Tag Archives: tornado

In it for the long haul: The Davidson County Long-Term Recovery Group focuses on getting resources to survivors

Several members of the Davidson County Long-Term Recovery Group (LTRG) — of which Hands On Nashville is a part — reflect on the recovery efforts since the March 2020 tornadoes that devastated many of Nashville’s iconic neighborhoods.

In the video above, several representatives of the LTRG share their stories and updates on how recovery is going: Kathy Floyd-Buggs, Director of Neighborhoods for the Nashville Mayor’s Office; Keith Branson, Executive Director of Westminster Home Connection; Tina Doniger, Executive Director of Community Resource Center; Amy Fair, Vice President of Donor Services at The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee; Alisha Smith Haddock, Community-Based Services Director at Catholic Charities of Tennessee, Eileen Lowery, Director of Tornado Recovery Connection at Tn Conference of UMCOR; and Lori Shinton, Executive Director of Hands On Nashville.

Finding and serving tornado survivors — in the midst of a worldwide pandemic and economic crisis, no less — remains the laser-like focus of the LTRG.

The LTRG is a volunteer collaboration of multiple organizations, including but not limited to nonprofit agencies, community civic and service groups, faith-based, and educational groups that meet and work together to address the long-term needs of Metro Nashville residents who have been affected by disaster.

As detailed in its bylaws, the LTRG’s mission is to provide coordinated management of the long-term recovery response to individuals in Nashville/Davidson County affected by disaster.

The LTRG offers additional long-term assistance to individuals affected by the disaster who do not have adequate personal resources, and stewards volunteer, material and financial resources.

Its goal is to provide cost-effective and coordinated delivery of services so that survivors receive unduplicated assistance in a timely, efficient and equitable manner.

With more than 80 individuals representing 30 organizations participating on regularly scheduled calls, the group has, to date:

• Identified the areas of greatest need

• Identified organizations capable of addressing those needs

• Worked to ensure it is supporting each organization’s services while providing support to survivors from all of the impacted areas in Nashville

Learn more at www.nashvillerelief.com.

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. 

New children’s book examines what was gained and lost during 2020 tornado

The House the Storm Built is a new children’s book written by Rebecca Rose Moody and illustrated by Lauren Reese. The book describes the effects of the deadly tornado outbreak on March 3, 2020, which devastated multiple neighborhoods and killed several Middle Tennesseans. The destructive storms caused extensive damage, including to Lauren’s home, which has had to be rebuilt. 

Hands On Nashville talked with Lauren and Rebecca about the book and how they’ve been doing in the year since the tornado. 

Q: It’s been a year since the tornado. How are you doing? 

Rebecca: What made March 2020 so hard is that we, like so many other families, went straight from processing the tornado to being in lockdown. Our home wasn’t hit in the tornado, but Lauren and her family are some of our closest friends, so that night I remember getting a text from her that her house had been damaged and that the roof was collapsing — it was very surreal. The next day my husband and I went to help them move everything out, and just later that week schools started closing down due to the pandemic. It’s been a year unlike any other, with lots of personal losses.  

Lauren: It’s pretty surreal that it’s been a year since the tornado. My family has spent this year processing and hopefully minimizing the trauma through therapy and open discussions. My children struggle a little when big storms hit and my daughter wanted to make sure we built a safe place in our new home where we could go if another tornado hit. There’s still a lot that hasn’t been processed. We had so much help the first few days after the storm and then everyone went into quarantine. We’ve been in a rental home for almost a year and can count on our hands how many visitors have been over. It’s been extremely isolating. We went from this crazy natural disaster, moving, a global pandemic, figuring out virtual school, trying to get through the steps of rebuilding a home, etc. It feels as though we have been holding our breath all year. Though I’ve had a few good cries, I think once I officially move back into our home (on the same lot as our last), I’ll probably cry and let out a big breath in relief. 

Why did you make this book? 

“The House the Storm Built,” by Lauren Reese and Rebecca Rose Moody, is a children’s book about the March 2020 tornado in Nashville.

Rebecca:  Lauren is one of my closest, dearest friends, and I wanted to write this story as a tribute to her experience in the tornado. The night of the tornado, I was so scared for her and her family, but she is one of the strongest people I know, and has handled losing her house and living in a rental while her new home is being built, with an extraordinary amount of grace — and this is, of course, in addition to the pandemic. Lauren is an amazing mother, so many of her efforts have been geared towards helping her children process everything they’ve been through. Hopefully this book will be a small part of their journey as they continue healing from a very difficult year. And hopefully it can help other families too.  

Lauren: Pretty much what Rebecca said! She wrote the story and sent it to me. I read it out loud to my husband and we teared up! It is such a sweet story and it captures all the feelings of fear, impatience, uncertainty, hope, love, and excitement. I read the story and we knew we had to make a book! I started to illustrate each page and it was extremely cathartic. From painting my old house and remembering beautiful moments to imagining my new home, it was all a wonderful and healing process! I hope this book brings healing to our family but also to so many others who may have been through a natural disaster. 

Do you volunteer? What does volunteering mean to you? 

Rebecca: I have volunteered with Hands on Nashville before and I appreciated how easy it was to find a volunteer opportunity that was a good match for my energy level and abilities. For me, volunteering is all about showing up for one’s community, either by cleaning up a creek or park or by helping an individual or family. It is so important that we take care of each other, and I love that Hands On Nashville and other volunteer organizations make that possible when it’s a stranger or other neighborhood that is in need.  

Lauren: I too have volunteered with Hands on Nashville in the past and other volunteer organizations. Recently, with young children, it hasn’t been as easy, but we still find ways to help those around us. It doesn’t take much to give up some time or money to those who are in need. After the tornado, I wanted to help other victims. My husband was able to tarp roofs, remove debris, etc., but I was in too much shock. I spent that week sitting with my neighbors, listening to their stories, giving them space to cry and laugh. In these moments, I built connections that are still strong now! I learned the needs of those around me and I was able to connect them to those who could help. We were able to get D a brand new roof with a church group, and B’s brother new furniture for his home (this was all done through social media and word of mouth!). I haven’t been able to join a volunteer group in awhile but I’ve volunteered my time to help meet the needs of my community. 

Pre-order The House the Storm built here. A portion of the book’s proceeds will go to support Hands On Nashville, whose mission is to meet community needs through volunteerism.  

Guest post: Strategies for dealing with storm anxiety

Note from Hands On Nashville: The following post, written by licensed professional counselor Samuel Rainey, originates on the Nashville Severe Weather website, and is a useful guide for folks who feel anxious when thinking about or experiencing storms. As we mark one year since the devastating March 3, 2020, tornados, many are feeling strong emotions, including anxiety, about potential severe spring weather. We hope this post helps provide some context and useful information about how to handle stress that’s connected to storm anxiety. 

By Samuel Rainey via Nashville Severe Weather (shared with permission)

There’s a feeling it’s always storm season. I have a general appreciation for storms and a healthy respect about what they can do. Sometimes, my respect for the storms can make me feel a little crazy as I attempt to corral my wife and four kids into the tiny coat closet under our stairs. Each time we do this, I’m reminded of being 4 years old in my childhood home in Arkansas. A tornado was on its way, I’m in the bathtub with my siblings, and my parents have just put the twin mattress on top of us. It was a terrifying experience. Today, we don’t have room for a twin mattress, so I put bike helmets on my kids. My teenagers are especially appreciative of me when I make them put these on.  

Most people I know have a strong reaction to storms. They either love them, or hate them. I think this is because storms remind us that we are small, fragile, and incredibly powerless. Despite some really bad movie plots about weather and storms, the bottom line is that there’s really nothing you or I can do about a storm. We can’t change the direction, alter the intensity, or tell it to stop producing dangerous results. To many of us, that is a really scary experience, even to the point of creating anxiety as a storm approaches.  

Feeling anxious about storms is completely normal, and it doesn’t mean that anything is wrong with you. It’s natural to experience a wide range of emotions: from panic to stress to a general unease as a storm comes your way.  

Stress limits the body’s production of serotonin (the happy, calming chemical). We all need serotonin to feel good, safe, and happy in life. Instead of serotonin, our body produces adrenaline. Adrenaline is the chemical that amps us up for survival, a fight, or to face a threat. Storms are a legit threat to our lives and our brains don’t really care if we’re happy or calm. Our brains think serotonin won’t save us, but adrenaline might. So we lose that happy, calming chemical, and end up on edge. Stressed. 

Because we are small, fragile, and limited humans, we are deeply impacted by our surroundings. When a storm pops up, it can trigger significant feeling unsafe. At a basic level, our brain knows that when a storm is near, it has to gear our body up for a fight. Because of this, we’ve got to take care of ourselves so we can handle the incoming storms.  

Three Strategies to Combat Storm Anxiety: Preparation, Process, and People 

Preparation  

Fear is the feeling that there is danger near and that we need to do something about it. So prepare for the fear by assembling a storm kit you take with you to your “safe space” in your home. You might also consider putting a smaller kit in your car in the event a storm arises when you’re not at home. This storm kit will have everything you need before, during, and after a storm. 

Your kit needs to have:  

  • Water 
  • Something nonperishable to eat (Twinkies don’t count) 
  • First aid (Band-Aids, Neosporin, etc.) 
  • Flashlight 
  • Socks 
  • A picture of loved ones 

Optional items to include:  

  • Battery-operated handheld radio 
  • Cell phone batter recharger and cable 
  • Something to do/a project (a craft, knitting, drawing, bourbon tasting, Solitaire with a deck of cards, etc.) 
  • A weighted blanket: These work in the same way that a “thunder jacket” works with a dog, or how swaddling a baby makes them feel safe and secure. A weighted blanket helps provide external stimuli that can produce serotonin (the calming chemical). 

Process 

When stress happens, we need a process to follow to calm us down. Developing a process to follow each time a storm arises will help you to move out of reactivity. A process will comfort you.  Your process needs to become a habit you practice every time a storm comes. This routine will help you trust in something other than the “impending doom” of the storm. You’ll have a process to comfort you. 

Some processes to follow:  

  • Put your storm preparation kit in an accessible place near your safe room.  
  • Limit information intake: Smartphones are great for information, but sometimes too much information is actually more stressful. Flooding our mind with too much information can heighten the feelings of anxiety. Pick one or two sources of information to follow. Watch local TV or reliable social-media feeds.  
  • Do something along with watching the weather feed. (Projects listed above) 
  • Gratitude Jar: At the end of each severe weather threat you encounter, get a notecard and write down the date, time, and experience you had in this particular storm. Get a Ziploc bag and deposit the notecard in the bag. We are going to call this your victory bag. In the future when a storm is near and you’re getting nervous or afraid, get your kit (below), open the victory bag, and read through all of the storms that you’ve not just survived, but thrived. This will be a process for you to remember that you are ok.  

Remember, storms do their thing, and we need to do our thing. Experiment with some processes to follow and find what works for you. 

People 

This is the most important of the three strategies: we need people in our lives. We need people not just when weather happens, but when other emotional storms show up in our lives. One of my favorite authors, Frederick Buechner, says this, “Welcome to the world, where beautiful and terrible things will happen.”  

We’re not made to deal with the beautiful and terrible things on our own. This is the reason why Tom Hanks’ character in the movie “Cast Away” creates a friend out of a volleyball. He can’t live in isolation on that island. From an existential standpoint, anxiety is about being isolated. At some level we all fear being left, abandoned, betrayed, or alone by ourselves. Nervousness and worry come from a legitimate fear we have that has not been taken care of. Fears are natural to being human, and when we don’t tend to the needs associated with our fears, they can transform into life controlling worry, and sometimes even anxiety.  

The single best way to help combat storm anxiety is to be known. To be with other people. Surround yourself with people who you can care about, and who care about you. If you live alone, call someone or get on a video call with them. We are better equipped to handle difficult situations when we know that someone else is with us to face the danger. It’s amazing what happens to our stress when someone who cares about us holds our hand or gives us a reassuring hug.  

It might be that your storm anxiety is alerting you to your need to have more people involved in the difficulties of your life. Growth is a relational experience. We don’t grow in isolation; we grow because of relationships. 

Following these three strategies won’t solve all your storm related problems, but they are a great next step for you to take. If you only do one of the three above ideas, please invite people into your life. I know of no better way to reduce my own situational anxiety than having someone help me carry the burden I’m facing. 

Lastly, if you find that this anxiety you’re experiencing happens in other places of your life (work, relationships, making decisions, etc.) then it might be helpful to talk to a professional counselor about that. 

Follow Nashville Severe Weather on Twitter: @NashSevereWx.

UT survey seeks to gauge stress from the tornado, other factors

Hands On Nashville is proud to partner with the University of Tennessee in Knoxville to share a survey with Nashvillians that will gauge how they’re dealing with multiple forms of stress. The university’s Jennifer First and Mary Held are working to understand how dealing with compounding stressors affects emotional health, including resilience that helps people cope. 

The hope is that the data collected from the survey will help agencies provide better services for Nashville residents affected by multiple forms of stress, including the March 2020 tornados, COVID-19, and daily stressors. The survey does not ask for any names or any identifying information from participants. 

Participants are invited to fill out the survey if they: 

  • Are at least 18 years old 
  • Lived in Nashville during the March 2020 tornadoes 
  • Speak English or Spanish 

Volunteer Andrew Befante trims tree debris.

After losing friends in the March 3 tornado, local musician and bartender turns to service to help others

By Ben Piñon HON Disaster Response Coordinator AmeriCorps member

Thousands of Nashvillians rushed to volunteer in the wake of the March 3 tornado. Andrew Benfante wasn’t one of them. 

“I didn’t have the emotional energy to do it,” Benfante says. “Normally I do — I like volunteering, I like helping people, but the time wasn’t right. Then COVID happened and the time really wasn’t right. It was kind of a hectic time for me, so I stayed away from everything.” 

Volunteer Andrew Benfante
removes storm debris from a
home.

Six months and a global pandemic later, Benfante is more than ready. He has now volunteered on four of HON’s debris-removal workdays since cleanup projects resumed in late June. Some days he has worked both the morning and afternoon shifts — cutting apart a mangled fence or moving heavy logs that came down in the storm. All for fellow Nashvillians he’s never met. 

Back in March, Benfante narrowly missed the worst of the damage where he lives in Germantown. He was out of power for four days. But that was just the beginning. The tornado had also taken not only his job, but two of his friends. 

Benfante worked at Attaboy, an East Nashville bar damaged by the tornado, which is still undergoing repairs. It’s also where he met his friends and co-workers, Michael Dolfini and his fiancée, Albree Sexton. They were all hanging out together shortly before the couple lost their lives in the tornado.

“He called her his hippie wife,” Benfante remembers fondly, “they had been together for so long.” 

“It was a tough night,” Benfante recalls, describing the Attaboy staff as a small, tight-knit group. He had left the bar only 30 minutes before the tornado touched down. “Those were some sad phone calls to make in the middle of the night. Calling just to see how everything was going, finding out that it wasn’t going well.”  

Volunteer Andrew Benfante
removes a wheelbarrow full
of storm debris from a home.

Benfante moved to Nashville four years ago. Like many, he came chasing music dreams. Just last year, he walked away from a band he had played with for eight years. Doing so led to a more recent reassessment of several aspects of his own life. Volunteering has been a really healthy part of that process, he says. 

Through his struggles over the past few months — navigating a pandemic, scraping by on unemployment, grieving friends — Benfante remains grateful for what he has to give.  

“I feel like if I have the time that others may not, I should freely give that time to the community while I’m being taken care of, at least temporarily,” he says. 

Giving back has left Benfante hopeful and inspired, humbled undoubtedly by the way he’s seen the Nashville community persevere in the face of tremendous challenges. 

“I think the less afraid we are of new things, of change, and each other… I think the more we trust each other, trust that everything balances out when it’s all said and done, the more joy we can find together as a community,” he says. “That’s most apparent to me right now in the kind of volunteer work that Hands On Nashville does. I’m happy to be a part of it.” 

Visit hon.org to find volunteer projects that meet critical needs in our community.

New tornado recovery projects posted!

Photo Jun 24, 10 55 55 AM

Most tornado recovery volunteer projects were paused when COVID-19 hit Middle Tennessee in March, even though there was still much work to be done. Now that we’re in Phase 3 of the Mayor’s Roadmap for Reopening Nashville, projects are resuming and volunteers are very much needed to continue the recovery process! This Saturday, June 27, is looking to be a big day of tornado recovery-related activities. Here’s a roundup of what’s available. We’ll add to this list as more activities become available.

If you are personally still in need of support stemming from the tornado, please call the Tornado Recovery Hotline at 615-270-9255.

 

 

 

PUBLIC ALERT: Tornado Recovery Volunteer Park-and-Ride Shuttles

This following is a press release from the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County.

Metro Nashville is asking for recovery volunteers to help keep damaged neighborhoods accessible to first responders

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – (March 7, 2020) Please, first responders and repair crews need your help.

Continued traffic congestion in the most heavily impacted areas of Nashville will hamper the continued recovery process for those dealing with the most damage.

The Nashville Office of Emergency Management in partnership with Metro Nashville Police and Metro Nashville Public Schools is launching a park-and-ride service on March 8 for tornado recovery volunteers to help them reach the areas of greatest need in North Nashville and East Nashville.

Tornado recovery volunteers should plan to park at Nissan Stadium located at 1 Titans Way, Nashville, TN 37213.

Independent volunteers should park in Lot “R” of Nissan Stadium. Lot “R” is designated as the two parking lots at the bottom of the pedestrian bridge next to Nissan Stadium.

Volunteers working with Hands on Nashville should continue to use parking lots G, M, A, B and D based on where their opportunity states.

Shuttles will transport tornado recovery volunteers from Lot “R” to the areas of greatest need beginning at 9:00 am and shuttles will run continuously until 6:00 pm.

Shuttles will drop off tornado recovery volunteers at the following locations:

 

North Nashville:

21st Avenue North and Scovel Street 14th Avenue North and Cockrill Street

East Nashville:

Fatherland Street and 11th Street 16th Street and Russell Street.

Volunteers working with Hands on Nashville should continue to use parking lots G, M, A, B and D.

Due to the debris in areas of Nashville, private vehicles will not be allowed to access certain neighborhoods.

Shuttles will transport volunteers into these areas that are inaccessible to the general public.

The number of private vehicles in the most impacted areas of the city has hampered entry for large commercial vehicles including Metro Nashville Public Works trucks, Metro Nashville Water Services crews and NES repair trucks.

Motorists should look for electronic message boards as they approach Nissan Stadium for directions to parking lot “R”.

Metro’s Community Hotline will continue to be staffed 24 hours a day and can be reached by calling (615) 862-8750 for all non-emergency, weather-related inquiries, the reporting of hazards and to request assistance. In case of an emergency, residents should call 911.

The NERVE (Nashville Emergency Response Viewing Engine) has been activated in coordination with this EOC activation. This site will provide information about storm related road closures, any evacuation areas or routes, shelters and relief centers. This also includes a media tab with a Twitter feed and press releases.

Volunteers signed up for the following projects should meet at Nissan Stadium to catch a shuttle to their project location:

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