Tag Archives: East Nashville

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. 

Trees for a Healthier Nashville


Guest Post by Jennifer Smith, Horticulturist, Metro Public Works, Beautification & Environment Commission, Landscape Coordination Program.

Did you know that trees are vital to a healthy Nashville? From clean air to the reduction of temperatures, trees are working for us. For the environment, trees are an effective tool in managing storm water runoff and controlling erosion and they provide wildlife habitat. Continue reading Trees for a Healthier Nashville

Nonprofit Partner Spotlight: Martha O’Bryan Center

Martha O'Brien Center logo“When I finished my G.E.D., I decided I wanted to go to college,” says Michelle McCann. “The Martha O’Bryan Center was right there helping me complete applications and take the necessary steps I needed to get accepted.”

McCann’s dream is to become a social worker. She wants to help people struggling with poverty, just as the Martha O’Bryan Center helped her. “[Recently] I found out that I have been accepted to attend Berea College in Kentucky on a full scholarship. Martha O’Bryan has been there with me for this ride for as long as I can remember, through my falls and through my strengths.”

Volunteers work with children served by the Martha O'Bryan Center.
Volunteers work with children served by the Martha O’Bryan Center.

Every day, the Martha O’Bryan Center empowers people just like Michelle McCann to realize their full potential. On a foundation of Christian faith, the Martha O’Bryan Center serves children, youth, and adults in poverty, enabling them to transform their lives through work, education, employment, and fellowship.

The families served by Martha O’Bryan in Cayce Place – Nashville’s oldest, largest, and poorest public housing development – and the surrounding East Nashville area are faced with multiple barriers to success. They live in extreme poverty, in a high-crime area, and do not have ready access to transportation or technology options. Martha O’Bryan also serves families from the CWA Plaza Apartments, a development that houses 803 residents (55% under the age of 18; majority are single-parent, female heads of households). A rapidly increasing immigrant population also characterizes these apartments with around 35% being Somali or Sudanese.MOB IMG_3012

Volunteers play a critical role in the Center’s day-to-day activities. Here are just a few of the ways energetic people like you can help:

> Click here to view all of the opportunities to help support the Martha O’Bryan Center! 

VolunTEEN: Seeing the Yield of Your Crop

Emily headshotGuest Post by Emily McAndrew,
HON VolunTEEN Summer Youth Leader

Emily McAndrew, a rising junior at Merrol Hyde Magnet School, wanted to be a Summer Youth Leader so that she could learn how to be a better leader while helping others. Emily chose to focus on hunger because she wants to teach youth that the issue is not just something that exists in developing countries.

When volunteering, if you aren’t working directly with the person or people you are helping, it can be difficult to fully grasp the impact of your efforts.

While organizing food in the freezing coolers of the Second Harvest Food Bank as an HON Summer Youth Leader, I did not realize how much my work and the work of my fellow volunteers truly meant until I got to work at the East Nashville Cooperative Ministry (ENCM), a recipient of food donations from Second Harvest.

ENCM’s mission is to improve health and welfare of the residents of the East Nashville community. They do this by offering healthy meals, food, and other necessities to people in the area. The ministry is one of two recipients of Second Harvest that do not accept cakes or dessert items.

My group has helped in the garden and has cooked for the clients of ENCM. My favorite part of the projects was to help cook. The food that is cooked is a combination of produce from the garden and donated items from Second Harvest. It is so cool to think that the food I was preparing one day could have been the same food that I was organizing the day before! What I have learned from my experiences so far as a Summer Youth Leader is that volunteering always has an impact on someone, whatever the task may be. I urge everyone in the community to volunteer and make their own impact.

Learn more about HON’s VolunTEEN program here!

Volunteers preparing some amazing burgers!
Volunteers preparing some amazing burgers!

HON Home Energy Savings Program recognized for its innovation & impact on the community

Last night, the Hands On Nashville team was thrilled to receive the Frist Foundation: Innovation in Action Award at the Salute to Excellence Awards. (This event is like the Grammy’s for nonprofits in Nashville produced by the Center for Nonprofit Management.)

HES volunteers cut insulation wrap (this is good for insulating water heaters, leaky holes, and providing additional insulation elsewhere in the home.)

Hands On Nashville’s Home Energy Savings (HES) Program was recognized for its innovation in making a real difference for those in need. We are so proud of the volunteers and dedicated HON staff members who have worked hard since the HES Program launched in February 2011 to make this program a success for our community. HON received an award of $20,000 that will be invested into the HES program. This translates into eight homes that will be safer, more efficient, and more comfortable for Nashvillians in need during weather extremes!

The HES Program engages volunteers in making energy-efficiency upgrades in low-income, owner occupied homes in North and East Nashville at no cost to homeowners. This is the only local, volunteer-centered program to focus exclusively on energy efficiency while addressing unmet community needs.

Caulking gaps between windows and other leaky areas makes a HUGE difference in making a home more energy efficient.

After homeowners are accepted into the program, they receive an in-home energy consultation with diagnostic testing. A suite of upgrades are identified, and volunteers make improvements: insulating attics, weather stripping doors, etc.

Over the last year, more than 100 homeowners have benefited from the HES Program. As a result of volunteers’ work, homes’ air infiltration (or “leakiness”) has been reduced by an average of 24 percent. This translates into average annual utility bill savings of $300 to $700 per homeowner.

Village Real Estate volunteers spent a day last week helping a homeowner in the Chestnut Hill neighborhood make her home more energy efficient. This is a GREAT opportunity for corporate groups and others looking for a good team-building experience!

Are you interested in volunteering for the HES Program and learning how to make energy-saving upgrades in your own home? We are always looking for helping hands for our weekly projects! (No experience needed! Our amazing HES leaders are eager to show you the ropes.) This is a good fit for both individuals and groups of up to 10. Click here to learn more and sign up, or email jaclyn@hon.org.

Exactly Where I’m Supposed To Be

Guest Post by Benjamin Hammond

It was a privilege to partner with Hands On Nashville in November and work alongside our motivational leader, Amy Maloney, Director of Corporate Relations for Hands On Nashville. Amy not only gave us a sense of urgency during the preparation leading up to the Extreme Nonprofit Makeover, but she also grounded every volunteer involved in the purpose of our mission. In crucial moments, she reminded us that all our efforts gave the East Nashville community hope in helping East Nashville Cooperative Ministry better able to supply emergency food, clothing, and cooking education to low-income families, at-risk youth and the homeless population.

Eric at ENCM
Eric enjoyed learning a bit more carpentry as he updated ENCM. Photo credit: Benjamin Hammond

The Extreme Makeover Day was amazing! The energy the Davita volunteers brought to the event was more than inspiring. They tackled the most tedious tasks with joy and determination. Without a doubt they accomplished skilled tasks with precision and left behind a fresh, bright, safe, functional facility and garden. It was a great feeling to be in the moment around such energy. The overwhelming feeling throughout the day was “I am exactly where I am supposed to be, today.”

Hands down the best memory of the week was working with a neighbor/client of the East Nashville Cooperative Ministry – Eric. On the first day Eric did not know how to use a measuring tape, had never seen a speed square and was  gun shy (to say the least!) when it came to our framing gun. By the end of the week, Eric not only was working with his own pencil and speed square, he was making his own measurements and cuts, and finished building the fence around the garden alone with a framing gun! What an accomplishment – He is a great guy, a hardworker, and someone that is a joy to get to know.

Eric in Action at ENCM
Eric constructs the entryway desk for ENCM. Photo credit: Benjamin Hammond

In mid-November, hundreds of corporate and community volunteers descended on East Nashville Cooperative Ministry, a nonprofit that helps the elderly, poor, disabled, unemployed, and disadvantaged with emergency food assistance and access to clothing. They painted, hammered, cleaned, and planted, and it resulted in an incredible makeover for the organization’s facility. This project would not have been possible without the help of several volunteers who shared their time and professional expertise. Benjamin Hammond, owner of Hammond Contracts, was one of the skilled volunteers who played a critical role in making this project a success. Benjamin served as an integral leader for the highly skilled projects, including demolition and trim work, custom shelving for the food pantry, interior and exterior tables, and a 154-foot fence around the garden. Thank you to Benjamin for his time and talent, and for sharing his experiences via this post.

ENCM finished room
ENCM is now completely remodeled, thanks to all the hard work of 200+ volunteers and several sponsors. Way to go!

Interested in learning how you can share your professional or trade skills with the community? Visit Hands On Nashville’s skills-based volunteering webpage to find out.

Eat at The Wild Cow on Tuesday and Support HON!

Thanks to our friends at The Wild Cow Vegetarian Restaurant in East Nashville, Tuesday’s BE Hive Buffet will support Hands On Nashville. From 4 to 9 p.m., they’re offering an all-you-can-eat vegetarian buffet (Italian-ish!) for $10, with 15% of proceeds supporting HON in our mission to meet community needs through volunteerism.

The menu sounds tasty. (Never been? Even if you’re a meat lover, The Wild Cow works magic on veggies and tofu). They’ll be serving up tofu alfredo with butternut squash, artichoke and mushroom pesto, roasted veggie marinara, seitan parmesian, italian falafel, and more. Check it all out on the facebook event page.

The Wild Cow is located at 1896 Eastland Ave. in East Nashville.

Thanks to the folks at The Wild Cow for their support!!

Home Energy Savings Projects Help Low-income Nashville Neighbors

Still looking for an opportunity to give back this holiday season? Come on out to a low-income home in North and East Nashville and help make it more energy efficient – ultimately saving people money on utility bills!  No experience is necessary.  Scope of work includes: installing attic and wall insulation, installing CFL’s, installing sink aerators and low flow shower heads, installing reusable air filter, CO2 and smoke detector and wrapping hot water heaters.  These are great skills to know how to do to your own home too! Available dates to sign-up: 12/7, 12/14 and/or 12/21. Click here to go directly to our project calendar and reserve your spot.

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The Power of Space

“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” -Henry David Thoreau
When the folks at DaVita Kidney Care approached us about coordinating a service day for their employees during the company’s conference in Nashville, we landed on sprucing up the building that houses East Nashville Cooperative Ministry (ENCM). It was clear to DaVita that this small-but-mighty East Nashville nonprofit impacts a lot of lives, and that the building where it does so much good work – helping the elderly, poor, disabled, unemployed, and disadvantaged with emergency food assistance and empowering community wellbeing through food security – didn’t quite reflect the beauty and potential of its work. As we dug into the needs of the facility, it became clear that the building would need a complete renovation. DaVita (based in Denver, Colorado) and the Nashville community stepped up to the challenge.

For the past few days, volunteers from the community have been working through the sunshine and the rain to tear down walls, set fence posts, build scaffolding, and more. Tomorrow, 180 DaVita employees will descend on the small building on Gallatin Road to paint an exterior mural on the side of the building, construct fences and arbors for the vegetable garden, build indoor and outdoor tables, paint and install shelving, paint interior walls, and build planters. Dozens of community members will continue to volunteer over the next few days to complete the project. And on Monday, after Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee restocks its food pantry with staple food items and produce,  East Nashville Cooperative Ministry will unveil their renovated facility – a space that will enable the organization to meet the rapidly increasing demand for emergency food assistance, provide food education to the community, engage more volunteers, and improve the curb appeal of the neighborhood.

As ENCM executive director Alan Murdock says in the news release that went out yesterday, “The renovation will not only help expand our services and volunteer programs, but it will also put the agency in a position to provide more healthy food choices, and expanded gardening and cooking education to our clients and the community on a more consistent basis.” While a building certainly isn’t everything, the space within which ENCM operates will be forever changed after this week. All thanks to the vision of caring businesses and Nashville volunteers. And that’s a powerful thing.

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