Each year, Hands On Nashville celebrates Middle Tennessee’s outstanding volunteers through the Mary Catherine Strobel Volunteer Awards. More than 140 nominations have been narrowed down to 21 finalists, and now it’s time for you to weigh in!
You can help ensure these inspiring stories are seen widely by hosting a voting party for friends, family, or colleagues. Act fast because voting closes on June 15!
How to host a voting party in three easy steps:
1) Schedule a 30-minute event (virtual or in person, but you will need tech to vote) with your guests. This is plenty of time to read all of the great stories, vote for your favorite volunteer in each category, and share on social media. Here is some language to use in the invite if you’d like: Join me for a voting party! Let’s get inspired by Nashville’s amazing volunteers and help them win $1,000 to donate to the charity of their choice. You can also win a $250 Target gift card! Here is the voting page if you want a sneak peak!
2) During the event, encourage participants to share their favorite stories, favorite volunteers, and favorite agencies. This should be a fun, inspiring, high-energy voting party. Ask if guests have their own inspiring stories to share.
3) Reserve the last 5 to 10 minutes to ensure that all participants vote for one finalist in each category and then share their excitement/choice on social media — being sure to tag @HONashville. Consider posting a “group photo” from your voting party, too!
Things to remember:
You can vote for your favorite volunteer once/day from now through June 15.
Each vote automatically enters you into a drawing to win a $250 Target gift card.
The award recipient in each category will receive $1,000 to donate to the nonprofit agency of their choice!
The lucky gift card winner and the Strobel Award recipients will be announced on July 1.
NASHVILLE, Tenn.(June 1, 2021) – Hands On Nashville is pleased to announce the finalists for the 35th Annual Mary Catherine Strobel Volunteer Awards, presented by Jackson National Life Insurance Company. The 2021 Strobel Awards honor volunteers from 2020 – which saw a devastating tornado, tragic bombing and struggles from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Winners will be announced July 1 on HON’s website, social channels, and Lightning 100.
“We knew all throughout 2020 that there were extraordinary acts of service happening, so this year’s nominations did not disappoint,” said Hands On Nashville President and CEO Lori Shinton. “It was a tough year for so many but volunteers went above and beyond, and we’re so excited to honor them during this year’s Strobel Awards.”
The Strobel Volunteer Awards honor volunteers of all ages and backgrounds for significant community service achievements. This year’s celebration is being held online, and community members are invited to visit hon.org/strobel2021 to show support and vote for their favorite stories of service between June 1-15.
HON introduced two new categories this year — Social Justice Impact Volunteer and Disaster Volunteer — to acknowledge the extraordinary volunteer work that took place in 2020. A screener panel read more than 135 nominations and narrowed them down to three finalists in each category.
Congratulations to these three finalists in the Group Volunteer Service category of the 35th Annual Mary Catherine Strobel Volunteer Awards! Vote for your favorite story of service until June 15 at the button below!
Open Table Nashville’s Winter Canvassing Team Volunteers who served those experiencing homelessness by providing transportation and supplies throughout the winter
A core team of seven volunteers from Open Table Nashville’s winter canvassing team went above and beyond to serve as a consistent source of warmth for the city’s homeless population. During a particularly harsh winter, Adam Twining, Caroline Erickson, Teddy Denti, Jon Rizzo, Jacob Margason, Liz Shadbolt, Cooper March and Bob Milburn provided vital transportation and supplies, organized outreach for unhoused citizens, and ultimately helped prevent cold-weather death and injury.
Open Table Nashville is an interfaith homeless outreach nonprofit with the goal of disrupting cycles of poverty and educating the public about issues of homelessness. In 2020, the dedicated team of winter canvassing volunteers distinguished itself, battling brutal conditions amid an ongoing pandemic, to ensure that needs were met. Every night this past winter that temperatures dropped to or below 28 degrees Fahrenheit, the team performed wellness checks, distributed warming supplies and either drove homeless citizens to shelters or equipped them with the resources to stay warm in their cars or encampments.
The team also addressed homelessness from a civic perspective, including outreach to WeGo staff and Metro Councilmembers to organize supply drives and support equitable and accessible transportation for the unhoused population.
“Our volunteers are different because they show up,” said Adam Twining, Open Table Nashville staff member. “They show up when it’s not easy or glamorous, in the evenings when no one is watching them put in the work. They show up for our unhoused friends who are often in crisis mode, extremely stressed, and often need to be met with an incredible amount of grace and patience. They show up and volunteer for days in a row, even when they have jobs, families and school to also attend to.”
In 2020, the volunteers offered 782 rides to Metro Nashville’s Overflow Cold Weather shelter and 47 rides to other shelters, handed out warming supplies 912 times, and ultimately, interacted with homeless citizens a staggering 2,163 times. Their efforts meant that Nashville’s homeless community received safety, warmth and comfort during a period when those qualities seemed few and far between.
Charlotte Heights Church of Christ Volunteer Group Volunteers who provided weekly shower services and hygiene supplies with nonprofit Shower The People
Motivated by widespread need and refusing to be held back by a devastating pandemic, the Charlotte Heights Church of Christ volunteer group joined forces with local nonprofit Shower the People to provide weekly shower services and hygiene supplies for homeless Nashvillians. In doing so, they harnessed the power of collaboration to yield an exponential impact on the city.
Over the past 18 months, this group of volunteers has showed up for Shower the People’s Tuesday night shower service every week, stopping only when the COVID-19 stay-at-home order mandated it. Each week, they have fulfilled every role from picking up shower guests and connecting the water hoses, to distributing supplies and everything in between. When last year’s tornado prevented the regular service from occurring in West Nashville, this group used their church bus to drive homeless citizens to the new location, ensuring that no one would go without.
“During hot summer nights and cold winter evenings, this group shows up,” says Josh Barnett, a member of Shower the People. “As soon as the bus pulls up to service, they are unloading supplies, connecting hoses, starting the signup board – all like a well-oiled machine.”
In total, the group has provided hundreds of hours of service and even more showers to homeless citizens of Nashville. Their work demonstrates that, when it comes to meeting the need for health and human dignity, no act is too small.
Bridge Builders Nonprofit providing leadership, mentorship, academic support and networking opportunities for children and families in Nashville
Amid a devastating pandemic that has wreaked havoc on our community and, in particular, families, Bridge Builders went the extra mile for school-age children and their loved ones in 2020. The nonprofit impacted the lives of students throughout Metro Nashville Public Schools and schools in surrounding counties by connecting them to necessary resources, including free haircuts, school supplies, meals and more. Bridge Builders also continued their mentorship program for high-school-age students, equipping them with the tools and connections necessary for their transition to higher education. Through their efforts, they eased the burden for Nashville students navigating a grueling school year and experiencing a total loss of normalcy.
Bridge Builders’ efforts were not limited to students and their families. Over the past year, President Daniel Craig and the Bridge Builders organization have risen to meet the needs of the community both large and small. This included distributing bottled water and meals to senior citizens unable to leave their homes, coordinating holiday gift donations for families, and partnering with organizations like the Ronald McDonald House and Nashville Rescue Mission to further serve their members.
“Bridge Builder is a grassroots organization with limited resources,” said nominator Jessica Rich. “They’ve found ways to impact the community by partnering with organizations, community members and businesses to provide for those in need.”
“Bridge Builders Program Inc. was brought into community service by the very community we serve,” said Daniel Craig, president of Bridge Builders. “Early on, we noticed that small, seemingly insignificant acts created a ripple effect. It’s truly an honor to serve the teachers, students and senior citizens. They are the cornerstones of our community!”
One of the areas Donna is most dedicated to is the residents of the Highland Apartments. Once the pandemic hit, many nonprofits were forced to pause operations. But Donna took it upon herself to continue meeting needs however she could. She connected with the Nashville Diaper Connection to get donated diapers to mothers in need, The Nashville Food Project to feed hungry families, and was committed to finding solutions to any type of problem thrown her way. She assisted with transportation, finding clothes, citizenship classes, and even delivering babies—all while navigating many different language barriers.
Donna was inspired to begin working with refugees because of her daughter. Together they connected with The Lost Boys Foundation of Nashville, and since then Donna says their holiday tables have never looked the same.
“These young men led me into a place of being a mom for their new life in America,” Donna says.
“Once these relationships were established, many others followed from other countries as I became involved with resettlement.”
Donna reunited more than one family with their loved ones over the past year. Her nominator shared a story of a mother in Nashville whose young son was stuck in Honduras. He attempted immigrating to Texas through many dangerous means, and was eventually connected with NYC Catholic Charities to provide him a flight to Nashville. After seeing a worried mother reunite with her son, Donna and her nominator agree, it’s something you could never forget.
“My life is richer and deeper than I ever believed possible…food, culture and certainly new family continues to be grafted into my life,” Donna says. “We laugh and cry together, celebrate and mourn. I am very lucky to ‘do life’ with my immigrant and refugee family.”
Meredith McKinney Volunteers with Book’em
Volunteer Meredith McKinney created The Black Book Project, an initiative designed to get diverse books into the hands of Nashville’s kids. The Project aimed to bring in more books featuring children of color characters onto Book’em bookshelves, and raise awareness about the importance of children seeing themselves in the books they read, and celebrate the authors and publishers working to provide more diverse representation in children’s literature.
Her original goal was to donate 500 books through community donations. But, word about Meredith’s project quickly spread, and within six weeks she had brought in more than 1,000 diverse children’s books. She spread her mission through Amazon Wishlists, Facebook, and creating a weekly author spotlight where she chatted with black authors on social media, and caught the attention of publishers and other organizations working on similar efforts.
“I was drawn to volunteer and sit on the board of directors to offer service to an organization that I feel is making a massive difference in the lives of children across the city of Nashville,” Meredith says. “Literacy is a challenge for many children, and for over 1,000 children in Nashville to receive a book that represents them has impacted my life profoundly, to the point where I have committed to keep this work going!”
Meredith’s nominator says her commitment to prioritizing diversity has expanded Book’em’s program in a way it has never grown before, and added a layer of understanding and value for the children they serve to help better provide for them.
“Meredith was the project leader, donating her precious spare time with a full-time job and family to manage the initiative,” her nominator says. “The Black Book Project only happened, and became such a success, because of Meredith and her consistent, courageous work.”
Greta McClain Volunteers with Silent No Longer
Greta McClain is one of the volunteer founders of Silent No Longer Tennessee (SNLT), a nonprofit started by survivors of sexual violence, for sexual assault survivors.
SNLT’s mission is to support, empower and advocate for sexual assault survivors through the creation of safe spaces for survivors to share their story in creative ways, to provide survivors, allies and advocates the skills required to organize and advocate for themselves and others, and to dismantle stereotypes and erode the systemic causes of sexual violence through awareness, education, and the legislative process.
Greta is open about her history as a sexual assault survivor, and uses her experience to now mentor, advocate, and counsel sexual assault survivors nationwide.
“I can’t change what happened, but what I can change is how I react to that experience and how I use it to help others,” Greta says. “I firmly believe that is why God left me on this earth, and I honor Him by doing the work every day until we end sexual violence.”
Greta has also begun a podcast to further discuss social justice issues, interview activists on the front lines, and speak with musicians who use their music to inspire and create a better world. She records the her podcast, “Tones of Justice,” with her co-host, Nadeem S EL.
In addition to her work with SNLT, Greta volunteers for Enough Is Enough, Indivisible TN 2.0 , Women’s March Tennessee, Everyday Revolutionaries, Cold Patrol, Black Lives Matter, Dream Networkers, and many other groups, charities and nonprofit organizations.
“Being nominated for the Mary Catherine Strobel award is a huge honor, and was very surprising,” Greta says. “I’ve known about Mrs. Strobel’s dedication to the community, especially the unhoused community, since I was in high school and I have admired her for years. I am extremely humbled to be nominated, and even more so to be a finalist.”
Maria Amado Volunteers with The Community Resource Center
When the March 3, 2020, tornadoes hit, Maria Amado headed straight to the Community Resource Center, set up a workspace, and has barely left since. As the CRC’s board chair, she was already well positioned to help advance CRC’s mission of meeting basic needs in the Middle Tennessee community. But when 2020 brought multiple disasters to Nashville, Amado’s support for the resource hub kicked into overdrive.
She answered phones, did interviews, unloaded trucks, took supplies to their destinations, organized hundreds of volunteers, secured donations of tons of items, and even learned how to drive a forklift so she could be even more useful in the CRC’s warehouse.
“Maria lives and breathes the mission of volunteerism,” says her nominator, Cindie Burkett. “Her passion for what she does sets her apart and the community knows her by her first name for the support she has provided.”
When COVID-19 hit Middle Tennessee, many organizations and businesses paused operations. The Community Resource Center — which, at the time, had just one paid employee: their executive director — ramped up its response with Maria’s help and distributed tens of thousands of hygiene and cleaning kits to the community, as well as personal protective equipment and other items that were hard to find in the spring of 2020.
CRC became aware of 300 local military members slated to return from overseas deployment who were to begin quarantine. These soldiers had only what was in their rucksacks — no linens for their beds. Amado personally spent six hours on the phone securing 300 sets of bedding — sheets, pillows, and blankets that could be delivered in 48 hours.
When a bomb went off downtown on Christmas Day, Amado left her family and went to the CRC warehouse. Phone outages made it impossible to contact CRC’s executive director, so Amado became the sole contact for the Office of Emergency Management, and helped lead CRC’s efforts to provide food and supplies to first responders, federal agents, and survivors.
“I cannot remember a time when I was not volunteering,” Amado says. “It has been a part of my family’s life, my life, even as a child. Helping others empowers us, grounds us, feeds us intellectually and spiritually. The more we learn about the challenges our neighbors face, the easier it is for us to be the change we want to see — for us to create healthy, stable productive happy communities.”
Emergency Support Unit Nashville Office of Emergency Management
Nashville’s Office of Emergency Management Emergency Support Unit (OEM ESU) is a group of a couple dozen trained individuals who provide critical services for the city — all while many Nashvillians don’t realize they are volunteers!
Nashville’s Dive Rescue team, which handles all water rescues and recoveries — all volunteers. Nashville’s Swift Water rescue team that recently saved dozens of people during flooding — volunteers. The K9 search and rescue team that searched the rubble on 2nd Avenue for survivors after the Christmas Day bombing — volunteers. And the weather/disaster response team that helped lead recovery efforts after the March 2020 tornado — volunteers. Working alongside police, fire, and emergency medical technicians, the more than 40 men and women on the team are sometimes overlooked, because when people see them in uniform or in the news, they don’t realize these highly-trained first responders have other 9-to-5 jobs, yet put hundreds of hours in each year responding to whatever weather or emergency disasters our city faces.
During the tornado, this team was heavily involved with coordinating response and recovery efforts — everything from search and rescue to connecting survivors with resources and helping provide recovery services. When the bombing happened on Second Avenue, the team deployed to search for survivors in the rubble. The team is called out regularly to help with weather-related incidents and water-related accidents.
This team of volunteers — who come from all walks of life — has literally saved dozens of lives, helped provide physical and logistical support during disasters to Nashville residents, and regularly provides the city with services it would not otherwise have. OEM ESU saves the city hundreds of thousands of dollars a year by volunteering their services, as a majority of its members volunteer more than 200 hours a year.
“Many of our members are native Nashvillians with deep ties to this community,” says ESU’s David Crane. “Some knew Ms. Strobel and her lifetime commitment to service. We consider it an honor and privilege to be included in the list of finalists for this award bearing her name and legacy.”
Nicholas Renfroe Volunteered inNorth Nashville to assist with tornado response
When a tornado ripped through Middle Tennessee in the wee hours of March 3, 2020, Belmont senior Nicholas Renfroe immediately sprang into action. He contacted his neighbors, church board members, and fellow Belmont students, and organized a day of service. In just 48 hours, Renfroe connected 250 volunteers and arranged to shuttle them from his South Nashville church to help survivors in North Nashville clean up their devastated neighborhoods.
Renfroe then organized a monthlong dropoff where members of his church could donate essential items and nonperishable food to displaced North Nashvillians. More than 1,200 toiletries, articles of clothing, infant items, and more were distributed to survivors over the following weeks.
When COVID-19 shut down churches across the region, Renfroe developed an app for his church, Lake Providence Missionary Baptist, so that members — in particular senior citizens — could stay connected and prevent loneliness and isolation. The app will continue to connect church members for years to come.
“My faith is very important to me,” Renfroe says, “and one of the core principles of my Christian faith is services. I believe that the most common way that God answers a prayer for a miracle in the life of someone is through individuals and communities who use their gifts and talents to benefit those around them.”
Additionally, Renfroe was selected to be part of the American Cancer Society’s Men Wear Pink Campaign in October to raise awareness of breast cancer. Renfroe baked cakes and pies to sell and raised more than $2,000.
“What sets Nick apart is his willingness to meet a need even while he has other obligations to attend to,” says his nominator. “He was a senior in college, working a full-time job, and had other social and personal obligations. Time and time again, when a need arises, Nick will stop what he is doing to help.”
Congratulations to these three finalists in the Capacity-building Volunteer category of the 35th Annual Mary Catherine Strobel Volunteer Awards! Vote for your favorite story of service until June 15 at the button below!
Jena Altstatt Volunteers with Hands On Nashville
When the March 2020 tornado struck Nashville, Jena Altstatt jumped into action, immediately reaching out to Hands On Nashville to see how she could help. Once it became apparent that there was a major need for volunteer leader training, Jena wasted no time filling that role.
She quickly created training materials, put them online and administered them for days to get trained leaders out into the field. As a trusted leader and trained volunteer administrator, she used her skill to educate others so that Nashville could get the coordination and support needed to ensure recovery efforts went smoothly. Her assistance gave Hands On Nashville a much wider, organized reach in the community in the aftermath of the tornado, and helped established communication with those who needed help most.
In all, Jena trained and sent out 100 volunteer leaders to help coordinate recovery efforts, and her work was critical in amplifying the impact volunteers could have during this very chaotic time. While many people shy away from the “behind-the-scenes” roles in the face of a disaster, Jena ran at it head-on.
“I volunteer because I’m able to. I see it less as volunteering and more about participating in my community, which I think is just a part of being human,” Jena said. “I’ve worked with volunteers professionally for the past 10 years, and so I know a lot about how volunteers impact not only organizations but communities in general.”
Jena’s steady and useful presence helped to calm the Hands On Nashville staff during an incredibly trying time for the community. Her willingness to lend a helping hand made a world of difference to a hurting community.
Corrie Anderson Volunteers with Community Resource Center of Nashville
Stricken by the March 2020 tornado and its path of destruction – as well as a devastating global pandemic – Corrie Anderson felt personally inspired to do as much good as possible for Nashville’s recovery efforts. She channeled her time and energy into the Community Resource Center of Nashville (CRC), helping to raise awareness, recruit volunteers and, ultimately, maximize their level of support for the city’s most impacted populations.
For 35 years, the CRC has served as a supply line to the city’s front lines of poverty, providing partner agencies with the resources they need to offer their critical services. When last year’s tornado and the onset of the pandemic sent recovery efforts into overdrive, Corrie saw it as an opportunity to grow the nonprofit’s capabilities and meet the needs of her neighbors. She worked tirelessly to promote the CRC and recruit fellow volunteers for disaster relief. Prior to Corrie, the nonprofit had virtually no social media presence and a volunteer base of fewer than 20 people; thanks to her efforts, the CRC now has more than 120 unique volunteers each month and regular weekly and monthly volunteers. As a result of her work, the CRC is able to consistently answer the call for Nashvillians in the wake of disaster.
“I am honestly just so grateful to have had the opportunity to serve our neighbors in such a trying year,” Corrie says. “I am so inspired and motivated by everyone who volunteers and donates items, by our partner agencies who are making our city a better place every single day, by small businesses that stepped in eagerly to help, and by the leadership at the CRC. Everyone is coming together for the same purpose – to serve our neighbors, to provide support.”
Suzanne Hartness Volunteers with Legal Aid Society of Middle TN and the Cumberlands
Motivated by the cause of the Legal Aid Society of Middle TN and the Cumberlands (LAS), Suzanne Hartness made it her own personal mission in 2020 to help the nonprofit in every capacity possible. In addition to her other volunteer work, Suzanne took the initiative in event planning, fundraising, development and outreach efforts to grow the nonprofit and ensure its longevity in serving Nashville’s hardest-hit citizens.
Following her introduction to LAS, Suzanne threw herself wholeheartedly into furthering its mission of providing free legal counsel for and enforcing the legal rights of low-income and vulnerable Nashvillians. She helped plan the annual Breakfast of Champions fundraising event and secured more than $10,000 in sponsorships for LAS’ annual Campaign for Equal Justice. She also spearheaded the nonprofit’s Ambassador program, helping recruit community leaders across the state to educate the public about LAS’ services. She has also brought the support of the Middle Tennessee Chapter of Legal Administrators and its 50 member law firms to LAS – a vital addition to the organization’s stable of volunteer attorneys.
Due to her efforts and experience, LAS has already seen a significant increase in new supporters and community awareness.
“Suzanne has a full-time job but treats her volunteer work with equal importance,” said Derria Ford of LAS. “She constantly comes up with innovative ways to reach new audiences and spread the word about causes that are important to her. Her spirit has been an inspiration to our staff and board.”
“Working with the team at LAS continues to inspire me to find opportunities to ‘give back’ and to ‘lift up’ when possible,” Suzanne said. “The need for their legal services is not diminishing. I want to support them by encouraging others to get involved and in finding incremental financial resources to assist them in their efforts.”
Congratulations to these three finalists in the Direct Service—Older Adult category of the 35th Annual Mary Catherine Strobel Volunteer Awards! Vote for your favorite story of service until June 15 at the button below!
Dennis Caffrey Volunteers with Siloam Health
Dennis Caffrey serves as a Spanish Medical Interpreter at Siloam Health. Volunteering five shifts weekly, he facilitates communication between the patient and provider during a visit or clinical examination at Siloam, assists with translating written documents, makes phone calls for nurses, and trains new medical interpreters who go on to become great volunteer interpreters themselves.
Dennis began this work in 2010, and has been volunteering longer than the majority of Siloam Health’s staff. In 2020 he reached the milestone of 5,000 hours served with Siloam, completing 500 of those last year alone, amid a pandemic.
He started to learn Spanish when he was 8-years-old, and advanced his knowledge of the language throughout college. Dennis spent 15 years of his Air Force career working in and with Latin America. Shortly after retiring from the Center For Hemispheric Defense Studies at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., he and his wife moved to Murfreesboro.
“After about four months of ‘doing nothing,’ I took a course to become a medical interpreter and it was there that I learned about Siloam,” Dennis says. “It seemed like the perfect way for me to share my language and cultural skills while helping our non-English speaking neighbors deal with their health needs. That was by far the best decision I made since retirement.”
As Siloam navigated serving on the frontlines of the pandemic with an incredibly diverse patient base, Dennis was the steady go-between communicator as staff cared for COVID-19 patients, educated others about the risks of the coronavirus, and eventually began administering vaccines to patients. His help in not only interpreting one language from another but overcoming cultural barriers ensured patients felt comfortable, heard, and that their needs were being met.
“Dennis is an amazing volunteer and we could not hold ourselves to the standard of care that we do without the volunteer work that he provides,” his nominator says.
Kathy Halbrooks Volunteers with PFLAG Nashville, Open Table Nashville, Nashville Launch Pad, Planned Parenthood, and others
Kathy Halbrooks fills her days with volunteerism. She serves with PFLAG (a national support organization for LGBTQ+ people, their families, and allies), Open Table Nashville, Nashville Launch Pad, Planned Parenthood, and Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Trans Buddy Program all on a regular (if not weekly) basis.
Each of these organizations she’s chosen with care. Whether it was a result of a local political issue that gave her insight about the discrimination against members of the LGBTQ+ community, making sure everyone has accessing to safe, affordable, reproductive health care, or her aspirations to see a future where everyone has housing and live-in situations that allow their basic needs to be met.
Kathy has been an ally with the LGBTQ+ community for 19 years. In addition to her full-time job, she serves on the board of PFLAG Nashville and as the regional director for PFLAG National, and has volunteered on the board of the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition and GLSEN Tennessee.
During the pandemic Kathy continued to volunteer, despite being at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19. At Open Table Nashville she delivers food, warm blankets, and clothes to encampments around town; offers security from protestors to clients at Planned Parenthood; and provides support to transgender people during doctor appointments through VUMC’s Trans Buddy Program. In her nomination, Kathy’s nominator particularly mentioned Kathy’s heart for service when she volunteered on Christmas Eve at Nashville Launch Pad to make sure LGBTQ+ youths had a warm place to stay, food for dinner, and a present to know they are worthy.
“I, who have many privileges, have been blessed by the many people I’ve met who are brave, resilient, loving, and compassionate,” Kathy says. “I’m grateful for every person whose life has touched mine, even for the briefest moment.”
Stephen Kohl Volunteers with UpRise Nashville
UpRise Nashville is a career development program that provides training in highly sought-after skills along with leadership and personal development, to give Nashvillians a way to stop living paycheck to paycheck and launch a career. Many of their emerging leaders, (referred to as leaders) come from low-income situations, and travel across the city to attend programs with UpRise. Often, these leaders face transportation issues, whether it’s not having their own vehicles, money for public transportation, or the means to manage working, childcare, and attending classes.
Facing these challenges is where Stephen Kohl has lent his talents, and has since become an invaluable volunteer to the UpRise program.
Stephen is a full-time commercial photographer, with an extensive knowledge of vehicles and mechanical repairs. Over the last two years, he has single-handedly repaired six leaders’ cars at no cost and transformed three cars donated to UpRise into reliable transportation for leaders.
He has devoted about 300 hours repairing cars to ensure leaders can get to class, childcare services, and ultimately, their new jobs. Stephen has never turned down a challenging repair, and is always a phone call away (even while on vacation). He assesses a vehicle’s issues, buys car parts, and willingly repairs as necessary.
“Uprise is a ministry facilitated by my church, so being able to serve this organization is very personal for me,” Stephen says. “I’m called upon to help get vehicles in working order for Uprise participants, and some of the cars have proven quite challenging for me, a self-taught mechanic. However, this opportunity has exponentially grown and expanded my skill set, and helping make sure Uprise participants have reliable vehicles has been the most rewarding part.”
The energy Stephen has spent not only repairing used vehicles, but shopping around the metro area for quality used parts remains invaluable to leaders and their families. Stephen owns his own company, yet continues to volunteer with transportation challenges on a weekly basis.
Teaka Jackson Volunteers with Love Thy Neighbors, and multiple other community organizations
Teaka Jackson is an active community member who has fully embodied what it means to care for others. Whether it’s organizing a Valentine’s Day sock drive for seniors, raising awareness during National Autism Awareness Month, acting as a Court Appointed Special Advocate for Children (CASA), or responding in the wake of a disaster, her compassion extends to all kinds of people.
Teaka credits her caring heart to her family. Community involvement was a large part of her childhood, and she remembers consistently volunteering and supporting various charitable causes and organizations.
“As I grew into adulthood my passion became more evident and I knew volunteer service was apart of my purpose leading me to fight for the most vulnerable people and communities by contributing a significant amount of my time, energy, and resources,” she says.
Teaka founded Love Thy Neighbors, which is geared toward engaging the community through programming, events and initiatives that will aide in providing education, tools, resources and opportunities.
In addition to her nonprofit, she is active with organizations like Autism Speaks, Tennessee Justice Center, America Cancer Society, Hands On Nashville, Nashville Rescue Mission, Second Harvest Food Bank, Susan G. Komen, Nashville Cares, the Martha O’Bryan Center, the YWCA, American Red Cross, Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network, and Prevention Alliance of Tennessee.
Teaka was also selected for Nashville’s Black 40 under 40 Award for 2020, and is the recipient of the Mayor’s Advisory Committee for People with Disabilities Award in conjunction with the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center.
“Volunteer service has impacted my life in many ways,” Teaka says. “It has provided me the opportunity to make significant contributions to building a sense of unity and purpose in the community that will aide in improving the lives of others. By volunteering I have gained a unique sense of purpose which manifests in all areas of my life.”
Laura Prechel Volunteers with RARE Rescue and Charlie’s Angels Saving Animals
Laura Prechel has dedicated her life to saving animals from kill shelters in rural Tennessee. Last year she saved more than 2,800 animals from being euthanized, and commits to driving three transports per week to rescues in other states.
“Laura is a one of a kind,” says her nominator. “She works a full time job in real estate, all while coordinating the rescue and vetting of thousands of animals a year.”
In addition to transportation, Laura fosters hard to adopt pups that wouldn’t otherwise have a chance, and often spends her own money to vet and transport these animals to rescue partners.
Education is also part of her mission. Laura engages with rural communities about various spay and neuter programs, and supplies rural rescues with necessary vaccines for homeless pets.
“Once I became aware of the volume of companion animals that are euthanized every year I felt compelled to act,” Laura says. “I began by fostering dogs and my involvement has snowballed into a life mission.”
She got involved in animal rescue five years ago, transporting Maury County shelter dogs to shelters in the Northeast that had ample space. For the past three years she’s served with RARE Rescue as the transport director, before founding her own nonprofit with a few friends, Charlie’s Angels Saving Animals. It is this program’s mission to transport at-risk animals out of Tennessee to shelters that can adequately care for and adopt out these pets.
Quickly her transport team has expanded, and now contains a pilot who is able to fly animals across the country, as well as two vans who engage volunteers to make multiple transports per week.
Savanna Rae Starko Volunteers with Gilda’s Club Middle Tennessee
Savanna Starko volunteers with Gilda’s Club Middle Tennessee, a nonprofit that provides free support to anyone impacted by cancer, in a variety of ways. Over the past year she has led a virtual meditation session twice a week via ZOOM for Gilda’s Club members. These sessions create a safe, calming space for the people of Gilda’s Club to not only practice mindfulness and relaxation, but to also make space for members to connect and share in ways that foster a sense of community, understanding, and connection.
“Teaching meditation for Gilda’s Club of Middle Tennessee has allowed me to share meaningfully of myself as a registered yoga teacher for others with cancer like me or those in their lives affected by this disease,” Savanna says. “We build connection through breath and intention that ultimately lifts us all up together.”
During the pandemic, Savanna also initiated and led Gilda’s Club’s first virtual fundraiser, a 5K that raised more than $5,000. In addition to raising important funding for the cancer support nonprofit, the event was a fun and creative way for those served to connect, and for new audiences to get to know Gilda’s Club and their mission.
Outreach has been an integral part of Savanna’s work, introducing members to new community partners like Small World Yoga, and promoting resources through Vanderbilt University.
“Savanna embodies the Mary Catherine Strobel volunteer spirit—and it shows in every single encounter she has with our Gilda’s Club community,” says her nominator. “She is always kind, encouraging, supportive and emotionally available, no matter how difficult the moment or conversation. We—and the greater Nashville community—are better because Savanna is a part of it.”
Gilda’s Club Middle Tennessee is a place where Savanna says she and her students are seen, heard, and valued as more than people affected by cancer.
“While there, we are whole and complete individuals with so much to offer from our hearts to the world,” she says.
2020 was a year like no other, full of incredible acts of service in response to multiple disasters and great community need. Thank you to the amazing volunteers nominated for the 35th Annual Mary Catherine Strobel Volunteer Awards. Read on for a full list of nominees in each category.
What’s next: We’ll announce the finalists on June 1, and the public will be able to vote for their favorite stories of service between June 1-15.
Save the date for the celebration: Join Hands On Nashville on Thursday, July 1, when we’ll announce the award recipients on our website and social channels. Sign up for our newsletter so you don’t miss any important announcements!
Recognizes individuals who provided significant operational or administrative support in 2020 to a nonprofit agency, faith-based ministry or community organization, or developed an innovative approach to significantly improve an existing program.
Colin Dudley and the team at CGI
Dr. Paula Pendergrass
Allison Quintanilla Plattsmier
Turnip Green Creative Reuse
Group Volunteer Service
Recognizes any group of two or more individuals who volunteered together in 2020 for a specific issue or cause. Some group examples are faith-based, civic, membership, and corporate.
We’re so excited to once again celebrate the amazing contributions of Middle Tennessee volunteers during the 35th Annual Mary Catherine Strobel Volunteer Awards. Nominations will be open April 1-16, 2021.
1. The awards are totally online this year and all finalists will be featured on hon.org for a month. There will be a fun public voting component to spread their amazing stories of service far and wide.
2. Prize money! Each award recipient will receive a $1,000 gift card from the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee to give to the charity of their choice. Finalists will receive $250 CFMT gift cards to donate to the charity of their choice.
3. New categories! We’ve updated the categories a little bit to reflect the challenges of 2020 and the dedicated volunteers who rose to meet them. The two new categories are:
Social Justice Impact Volunteer Award Recognizes individuals whose volunteer work in 2020 was centered on dismantling or calling out systemic injustice and oppressionand lifting up disenfranchised communities.
Disaster Relief Volunteer Award Recognizes individuals who made a significant contribution to helping Nashville recover from the tornado, pandemic, or bombing in 2020.
Think of all the incredible people you know who go above and beyond to help others, and consider thanking them by nominating them for a Strobel Award!