Tag Archives: North Nashville

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you have your tetanus shot?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that’s how Melissa met Mary.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Project Connect continues efforts to feed hungry families in North Nashville

When a tornado touched down March 3 and left a 60-mile path of devastation through Middle Tennessee,  Project Connect Nashville knew what it had to do: Serve hot meals to North Nashville residents whose neighborhoods had been badly damaged.

The day after the storm, PCN — whose mission is to build relationships with individuals stuck in a cycle of poverty and connect them to the faith community, living wage jobs, and stable housing — established a central command for recovery, food, and supplies distribution.

PCN employees Quanita Thomas and the Rev. Ella Clay were essential in startup operations. Clay offered the church at which she pastors, the Historic First Community Church at 1815 Knowles St., and Thomas assisted with making connections in the neighborhood, helping even though her own home was damaged by the storm.

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Volunteers feed those in North Nashville following the March 3 tornado. [Project Connect Nashville]
Volunteers immediately began tracking of the needs of the neighborhood’s residents: Who lived where, how many meals each house needed, and even whether a home had names to add to their ongoing prayer list. The first two weeks after the storm were the most demanding because many of the homes did not have power, said Laura Ingram, PCN’s North Nashville Location Manager.

“We have about 400 addresses of people who we try to feed multiple times a week,” Ingram said. Those residents include families and those whose mobility is limited, such as seniors and individuals with disabilities, who otherwise would not have been able to access food in the wake of the disaster.

PCN, in partnership with Just the Crumbs — a faith-based mobile food unit from Columbia, Miss. — now serves and delivers meals five days a week, and offers essential resources to the community two hours a day at its North Nashville Resource Center at 1811 Knowles Street.

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Just The Crumbs is a disaster relief ministry that has been aiding PCN with food distribution efforts in North Nashville. [Project Connect Nashville]
When COVID-19 got a foothold in Middle Tennessee two weeks after the tornado and more people began staying at home, Ingram says PCN’s volunteer numbers began to dwindle. But she and her colleagues continued their efforts.

“Serving people food was something we really felt we needed to keep doing as it’s too risky for the elderly and disabled to get out and shop for fresh foods,” Ingram says.

As a precaution, PCN is limiting volunteer groups to six people, who are asked to maintain a safe distance when delivering meals. The organization provides gloves, and volunteers are asked to bring their own masks if possible.

“These volunteers are invaluable to us because PCN feels it does take a village to love this wide variety of people and neighborhoods,” Ingram says. “It’s something we can’t do alone, but together we are able to check on everybody and make sure no one is falling through the cracks.”

The idea for Project Connect Nashville was birthed out of the 2010 flood, when PCN’s executive director, Alan Murdock, coordinated recovery in partnership with the East Nashville community through his garden center in Five Points. The organization has now opened campuses in South and North Nashville, and offers classes to provide knowledge, skills, and encouragement, while offering a faith community to support individuals through life’s joys and struggles.

To volunteer with Project Connect Nashville, sign up here. For a list of needed donations, click here.

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.

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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