As the middle of the year approaches, Doing Good takes a moment to reflect on this year’s outstanding service-oriented volunteers in the Nashville area. Local Nashville volunteers continue to selflessly give back to their community while volunteering in unique ways that express their passions and philanthropic interests.
Sheila Habacker has been serving the Nashville community with her expertise in yoga for years. In addition, yoga has had a major impact on Habacker’s recovery process from her previous bone marrow transplant. She believes that volunteering is her way of giving back to the ones that helped her heal. Since her recovery, Sheila has been volunteering her time to Small World Yoga, where she teaches yoga to others that might not get the chance to experience it.
Inspired by her mother’s example, Zarita Fears has been actively volunteering since she was a child. She currently works as a Diversity and Inclusion Specialist for the Employee Resource Group at Asurion and serves as a board member of the local chapter for the Lupus Foundation of America. Zarita says her inspiration for volunteering comes from knowing “the differences I have made will affect generations to come.” Additionally, she has served for over ten organizations in the Nashville area and continues to do so in her free time.
Camp Oasis and the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation are two touchstones where Lauren Bellflower found her support when she was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at age 20. While she says that Crohn’s disease is a topic that isn’t often talked about, Camp Oasis, where Lauren volunteers as a counselor, allows her to encourage children to feel comfortable in their own skin. Lauren is also serving as a board member for Tennessee’s Chapter of the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation and continues to serve local organizations in the Nashville area.
Another hard working volunteer, Kaitlyn Jolley, has a passion for ensuring all students have equal opportunities for future success. As a middle school teacher, the root of her volunteer efforts is additionally shown through her professional career. Kaitlyn is diligently working to build bridges among nonprofit organizations, businesses, and the community in order to create a like-minded passion for providing for children in need.
Leah Kennedy is a young but treasured volunteer in the Nashville community, and especially the Williamson County Fair. Growing up, she raised her own chickens and was involved in 4H. Now she serves as the Secretary and Vice Chairman on the Williamson County Junior Fair Board. She loves to volunteer at the fair, because it affords her the opportunity to spend time with children and teach them about a topic she loves, agriculture. “I love working with little kids and seeing their faces light up. It is the most rewarding thing,” Leah says.
My Bag My Story, founded and run by Cara Finger, provides bags to children in the foster care system. Cara Finger, a mom of three, has a passion for giving a voice to the children in the foster care system and bringing more awareness to the system in general. She has always lived by the idea that “we can’t make all the difference, but we can make a difference,” and she encourages others to get involved wherever they can.
This year’s volunteers are celebrated by Doing Good, a local 501c3 nonprofit which celebrates those who do good. For more information or to nominate someone for Nashville’s Volunteer of the Month, visit DoingGood.tv.
From a young age, volunteering has been an integral part of Cara Finger’s life, which she credits to her parents. Raised in Texas, she says one of her most memorable moments was attending Buckner’s Children’s home where she first experienced the joy a child received from a new pair of shoes. Cara was just 6 years old, but she immediately recognized the need to help the unfortunate, and she has kept the importance of volunteering alive in her family by encouraging her children to do the same.
As an advocate for volunteerism, she says to “find where your passion is and latch on to some place to help.” One of the ways Cara has given back has been by creating a clothing drive in her child’s former elementary school 10 years ago. Since then, the clothing drive has donated one million pounds of clothing to its sister school. Cara’s initiative to give back in her child’s elementary school has created more support for children in need, all while teaching a younger generation the value of helping others.
Her most impactful effort has been her non-profit, My Bag My Story, which works to give
children in the foster care system a bag to carry personal belongings. She says that when foster children came into her home she was bothered by the fact they were not given a simple bag to carry from home to home. Since 2016, Cara has been able to grant over 400 stylish, colorful, handmade bags to organizations that work directly with children in the foster care system and is still working diligently to provide more.
Written by: Emerson Loudenback
Fifteen-year-old Leah Kennedy is a student at Fairview High School, but that’s not all she is. Since fourth grade, the young leader has been heavily involved in the county fair, specifically the Williamson County Fair, as well as local 4-H programs. Her personal experience is with raising and showing chickens, but Leah has grown and learned a lot by helping in other areas of the fair.
As a fair volunteer, Leah has watched and participated in the process of caring for and showing animals, both in and out of the barn. “Once I saw all the work that went into this event, I felt I needed to serve my community and give back to them,” says Leah. Areas of the fair, including the youth art section, the show ring and the Funnel Cake 5k, are other places Leah participates and volunteers in, setting up and managing different events and locations all over the fairground. Her passion for the animals and for the local community fuels Leah’s excitement for the fair each year and for any and all opportunities to serve. In addition to the barns, Leah also works with children, teaching them about the animals and agriculture. “I love working with little kids and seeing their faces light up. It is the most rewarding thing,” says Leah. It’s this same kind of excitement that has led Leah to consider a career in agriculture.
Leah’s passion for the animals and for volunteering has brought her to the Williamson County Junior Fair Board, where she has served as Secretary and as Vice Chairman. Both positions have fostered her leadership skills and informed her knowledge of the tremendous work that goes into the fair each year. Not surprisingly, Leah loves all of the chances she finds to “get out there and help” wherever she is needed, whether in big or small ways. Even now, amid global pandemic crises, Leah has found ways to help her community, making and delivering masks for local EMS workers and also family members. Leah is an inspiration to the youth in our community, and we are proud to name her Nashville’s Volunteer of the Month.
Written by: Emerson Loundenback
When it comes to superpowers, Kaitlyn Jolley doesn’t have just one. She’s a middle school teacher, an advocate for health and wellness in the Nashville community, and she comes to the rescue in times of need, whether it’s helping the hungry, finding assistance for students who want better opportunities for their future, or, most recently, being on the frontlines for relief from the tornado that devastated the community on March 2nd of this year.
Drawing on her personal faith and natural talents, as well as her education and drive to create a better world, Kaitlyn never stops. She began her career as a teacher but saw that teachers in her district were overworked, as were administrators. So she found ways to implement initiatives that relieved them of difficulties that sometimes stood in the way of their duties. She helped alleviate hunger among students and created wellness programs by partnering with local volunteer organizations. This paved the way for a stronger student body who could work more passionately toward their goals. Kaitlyn created college preparation and tutoring services to assist students in achieving their goals.
During the tornado relief efforts, Kaitlyn implemented unique ways to organize and deliver supplies to those in need. Working with McGruder Family Resource Center, Gideon’s Army and Corner to Corner, Kaitlyn helped make a big difference in the lives of those who thought they might have lost everything.
As Nashville’s Volunteer of the Month, Kaitlyn says, “I always have had a passion for helping and serving people who have been in underserved areas and populations.” She continues to serve and better the lives of others, and this is what brings happiness to her own life.
Reality Edwards and Lauren Bellflower, Co-counselors and lifelong friends
Written by: Emerson Loudenback
Lauren Bellflower was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease when she was 20 years old. Through various treatments and changes, Lauren found her way to Camp Oasis and the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation. Camp Oasis specifically led Lauren to relationships with peers her age and younger who were also battling health issues. She says, “Living with an incurable chronic illness can leave you joyless at times, but happiness and hope are two things I have found through volunteering.”
Lauren works once a year at Camp Oasis as a counselor where she curates a week of activities and events for children who otherwise feel comfortable in their own skin and struggle to fit in. “We have campers (who) start out nervous (about the camp experience). Some have never (previously) met anybody else with their disease or ever really talked about it,” says Lauren. She particularly enjoys seeing campers as they start to open up and create bonds with counselors and with other children.
This is the seventh year Lauren will work as a camp counselor. Simultaneously she serves as a board member for the Tennessee Chapter of the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation by helping with fundraising and education events. Lauren understands may never fully understand the impact of her volunteering. Regardless, the humbling and compassionate moments experienced in both settings will forever remind her she finds hope and happiness through volunteering.
Written by: Emerson Loudenback
“The good we do always comes back to us,” says Zarita Fears, this month’s Nashville’s Volunteer of the Month. Zarita has been a motivated volunteer since she was a child when she helped supply local shelters and even tutored other children. Just as her mother instilled in her the value of “small acts of kindness,” she has continued her family tradition by raising her daughter in service work around local shelters. Zarita has consistently made it a point to serve others.
She has been lucky, as she says, to turn her passion into her career. She currently works as a Diversity and Inclusion Specialist for the Employee Resource Groups (ERG) at Asurion and volunteers as a board member for the local chapter of the Lupus Foundation of America. In addition, Zarita serves various nonprofits in the Nashville area on her own time. She remarks she is reminded of the work she has done by a remark someone makes or when running into someone she has helped. “Even if no one remembers my name,” she says, “the differences I have made will affect generations to come.”
Sheila with daughter, Lensey
Yoga proved helpful in Sheila Habacker’s recovery from her bone marrow transplant. After fully recovering, she became certified as a yoga teacher where she learned she could teach yoga to the underserved. She is one of many who volunteer in this way with Small World Yoga. She says, “I don’t know if they ever think about it again or not. But, I hope it gives them a tool to create ways to relieve stress in their body and mind. To help them let go of something.”
She also says she does only what she can do, so she chooses to lead two classes. She teaches yoga to at-risk youth at Oasis Center as well as patients recovering from chemical dependency at Rolling Hills Hospital.
Not everyone can teach yoga, but most people have special talents or interests. Sheila says “it comes to down to identifying (how the volunteer) can be the most authentically helpful to people.” Additionally, “when you can give in a way that means something to you,” it is meaningful to both the volunteer and those receiving the services.
Denise Stewart volunteering at the NAMI Tennessee Convention with her daughter, Logan.
Denise Stewart is more than a success story, she is a past client of NAMI Tennessee, the local chapter of the National Alliance of Middle Tennessee. She is also a graduate of its programs, teaches others about mental illness through NAMI Tennessee courses, and lives what she learned every day as a wife, mother of two, and Donelson resident.
“I get more from volunteering than I give,” says Denise Stewart, Nashville’s Volunteer of the Month. “It gives me joy to watch how much NAMI’s programs that I teach, train, and present help others.” Her service as a volunteer is more than what she learned from class. It involves her life experience of living with a mental disorder which “just about destroyed” her marriage and relationship with her children.
Denise credits NAMI Tennessee for saving her marriage, her relationship with her children, and keeping her alive. She carries out the nonprofit’s message of hope in her daily life and volunteerism. She encourages others saying “Family members of those in crisis do not have to go through this alone.” For more information about mental health or NAMI Tennessee, visit http://www.namitn.org.
Mo McClain volunteering at an event with AHOD Jr.
visionaries Ms. Owens and Mr. Morris-Martin
“A small gesture can save someone’s hope in a particular life changing event,” says Takea McClain, better known as “Mo.” Her passion and pain stems in part from being homeless for over a year while holding custody of her god sister. Regardless of her circumstances, she was determined to establish a home with a positive attitude and diligent work ethic. She says, “I can get knocked down nine times, but I will get up ten!”
Having picked herself up, she now encourages others to do the same. She says, “Get things done with or without someone’s help – it’s (up to you) how much you want for yourself.” Plus, she recognizes how much one small gesture can impact a person who is taking these difficult yet positive steps.
Today Mo gives to others through an active leadership role as a board member for All Hands on Deck of Maury County, specifically including taking minutes at committee meetings, regularly scouting and posting online upcoming community events and resources, and staffing booths at community events such as the one seen in the picture above.
When Misha Harris moved to Nashville as a freshman in high school, she and her mother lived at The Salvation Army of Nashville. Misha fondly remembers the volunteers who served them, fed them, and talked with them. She also remembers celebrating Christmas while participating in the annual Toy Giveaway. Her memories of volunteers are each positive and appreciative. Soon she and her mother found their financial footing in the area and began volunteering in the same way others had served them.
While in high school, Misha volunteered with St. Thomas Midtown Service Day as well as the same annual Toy Giveaway she had previously attended as a client. Her hard work and ethics paid off earning her a scholarship to Belmont University as a Bridges student. Her plans are two-fold: to graduate with her doctorate in sports psychology and open clinics throughout Nashville; and, to open a consulting business to work with athletes.
Misha continues volunteering throughout the Nashville area. Her experience offers her a uniquely deep understanding of the impact service has on individuals and families. “I hate to sit back and watch others not get what they need. I want to help them. Everybody needs somebody, and I want to be that somebody for people.” Misha puts it simply. “It just takes a phone call or email. People love it when you call and offer to volunteer.”