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.