Tennessee Resettlement Aid (TRA) is an organization that began out of compassion. In 2021, founder Katie Finn found herself in the Nashville airport baggage claim area watching refugees arrive with very few belongings begin their lives in Middle Tennessee. She began brainstorming solutions and quickly joined together with Saleem Tahiri and Julie Pine to begin the Tennessee Resettlement Aid.
TRA is dedicated to meeting the needs of Afghan refugees as they adjust to a new country and new lifestyle. When refugees first arrive in Nashville they are given a federal stipend to spend on clothing, food, and any other needs individuals may have. However, this is not enough to sustain families in the long run, which is where the Tennessee Resettlement Aid steps in.
The organization provides immediate aid to families by giving them food, clothes, English as Secondary Language (ESL) classes, medical and immigration advocacy, transportation, and more. Since its founding, the need for the TRA has only grown to respond to an already overwhelmed resettlement infrastructure. More than 500 Afghan allies have arrived in Nashville, with many more expected in the coming months.
To date, TRA has provided 37 Wi-Fi installations in family homes, 60 bicycles, home goods for 95 families, and 12 washers and dryers installed in refugee’s homes.
Each week, TRA and its volunteers provide culturally appropriate meals to more than 400 families
We’re so grateful to welcome the TRA as a Hands On Nashville partner and hope our volunteers can continue to support their ongoing efforts! Click here to learn more.
Organization: Tennessee Resettlement Aid
Impact area: Immigrant and Refugee Services
Mission: Tennessee Resettlement Aid provides direct assistance to our Afghan allies and their families to bridge the gaps in the present refugee resettlement system. They give newly arrived people food, clothing, and household items that are appropriate for their culture, as well as make it easier for them to access other services through partner organizations.
Another great volunteer project completed with Friends of Shelby Park! Five hundred #SavageStrong volunteers came out on June 24 to build picnic tables, assemble fences, and help beautify the park! We’re so grateful for all their hard work! Please see the pictures below for an overview of the day. Photos by Ademola Ogunnaike.
When tornadoes ripped through Tennessee in the middle of the night on March 3, 2020, the devastated Nashville community scrambled to respond. Helpers came out in droves with chainsaws, supplies, food, and donations. Hands On Nashville alone saw more than 20,000 volunteers in the week after the tornado.
The city relies on me, as the CEO of Hands On Nashville, and my team to lead volunteer efforts after a disaster. It’s what we do.
Following the tornado, we immediately snapped into action to lead these efforts – our first disaster response effort since 2010. Our 15-person team worked around the clock to connect volunteers with needed resources. We were inundated with emails, phone calls, and walk-ins from folks wanting to or needing help. For a week, we had about 30 – 50 administrative volunteers helping us with all those things, often late into the evening. It was a challenging, heartfelt, and sometimes chaotic effort.
Since then, we’ve dedicated significant resources to disaster preparation, hiring a full-time Disaster Response Manager, and creating a comprehensive emergency response plan, which relies on Disaster Volunteer Leaders (DVL). If you are interested in supporting the city when the next disaster strikes, please sign up to be a DVL and take our free online training.
Recognizing that Hands On Nashville is stronger when we are connected with key players in the disaster response realm, I also advocated for the reformation of the Nashville VOAD (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster), reached out to key community members, and now chair the volunteer-led coalition. The group strengthens area-wide disaster coordination and preparedness by sharing programs, policies and information while engaging in joint planning, education, and training.
The VOAD’s first activations came after the Christmas Day bombing in 2020 and the South Nashville flood in 2021. Our mighty group of 41 nonprofits now stands ready to respond to whatever comes next. We also recognize that bringing in key neighborhood leaders, including those at religious institutions and neighborhood nonprofits, is critical to the success of disaster recovery.
Disaster response is exhaustive work, and our community has been stretched thin over the past two years. The sad truth is that it is difficult to convince people to dedicate resources to disaster preparation when there is not a disaster at hand, but disaster prep work is crucial to disaster response, and any support you can give will help us as we continue to do the work.
Hands on Nashville is so grateful to the amazing volunteers in this city and is up to the challenge of coordinating whatever crisis comes our way. We stand ready to provide services and to support our friends and neighbors when the next disaster hits — whether it is severe weather or, perish the thought, something like a shooting or bombing. We are #nashvillestrong, and we’ll get through it together.
Lori Shinton is President and CEO of Hands On Nashville and the Chair of Nashville VOAD. For a full list of Nashville VOAD member organizations, visit NashvilleResponds.com.
Nine years ago, Greg O’Loughlin joined Oasis, a nonprofit that helps young people in Middle Tennessee transition into a successful and content adulthood. He became a volunteer within Oasis’ bike workshop, where young Metro school students can pick out a bike and learn how to both build and maintain it. In 2014, O’Loughlin and manager Dan Furbish wanted to advance the program and launched the Oasis Mountain Bike Team, which coaches kids to practice and compete on bike courses all over the state.
With hundreds of hours of service dedicated to Oasis’ bike workshop, O’Loughlin has acted as not only a teacher, but a mentor to over 120 of the students the organization works with each year in partnership with Nashville schools and community centers. The bike team has continued to be successful with national coverage from media outlet NPR that led to recognition in the Edward R. Murrow Award for Excellence in Broadcasting. O’Loughlin’s first public school mountain bike team consisted of eight international Metro Nashville Public School students from El Salvador, Mexico and Egypt. Since then, he has continued to help connect the mountain bike team and the bike workshop to STEM teachers across Nashville schools. As the director of the Educator’s Cooperative, O’Loughlin has also applied his knowledge to go the extra mile for the students by helping bring attention to the bike program across the Nashville area.
O’Loughlin has continued to be a reliable resource for the students he champions alongside students on the mountain bike team. Last year, the Oasis Bike Workshop was granted the Max Barry Fund, which was used to take the mountain bike team to the Appalachian Mountains on a three-day camping trip. With such responsibility and dedication to students, “Greg helped me ensure the children’s safety on some pretty treacherous terrain in a certified wilderness area with no cellphone service and miles from emergency help. My mind was at ease knowing that I could rely on Greg had an emergency occurred,” shared Furbish, co-coach of the mountain bike team.
Kimberly Webb Volunteers with Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA)
Kimberly Webb is no stranger to volunteering with children as she has been a mentor, advocate and peer to children at the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) for the past decade, serving over 17 children and teens. At home, she continues to serve children as a foster mother who has provided a home and a safe environment for over 20 children.
Eleven years ago, Webb joined the volunteer team at CASA Nashville as a peer coordinator and volunteer advocate and currently serves three additional youth in foster care. As a volunteer who prioritizes the relational aspect of serving, she is known to make children feel individually cared for and heard. Webb’s colleagues have said that she is a dependable and consistent role model to the organization and children as she steps into a gap wherever she can. Her services have no limitation on distance and cost, as she has continued to visit, deliver snacks and spend time with former Nashville-residing children who have grown up and moved to different cities and states.
In 2020, Webb lost her 20-year-old son, David, in an unexpected and tragic accident. Amid her grief, she remained faithful to her commitment to advocacy work to the children of Tennessee. As she is a foster mother and children’s advocacy volunteer, all her services and volunteer work are motivated by her son. Webb further leaned into the volunteer opportunities at CASA even more after the loss of her son by taking on the role of peer coordinator, mentoring new CASA volunteers, continuing to open her home to foster children and working on two cases as a CASA volunteer advocate. “I didn’t expect CASA volunteer work to be so involved when I joined 11 years ago. CASA really makes a difference when a child or teen sees your face. Other adults come in and out of their lives, both family members and professionals; but seeing a face they recognize and trust makes all the difference,” Webb shared.
Lina Londoño Tinsley Volunteers with Conexión Américas
As a global marketing manager and life coach at Conexión Américas, Lina Londoño Tinsley has provided many Latino community members with advice to help them obtain the fulfilling life many strive to achieve. Tinsley has volunteered with members of the adult Latino community and is continuing to help them navigate their business, discover their passions and find their voice.
Conexión Américas is a nonprofit organization that creates opportunities for Latino families to succeed, and Tinsley’s work consistently continues to be one of the most highly attended and engaged classes throughout the program, even during virtual classes for the past two years. Tinsley continues to receive rave reviews from her students that exemplify her ability to connect with others authentically as well as impart powerful guidance that leads small-business owners in the right direction. As a mentor who empowers the women of the Latino community, Tinsley has encouraged the community to do the controversial among the community and take risks to pursue their passion. Tinsley has created a bridge between herself and her students by emphasizing the importance of prioritizing mental health within her classes. This holistic approach has granted students the space and environment to fully trust and act on Tinsley’s advice with their small businesses. Tinsley continues to have a huge impact on the members and students of Conexión Américas, specifically on a student who began the Negocio Prospero program at the nonprofit. Tinsley’s guidance and support to the young student helped her create a business model that capitalized on her strength of cooking. The student now owns a successful catering business that Tinsley helped guide her toward not just personally, but professionally.
John Bull is a longtime volunteer for Open Table Nashville (OTN), an interfaith, grassroots nonprofit that seeks to disrupt cycles of poverty, journey with the marginalized and provide education about issues of homelessness. Whether on the streets, in the woods, under bridges or in encampments, OTN meets Nashville’s homeless population where they are — and no one exemplifies this more than Bull , who assists with outreach efforts day in and day out. In his daily visits to encampments, Bull acts as the eyes and ears for OTN among the unhoused community, providing the supplies they need to survive outside, communicating when the overflow shelter is open, monitoring flood activity and transporting those in need of medical attention. On their own, these actions are vital to humanizing those impacted by homelessness, a population that has grown substantially over the years in number and need. However, to do it the way Bull does – tirelessly, daily and totally ingrained into his routine – is lifesaving.
Bull ’s efforts extend beyond daily checks. In 2021 and for many years now, he has attended WeGO board meetings, city council meetings and other community meetings to better campaign for accessible resources for the unhoused, the decriminalization of homelessness and affordable housing. He is a one-of-a-kind volunteer who does the direct, daily work while also advocating for sustainable, systemic changes that our city needs.
“John makes a huge difference in so many people’s lives that just need someone to help them access the systems of care that currently are not accessible in our city,” his nominator shared. “They just need someone on their side, and John is this someone for so, so many of our unhoused friends. It is rare to have someone who shows up for our unhoused friends in the capacity he does — always advocating for our friends, never judging, all as an organic, authentic part of his own lifestyle.”
When asked about his nomination, Bull simply said: “We are all in this together.”
Linda McFadyen-Ketchum Volunteers with Moms Demand Action Tennessee
Linda McFadyen-Ketchum has given almost 50 years of volunteer service to the city of Nashville and the state of Tennessee. As a full-time volunteer activist for national organization Moms Demand Action, she gives a voice and power to those who are impacted by gun violence. In 2013, McFadyen-Ketchum jump-started the organization of Tennessee’s ‘Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America’ following the Sandy Hook massacre. Through determination and grassroots leadership, Linda helped grow from a Nashville chapter of five moms to a fully-fledged, nationally recognized organization that includes nine local groups statewide.
Since founding the Tennessee chapter of Moms Demand Action, McFadyen-Ketchum has devoted her life to achieving justice and peace for those impacted by gun violence. Her dedication extends to legislative efforts, such as educating lawmakers; testifying before the legislature; establishing a “State Legislative Rapid Response Team” in Middle Tennessee; and coordinating with other statewide organizations serving vulnerable populations affected by gun violence like Tennessee trauma surgeons, LGBTQ+ advocacy groups, the NAACP and racial justice organizations, foster care agencies, and suicide prevention organizations. Most importantly, however, Linda lifts up survivors: She invites survivors and families who have lost loved ones to meetings to offer respect and healing.
“Linda’s exceptional volunteer work with Moms Demand Action Tennessee gives a voice and power to those who are impacted by gun violence and gun deaths in our city and state,” a colleague shared. “Many of those victims are African American children and their mothers and families, many deeply in need of a voice for their pain and loss.”
“Many [survivors] don’t have power or resources, and are especially vulnerable in the face of such grief. We lift up survivors by using our power and resources to assist them,” McFadyen-Ketchum said. “I am a survivor of gun violence and a retired public school teacher. The Sandy Hook School shooting in 2012 woke me up to the gun violence epidemic we Americans are living with now. We don’t have to live like this, and I am doing everything I can to save Tennesseans from gun death and injury.”
Veronica Zavaleta Volunteers with Hands On Nashville and Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition
A local and national community organizer and activist, Veronica Zavaleta has availed herself to Nashville’s immigrant community and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients since 2010. Amid changing legislation and uncertainty, she has gone above and beyond the call of duty, helping to coordinate an event to benefit Nashville’s Hispanic community impacted by the flood, recruiting other volunteers and organizing outreach to assist with everything from supplies to paperwork for immigration cases.
Immigration issues hold a personal element for Zavaleta, yet she takes great personal risk each day to fight for the local immigrant community, one which has historically been ignored and underserved. Her selflessness is evident in the breadth and depth of her service — she not only gives her all to uplifting this community, but also recruits others to the same cause, amplifying her impact and maximizing the potential for change. In the words of a colleague, “What sets Veronica apart is that she goes beyond what is being asked of her. She is always an advocate at heart. For Veronica, anybody in need regardless of the reason needs to be addressed, and she ensures that happens.”
“I was called to serve in this world, and if I don’t serve, I don’t know what I would do,” said Zavaleta about her nomination.
Join Weed Wrangle’s nation-wide effort to save our native plants. On Saturday, March 5, 10 local parks and nature centers are gathering volunteers to pull weeds and keep the invasive plants at bay.
This important work needs to be done annually so that our native plant communities can keep up their hard work of helping control erosion, moderate floods, filter water, decrease water needed for landscaping, and sequester carbon to combat climate change. Ready to get started?
Pick a location below and sign up! Interested in learning more? Click here.
We all know Valentine’s Day is a time to celebrate your loved ones. But, instead of flowers and chocolates, we thought we would share a few ways you can show some love to your community with those you love. These opportunities are great for your friends, family, or that special someone!
Check out our list here:
Sort and bundle baby clothes with There With Care Middle Tennessee When: Ongoing
Organize donations, bundle baby clothes, and help create grocery support care bags with There with Care. Spread love to new families in your community! 👶💗
Deliver Care Packages to Families at local Children’s Hospitals When: Ongoing
There with Care Middle Tennessee is looking for volunteers to deliver care kits to Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt and to The Children’s Hospital at TriStar Centennial. Additional training and a background check is required.
Package hygiene kits with the Community Resource Center When: 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 14
Everyone should have the ability to look and smell their best, especially on Valentine’s Day! Spend a few hours with a loved one packaging relief and hygiene kits at the CRC, which are delivered to eight counties across Middle Tennessee.
Share a Hobby or Skill with the residents of Dismas House When: Ongoing
Looking to show off a special skill with your significant other? Volunteering will surely impress them! You can share a hobby or skill together or individually with the residents of Dismas House. Activities can range from cooking a delicious meal together to singing, acting, or whatever your passion is! Activities can be shared in person or over Zoom.
Food Delivery to Afghan Refugees with The Branch When: 6 to 8:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 14
Explore Nashville with your Valentine while doing good for our neighbors in need! The Branch of Nashville is looking for volunteers to pick up pre-made boxes of food and deliver them to Afghan families at local apartment complexes.
Modify Homes for Children with Disabilities with Tucker’s House When: Ongoing
Get your hands dirty with your Valentine by remodeling a home to meet specific needs for children with disabilities! Volunteers with construction experience are needed to help with demo, framing, trim, building ramps, and more. General volunteers are also needed to help with demolition, construction clean up, and painting.
Be a friendly face and provide assistance to guests at FiftyForward When: 9 a.m. to noon and 2 to 4:30 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays
FiftyForward is looking for folks to assist with their adult day services! Volunteers will greet guests as they arrive, assist with meal services, and provide socialization and one-on-one support during activities. Show some love to the older adult community and warm your own heart in the process.
By Sophia Bobrowsky, AmeriCorps Volunteer Project Leader with Hands On Nashville
Once recovery began following the March 2021 flooding, Hands On Nashville and our disaster partners set a goal — rebuilding 30 homes within a year of the flood. On Nov. 5, we celebrated another milestone toward that goal by completing our latest home rebuild, just in time for the holidays!
Walking up to the Inspiritus construction site for the last time, I was greeted by Robert Zavala, the contractor who has overseen the home construction for the past three months. He’s contracted through Inspiritus, a nonprofit that offers disaster relief and long-term recovery solutions to people in need.
I stood in the kitchen of the newly remodeled home in awe as NCCC members steadily cleaned around me. A dozen or so members were busy wiping dust from the trim, and putting the final screws in kitchen cabinets.
Robert chuckled at my excitement, and was quick to credit all the volunteers for their hard work.
“NCCC is absolutely wonderful, I love them to death,” Robert said. “They come with a big crew and get everything knocked out very fast. It’s nice to have a crew you can train, and that works together for a longer period of time.”
Robert explained NCCC didn’t come with formal training, but like volunteers who sign up for Inspiritus projects, they’re excited to learn, and always give 100 percent. Together, volunteer teams rebuilt this home from the ground up — the walls were gutted, the flooring torn out, and the HVAC system had to be completely cleaned and repaired.
Of the projects, the flooring took the longest, Robert said. From ripping up the flooring to repairing the subfloor and then laying new tile — it’s a tedious process that takes time to be done right.
Robert is the only Inspiritus construction manager in Tennessee, and he assists in matching volunteers with projects that are safe , sources and purchases materials for home repairs, and trains the volunteers completing the work.
Following my talk with Robert, I continued to explore the house and see what my fellow AmeriCorps members were working on. I spoke with Marisa Switzman, a Team Lead with Americorps NCCC.
NCCC is different than the traditional Americorps program I am currently participating in, as this cohort travels the country for 10 months, spending no more than a few weeks in each city they visit. NCCC members meet community needs in the areas of energy conservation, infrastructure improvement, natural and other disaster services, and urban and rural development.
Marisa said she said she really enjoys the hands-on experience of NCCC, and learning so many different life and teambuilding skills.
“It’s been super rewarding to give back to the community and to specific people like this homeowner,” Marisa said. “That’s why we joined NCCC because it’s all about that:, giving back. The most challenging part is making mistakes — but that’s part of the learning process, and Robert has shown us mistakes are really easy to fix.”
Zach King, also an NCCC member, was serving alongside Marisa, and agreed about the construction skills. This is the first construction project he’s attempted during his term, and said so far each site has presented a different set of challenges.
“In terms of the whole year — Mammoth Cave was the most physically demanding, but NOLA was emotionally demanding,” Zach said.
His cohort spent the first month of their term rebuilding hiking trails at Mammoth Cave, Ky., and the following few weeks offering relief to survivors of Hurricane Ida in New Orleans. For the next few weeks Zach and his team will stay in Davidson County continuing to support disaster relief efforts in South Nashville.
“So far my term has been super good — in NOLA everyone was super thankful, and the people were very vocal about that. In Mammoth [Cave] our work was lasting as the trails will be used by hikers for a while. However, here it’s massive for this homeowner to have a house to get into by Thanksgiving,” Zach said. “That’s incredible, and a really cool goal to have someone in their house by the holidays.”
We are extremely gratefulto VOAD and CFMT for providing the funding to HON and our partnering organizations to assist in flood-relief efforts. To read more about their impact, click here.
NCCC is a federally-funded program that Hands On Nashville applied for and was granted following the March flooding. For more information about NCCC, click here. To volunteer for a disaster relief project, click here.
1. Connect with survivors who may still need support: Small groups of volunteers will canvass flood-affected neighborhoods on Nov. 12. We especially need Spanish speakers to ensure we can connect with as many families as possible!
2. Rebuild homes with Inspiritus: Volunteers will help residents rebuild homes impacted by the flood. Activities range from painting, flooding, installing drywall and insulation. Training is provided with on-site leadership.
3. Use your skills or form a group to help with the rebuilding effort: As recovery and rebuilding continues we need skilled construction volunteers as well as groups of volunteers who can help with demolition, construction, and community outreach.