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Through the Fire

Ndume Olatushani
By: Kingsley East

“No matter where we’re at, we can still help someone less fortunate than ourselves.” Many people claim this statement, but few have twenty-eight years of imprisonment to stand behind it. Ndume Olatushani spent over half of his life in prison for a murder that he didn’t commit, yet he never saw himself as worse off than the people around him. Not only that, but Ndume spent his jail time putting this statement into action, as he reached out to help his fellow inmates and educate himself about the legal system.

A harsh environment and a series of bad choices growing up led Ndume into the wrong circumstances, which incarcerated him for a murder-robbery that occurred in Tennessee. Before his trial date, Ndume had never even stepped foot in Tennessee. While the legal system failed Ndume in many ways, it did not defeat him. Ndume believes, Whatever fires we go through in life, if we get through to the other side, that adversity is not meant for us, it is meant for other people.”

Ndume used his time in jail to serve others and show people that we all have a responsibility to help those around us. Now, Ndume uses his experiences to reach out to men in jail and youths who are subject to follow his path into prison. He does this by volunteering at after school programs for local high schools and partnering with organizations like Project Return and the Martha O’Bryan Center.

Looking back, Ndume sees that his home life was a foundational place for his life of service, but his social environment failed to encourage him to rise above stereotypes and keep away from the pathway to jail. Now, Ndume strives to give children and incarcerated men hope. His story is proof that anything is possible, and any situation can be turned into an opportunity to care for others.

Prioritizing Your Passions

Written by: Kingsley East: 
Misty Woodford is a mom, a daughter, a real estate broker, and a volunteer. She leads a life full of caring for others, including her family and the community within her church and children’s school. Misty is passionate about many things, but her children are her top priorities when it comes to choosing how to invest her time. Extending from her family, Misty gives much of her time to the community and the causes surrounding it. Misty believes that the best way to impact and create change is to be involved.

Misty is an incredible example of a working mom who still values giving back to her community. She uses her skills and innovation to find volunteering outlets that align with her own passions and organizational abilities. Misty primarily volunteers at her children’s school through fundraising and training other parents there; however, she also leads a community group with her husband at their church. Misty is gifted in managing groups and events, and she loves to make teams operate more efficiently to meet their goals. Misty believes,

“It doesn’t matter how much time you have or what your skill set is, there’s a place for everyone.”

Misty explained that we’re all talented at something; so, people should use their gifts to improve their communities. We can’t all feed the homeless or go to nursing homes, but when you do something that you’re passionate about, it doesn’t feel like work. Then you get to encourage people more and impact those around you because you enjoy what you’re doing. 

The Road to Success

Coach M.1Coach Jermarus McInnis (seated, center)

Written by Kingsley East

“Instilling success today for a successful tomorrow.”

This is the slogan under which Coach McInnis operates his AAU basketball team, the Tennessee Panthers. Coach McInnis and his college roommate started the Tennessee Panthers nine years ago as an outlet for middle and high school boys. Because Coach McInnis grew up with mentors who invested in his life, he was able to mature and succeed in college. Therefore, he feels compelled to give back to his community in this same way. He said,

“My mindset is always, I have more to do.”

Coach McInnis sets out every day, on and off the court, with the goal to better the lives of young men. He constantly pushes his team towards championship games and academic success. Through discipline and accountability, Coach McInnis has enabled his players to achieve both of these rewards, but he doesn’t stop there. Coach McInnis’s response to boys who say that they will pay him back one day is simple. He tells them,

“The only thing you owe me is a college degree.”

A college degree is Coach McInnis’s main goal for his boys. To achieve this, Coach McInnis gives his time and money to invest in boys as they grow into men. Through weekly practices, weekend tournaments, and accountability, this team becomes a family. While Coach McInnis gets to be a part of each boy’s road to success, his humility keeps him focused on the future and everything he can do to help his players have a better life.

Asha, Lori & Ghandi

MTSU Chapter group photo.making cards

 VSA Tennessee Ambassadors

Asha Patel, a junior at MTSU, was encouraged by MTSU Communications Professor Lori Kissinger to look into the collegiate chapter of VSA Tennessee. She is one of many VSA Ambassadors who serve children, teenagers and young adults with disabilities. “This past fall, the group has had more student participants than at any time in the four year history of the group. They have also had more programs and activities to reach out to the community. It has been wonderful to see the group thrive and grow.  Its success is greatly due to Asha,” says Lori Kissinger, Executive Director.

A native of India, Asha is trilingual! She is achieving a double major at MTSU in Political Science and International Relations. Prior to VSA Tennessee, she had not previously volunteered. Yet one person suggested she get look into VSA Tennessee. She did, and she “decided to stay.”

Asha considers Ghandi an educational role model. As he said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”


Education equals choices

Photo.charlotte pumping water

Charlotte pumping water

Raise the Roof Academy began in 2010 to provide education for orphans and at-risk children. In only five years, the number of students has grown from 30 to 600. Owen says the mission of the school is to provide hope, stability and wholeness to children in need.

“Education equals choices,” says Owen.

The trips to Uganda, which last between 10-14 days, include a variety of activities, such as Vacation Bible School for the students, sponsorship meetings and most recently, building drying racks for the assembly of mud huts.

Owen says she became involved with Raise the Roof Academy because she wanted to give back and wanted her son to experience a mission trip.

“It made me appreciate what we have here in the United States,” says Owen.

Raise the Roof Academy is currently campaigning to build three more permanent classrooms and acquire enough sponsors to support 90 more students. Known as the 390 Campaign, the goal is to reach it before the 2016 school year begins.

If you are interested in supporting Raise the Roof Academy, visit for more information.

“A little bit here,” Owen says, “makes a big impact there.”

Claire Brown is a senior public relations major at Lipscomb University. Claire graduates in May and wants to stay in the Nashville area.

Reading is Fundamental to a Nashville Volunteer

Students from Jennifer Ward's Pre-First classroom at Kirkpatrick Enhanced Option School

Students from Jennifer Ward’s Pre-First classroom at Kirkpatrick Enhanced Option School

Lynn Vincent has been a volunteer with Book’em since 2009 and is named Nashville’s Volunteer of the Month for November for her hard work and dedication. For information about Lynn or nominating a friend for Nashville’s Volunteer of the Month, visit

Nominated by Martha Ann Pilcher, Coordinator of Volunteers for Book’em, “Each year, we ask our Reading Is FUNdamental (RIF) volunteers to visit an assigned classroom at a Title I school five (5) times throughout the school year to read to low-income students and distribute a book for every child in the classroom to keep as his or her own. For many children, this is the first book they have ever had. …Lynn is a RIF volunteer and reads to a kindergarten classroom at Caldwell Enhanced Option School, a Title I elementary school. Lynn, despite having a busy career as a successful graphic designer…, has visited her RIF classroom approximately 18 times this school year. That’s thirteen more visits than she committed to making.”

“For Lynn, reading with her children is all about opening doors and inspiring a love of reading.” Lynn explains, ”Education and the love of reading have been a strong message through my family dating back to my grandfather starting his own school at the turn of the century, to becoming a high school principal and eventually a state educator. His daughter, my mother, always stressed that reading was the road to success. The children I get to visit and bring books to in the schools in which I read don’t have the advantage of successful expectations, they just love having special moments with someone who cares. If they do pick up the passion and share that love with their brothers and sisters, even their parents, then the word spreads and everyone benefits.” One way she expresses this passion is through an example Pilcher shared as a great idea for the upcoming holiday season. “Lynn supplements the five books the children receive from our program with additional books she purchases specifically for them. For Christmas, each child received a stuffed Velveteen Rabbit or Toto from the Wizard of Oz and the accompanying book.”

Pilcher says, “Lynn has made her time volunteering in this program…(with) loads of fun and laughter. … She stands apart from other volunteers based on her willingness to always ask, “What else can I do? How can I do more?” These simple questions lead to the children in her classrooms really beginning to connect the dots. They see that reading leads to learning.

“We talk about writing and authors. Being a designer, we pick books with different illustrator types and what each drawing style brings to the story. I work with printer friends to supply journals for the second half of the year so they can start writing and drawing their own stories. We read chapter books, like Charlotte’s Web and talk about the characters and the imagery the author weaves into each line. It is also fun to remember back and define each character and where we were when we stopped the last chapter…like a dramatic cliffhanger. By the end of the year, the children are fully engaged and tuned into books they pick and the stories they read. Book’em provides the opportunity to bring books to kids to have for their very own, to take home, oftentimes the only books they have in their home. It provides us the time to read and share, to learn each child and make a human connection. This distinguishes Book’em to not only provide the books but to also take the time with our readers to really sit in the classroom and make connections with the kids and the teachers and see what their needs are,” says Lynn.

-The above is from the press release and not an interview. Karen, the Doing Good blogger, will return for future blogs soon. Thank you for understanding.

Patricia Green Discovers Her Purpose through Volunteering

Patricia Green

Patricia Green

For the past five years Patricia Green has volunteered as a mentor to help others change their lives and find a way out of dependency on government-assisted housing.  They’re working towards a life of financial independence and security offered by the Christian Community Services Inc. (CCSI) program.

CCSI provides a nine-month program to change lives, families and neighborhoods by providing the tools, resources, education and encouragement needed to become financially stable, becoming debt free, and eventually purchasing a home or completing their education because of money they’ve saved through the program.

Patricia meets regularly with her mentees, in person and by email, text or phone. They discuss topics of concern and expectations set for each other at the beginning of the program. During their meetings she listens and provides support and offers suggestions when needed. “I try to be motivational and positive to keep them focused on their goals,” she says.

“Volunteering has given me the opportunity to meet some wonderful people and build some lifetime relationships with my mentees and other mentors,” Patricia says. “The love and support can be felt by all persons involved. In particular it has given me a sense of well being and has allowed me to find my purpose of serving others.”

When asked about the results she’s seen, Patricia lit up. “I’m thrilled that some of my mentees have really been able to make significant changes in their lives.  They’re using the principles taught at the weekly meetings to make lifestyle changes and from Dave Ramsey’s ‘Financial Peace’ program.“ They’re getting out of debt and improving their credit score and even saving money for a down payment on a home or to further their education.

“And I have changed in a positive way,” Patricia adds. “I love meeting people and building relationships. I have a new understanding and respect for my fellow human beings, and the program has helped me improve my own financial situation through what I’ve learned.”

Doing Good is proud to recognize Patricia Green, a member of Shrader Lane Church and an employee of Clopay, as Nashville’s Volunteer of the Month for August 2014.

Join the Conversation:  What has volunteering taught you? What organizations do you help? Where’s your passion for volunteering?

Blog Written by:  Karen E. Williams. She is a volunteer with Doing Good, an organization dedicated to promoting volunteerism.  The website is  Nashville’s Volunteer of the Month is a free program celebrating those who make a difference and inspiring others to volunteer by sharing stories of local volunteers through media partners.

BJ Givens Volunteers Because “It’s Up to Me”

BJ Givens

There are many issues that need to be addressed in our community, but B.J. Givens believes in making authentic, real change that begins when our youth are properly educated.  “Education is my personal conviction,” B.J. says. “It’s up to me to do something about it; and my faith calls me to use my talents and abilities to help those who may not already realize the potential within themselves.”

He’s doing something about it by serving as a member of the Board of Directors of Purpose Prep, a new Charter School located in Nashville’s Metro Center.  The school currently services 92 kindergarten students, primarily from the North Nashville area.  Purpose Prep will add one grade per year until 2017, when it will have kindergarten through fourth grade.

B.J. works for Parallon, Inc., a subsidiary of HCA headquartered in Franklin, Tennessee. He learned about Purpose Prep when he reconnected with a former grad school classmate who serves as Board Chairman.  “I was so excited about Purpose Prep that I called my friend the next day and asked him how I could get involved,” he exclaimed.  Reflecting on the students of Purpose Prep and his own similar childhood he said, “I believe in these scholars just as someone once believed in me.”

For the past year he has served as Board Secretary and on the Resource Development Committee.  That committee’s goal is to raise approximately $300,000 a year, in addition to public funding, to afford the academic enrichment needs of the scholars.

He listens and reaps new riches 

For B.J., volunteering isn’t just about giving, it’s also about learning.  “I’ve learned the importance of understanding the true need of the person or people I am trying to help,” he says.  “What I think is needed may not necessarily be what’s actually needed.  I’ve learned that it is critical to listen first, and then move forward with my efforts.  I’ve also gained many impactful insights into my own life by helping others. I come away from each experience richer and more fulfilled.  I love working with the children we serve, not just helping in the administration and fund raising.  That’s where the rubber meets the road and what feeds my heart.” B.J. says.

In addition to his first love and passion for Purpose Prep, B.J. is heavily involved with Tennessee Center for Performance Excellence, an economic development organization in Tennessee that works to help organizations of all sizes improve operational efficiency and effectiveness.  He serves as a Board Examiner, working directly with companies across Tennessee to help assess where improvements can be made in areas of operations, human resources and organizational development.  The ultimate goal is to help the organizations succeed to create more jobs in Tennessee.   B.J. also volunteers through his church on various projects in and around the Nashville community, as the need arises.

Doing Good is proud to recognize B.J. Givens as Nashville’s Volunteer of the Month for March.

Join the Conversation:  Where do you like to roll up your sleeves?  What issues call you to action? What do you learn from volunteering?  What wouldn’t get done if you didn’t go it?

Blog Written by:  Karen E. Williams, a volunteer with Doing Good, an organization dedicated to promoting volunteerism.  The website is  Nashville’s Volunteer of the Month is a free program which educates and inspires others to volunteer by sharing stories of local volunteers through media partners.