Volunteers built 27 libraries for Project LIT Community and sorted more than 10,000 donated books. Volunteers also created a pumpkin patch for the school garden for students to seed and have pumpkins ready to sell this fall.

What about the most rewarding?

Seeing tangible outcomes at the end of every volunteer project. I’ve always enjoyed working with people, and I love working with enthusiastic volunteers who want to make a difference and see that change at the end of the day.

This spring, at a school in south Nashville, we created a rain garden outside a classroom that constantly gets flooded. Knowing that the work we do makes a tangible difference and improves the lives and work of people in the organizations we serve makes each day rewarding.

Can you share some advice for someone who is considering AmeriCorps or nonprofit work?

Nonprofits demand a really diverse skill set, which can be challenging at first but rewarding in the long run. AmeriCorps is a great way to learn a lot of skills in a short amount of time, and hone in on what strengths you bring to an organization. AmeriCorps members also get to see the direct impact of our work on a daily basis.

What is your favorite place to spend a Sunday afternoon in Nashville?

I’m a big brunch-er, so any brunch spot or coffee shop is my favorite place to be on a Sunday, followed by a walk in one of our local parks!

What’s something you didn’t expect about living in Nashville?

I was pleasantly surprised to see the cultural diversity. I moved here from Orlando, which is a very diverse city, and I was nervous about how I would find that community here as well. I enjoy getting to explore the neighborhoods and see what they have to offer because they are all so different and have such unique personalities.

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Introducing Hands On Nashville’s 2016-2017 AmeriCorps Members!

092816_AmeriCorps-Team-Photo--1.jpgThis Fall, Hands On Nashville welcomed a class of AmeriCorps members to serve in key impact areas. From leading projects that enhance our environment, to harnessing the power of Nashville’s corporate volunteers, each of these individuals will support Hands On Nashville in its mission to meet community needs through volunteerism.

As Breanna, Peter, Anna and Natalie get settled into their terms, we asked them about the meaning of volunteerism, what drives them to serve, and few curve balls for good measure.
Continue reading Introducing Hands On Nashville’s 2016-2017 AmeriCorps Members!

Introducing the 2015-2016 Hands On Nashville AmeriCorps Members

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Introducing Hands On Nashville’s newest team members.

This spring, Hands On Nashville welcomed a new class of AmeriCorps members to serve in key impact areas. From supporting school gardens in Nashville, to engaging youth in service-learning opportunities year-round, each of these fine folks will support Hands On Nashville in its mission to meet community needs through volunteerism.  Continue reading Introducing the 2015-2016 Hands On Nashville AmeriCorps Members

Reaching My True Potential: A Reflection of AmeriCorps Service

Ashleigh refurbishing
Ashleigh Barker refurbishing a bicycle during Hands On Nashville’s 2015 YVC Spring Break at Oasis Center.

Ashleigh Barker reflects on a year as a Hands On Nashville AmeriCorps Member.

For the last year, Ashleigh Barker has served as Hands On Nashville’s YVC Outreach AmeriCorps Member. In this role, Ashleigh has poured her heart and energy into connecting Nashville youth and teens, many of whom attend Metro Nashville Public Schools, to meaningful service opportunities designed to help them grow as leaders in their own right. From guiding a team of Youth Volunteer Corps interns who develop and lead their own service projects at area nonprofits, to facilitating a dynamic service-learning Summer Camp educating young Nashvillians in multiple issue areas, to creating social-networking content and the regular youth newsletter, Ashleigh has made a lasting impact in the lives of youth leaders, and those they benefit.

During her final week at Hands On Nashville, Ashleigh offered this reflection of her time as an AmeriCorps Member. Continue reading Reaching My True Potential: A Reflection of AmeriCorps Service

Reflection: Chase Davenport, A Home Energy Savings VISTA

Chase Davenport
Thank you, Chase!

Chase Davenport joined Hands On Nashville’s Home Energy Savings Program (HES) team in May 2014 as an AmeriCorps VISTA. Hailing from Humboldt, Tennessee, Chase earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Austin Peay State University in 2013 before embarking on this next chapter. The decision to serve as a VISTA, Chase said, felt like the right thing to do.

“I wanted to do something more meaningful with my life,” he said. “I’d been accepted into a Master’s program at American University in Washington, D.C., but something told me this opportunity with AmeriCorps and Hands On Nashville was important. Grad school could wait.”

Chase led many capacity-building efforts for the HES program during his term. He developed relationships with homeowners, scheduled energy audits, added insulation to homes, led 300 volunteers, and engaged the community and other nonprofits to expand the impact the projects could have on the quality of life for homeowners.

“I didn’t know how to do many of the standard tasks performed during HES,” Chase said of his start. “The challenging aspect of my term wasn’t learning a new trade; it was seeing week-to-week how Nashville homeowners who are elderly, veterans, or who have limited mobility, struggle financially to pay for things like medicine, food, transportation.”

With Hands On Nashville, Chase worked to make a difference for those community members. During Chase’s year of project leadership and community engagement, 50 homeowners received energy-efficiency upgrades. On average, homeowners experience $455 dollars in utility savings each year as result of this work.

In March, Chase was accepted to Teach for America, where he’ll be serving as a teacher with Metro Nashville Public Schools. “Really, it’s just another way I can help others. That’s what I feel strongly about, and that’s what I intend to continue doing.”

Chase’s term with Hands On Nashville ends this May. Thank you, Chase, for an outstanding year of service to Nashvillians as a Home Energy Savings VISTA – you truly made a difference. We wish you the best in your future endeavors!

Please Join us in Welcoming our Newest Team Members!

Over the last few months, we’ve welcomed three new AmeriCorps members to the Hands On Nashville team! Charlotte, Nicholas, and Ashleigh will all play leading roles in supporting Hands On Nashville’s Youth Volunteer Corps (YVC), which offers year-round service-learning opportunities to inspire and empower youth ages 11 to 18 to create meaningful community change. Continue reading Please Join us in Welcoming our Newest Team Members!

Think, Work, Serve. More Than Just a Motto.

By Erika Burnett, Hands On Nashville’s Service Learning Manager at TSU —

I chose to attend Tennessee State University because of its rich legacy as a Historically Black College and University. TSU, like most HBCUs, is located in the heart of the inner city. Historically, Black colleges were founded in areas inhabited primarily by minority populations, and those who were most vulnerable and lacking resources. For their local communities, these universities served as an academic resource, a place of employment, medical, and legal assistance, and a pillar of pride. HBCUs were established to have a direct impact on their communities through service!

Visiting with youth from Meeting Point Kampala - a school & orphanage in Uganda - during a field day sponsored and coordinated by a group of Vanderbilt students.

The words “Enter to learn, go forth to serve” are inscribed on the front of the building where I spent the majority of my time during my matriculation. Of course I learned that hard work and academic rigor has its rewards. But the most meaningful lessons were those not found in my text books: the essence of leadership is servitude; community is more than a geographical proximity; service has no end, there is always more to do, more to give, more to strive to change. To find ourselves we must first lose ourselves in worthy causes. I found myself and my passion through service.

My passion led me to serve as an AmeriCorps member, to East Africa as an advocate, and drove my work at the Oasis Center here in Nashville as a program coordinator, among many other pursuits.

Tackling the invasive plants at Radnor Lake during a recent service opportunity with TSU students.

My journey has now come full circle as I currently serve as the Service Learning Manager at TSU.  I recently led a volunteer project at Radnor Lake with a group of students. The weather was cool, the sky was cloudy, and it was a Friday afternoon! The odds were NOT in our favor. Yet, it was a most fulfilling experience to watch 15 young adults (many of whom had never been exposed to this type of environment) excited as they learned why invasive plants are harmful and their eagerness to remove them! One student shared her thoughts: “the overall experience was great and I walked away knowing I made an improvement, served the community, and learned why and how my help was appreciated.”

In Jena, Louisiana, in 2007, rallying in support of racial justice after the Jena 6 incident.

Whether it’s walking to Samaritan Ministries to serve lunch, hosting an HIV awareness campaign, or feeding the stray dogs that roam around campus, TSU students are being the change they want to see in their local Nashville community and in the world. As my alma mater celebrates its Centennial year, I am grateful to serve as a bridge connecting thinking to service. I am encouraged, that without publicity or notoriety, without titles or accolades, Tennessee State University continues to cultivate a spirit of leadership as students enter to learn, and go forth to serve.

A walk (and a smile) for breast cancer awareness. Who says volunteering always has to be so serious?!

As Service Learning Manager at Tennessee State University, Erika Burnett oversees the collaboration between Hands On Nashville and TSU to engage university students in meaningful volunteer service throughout the Nashville community. Previously, Erika worked at the Oasis Center as a Youth Engagement Program Coordinator. Prior to Oasis Center, she worked as the Community Outreach Coordinator for the YWCA of Middle Tennessee. A graduate of Vanderbilt and TSU, Erika loves to dance and is the co-founder of a ministry-based dance company. She re-joined Hands On Nashville’s staff in September 2011 after completing her AmeriCorps term at HON in 2007. Learn more about Hands On Nashville’s collaboration with TSU or e-mail erika@hon.org.