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.”
Abinaya & her family
Writtten by: Amber Yun
Abinaya Ramakrishnan is an Ingram Scholar at Vanderbilt University, joining a small, distinguished pool of socially minded, service-oriented students who received the scholarship. Abinaya is an accomplished pre-med student, double majoring in Medicine, Health, and Society and Biological Sciences, and doing double duty volunteering at five different organizations in the Nashville community. As a trans-buddy and doula-in-training at the Vanderbilt Medical Center, a helping hand and arm of emotional support at the Alive Hospice, and a mental health educator in local middle schools and high schools through NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness) in the Ending the Silence program, Abinaya has already impacted 3,000 Nashvillian lives in the past nine months alone.
For Abinaya, service has been a part of her life from an early age. When she was nine years old, she remembers accompanying her family friends to a local branch of Feed My Starving Children, packaging dry foods for impoverished children in Africa and South Asia. Since that first taste of community service, Abinaya has continued to serve her community in increasingly consequential ways, establishing her own non-profit called Muzic Academy in the 9th grade. Muzic Academy connects music teachers and low-income students in the Chicago area, providing free private music lessons for those who otherwise could not afford them and still continues to this day.
Although she has worked towards many issues in her community service, Abinaya’s primary passions are mental health and healthcare equality, and she sees them as recurring themes in her volunteering work. After a serious health scare in the family last year regarding her father’s heart–which he has successfully recovered from–Abinaya has been inspired to take her heart surgeon career to an underserved area like India and provide quality healthcare to indigent populations there. India, her parent’s home country, suffers from one of the highest rates of heart disease and access to quality healthcare is unpredictable. Abinaya credit her parents as pivotal motivators who “instilled the importance of education and giving back to those less fortunate.”
Written By: Meg Provenzale
Jeremy Bradford has been nominated as July’s Volunteer of Month. His desire to give back to the community goes unnoticed in the many organizations he volunteers for. These organizations include, The Nashville Sports Council, The Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Boys and Girls Clubs of Middle Tennessee, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Middle Tennessee, The Country Music Hall of Fame, and Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce.
Jeremy’s drive to help others began at a young age when he started volunteering at his family’s church. Working as a youth leader as well as worship leader Jeremy emphasized how important the group of thirty students was to him, “I tried my best. It wasn’t because I wanted money it’s because I cared about those 22 or 25 and I wanted them to have an experience. I wanted to take the initiative and give, even at that early age, give to that church.”
His childhood and the circumstances he grew up in inspired him to give back to others. “There are a lot of great people that have invested into my life whether it was in middle school, high school, my church or my parents so I just felt like it was time for me to give back as much as I could into the community of Nashville and to other people’s lives. I really felt that calling and that responsibility.”
Nashville’s Volunteer of the Month is a program of Doing Good, a 501(c)3, nonprofit organization which educates and inspires people by celebrating the real stories of real people who volunteer. For additional information about Jeremy, Doing Good, or other volunteers, visit the website www.DoingGood.tv or @DoingGoodTV on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, or YouTube
Doing Good is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that provides marketing and public relations tools, resources, and opportunities to nonprofit and government agencies to celebrate their volunteers. www.DoingGood.tv
Written by Zac Cooper
When people hear the word “non-profit,” it is more than likely that one of the first comments will be about the low salaries involved in community work. January’s Volunteer of the Month, Keena Alexander, is an example of a selfless individual who not only powers this community-building, but also understands its dire financials.
Keena grew up in Jackson, Mississippi and took pride in her community and city from a young age. She started working with Habitat for Humanity in high school and went on to earn a Master’s in Accountancy from the University of Mississippi. She currently works as a Senior Tax Analyst at Asurion.
As her main volunteering activity, Keena supports the United Way of Metropolitan Nashville, an organization which supports community development in the fields of education, financial stability, and health. To give you a sense of its magnitude within Nashville, United Way provided $7.5 million in community program investments in 2016.
Keena volunteers with the Allocations Board, so her job is to interview different Nashville nonprofits to find which ones would be the best fit for United Way’s funding. Her holistic understanding of organizational budgets, from an accounting mindset, has given her even more motivation to volunteer. After seeing the high expenses and low salaries in many of the nonprofits functioning in Nashville, Keena notes that we can all give back more; it’s just a matter of our priorities.
The legendary boxer Muhammed Ali inspired Keena when he said, “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.” She says in paying this service, she has “learned how to cultivate a heart of gratitude.”
Nashville’s Volunteer of the Month is a program of Doing Good, a 501(c)3, nonprofit organization which educates and inspires people by celebrating the real stories of real people who volunteer. For additional information about Keena, Doing Good, or other volunteers, visit the website www.DoingGood.tv or @DoingGoodTV on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, or YouTube.
Emily with her mom, Julie
Written by: Cole Gray
Doing Good’s Nashville Volunteer of the Month Emily Fay is passionate about the University of Nebraska and serving others. In 2007, two years after moving to Nashville, she decided to combine her passions by founding Nashville Huskers, a nonprofit alumni association that has used member dues and merchandise sales to raise $18,000 in scholarship for Tennessee high school students looking to attend the University of Nebraska.
“I just wanted to watch football with other Nebraskans. That’s what it was when I started,” said Fay. She missed being surrounded by other Cornhuskers after growing up in a University of Nebraska household in Loveland, Colo., then attending Nebraska, and finally ending up in a sea of SEC fans in Nashville. So, back in 2007, Fay sent out some Facebook message cold-calls and 80 fans showed up to watch a football game.
Fast-forward eight seasons, and Nashville Huskers has hosted over 100 watch parties and over 10,000 guests. Though it started on Facebook, it’s now an official Nebraska Alumni chapter, and the community Fay started is supporting Middle Tennessee’s students.
“We want to send more people to the Big Ten, and we want to send more people to Nebraska because it’s one of the flyover states. People forget about it. It’s a beautiful campus with so much opportunity there. They’re doing amazing research, they’re doing wonderful things on campus, and to be able to send someone here in that direction just excites me. There’s so much opportunity.”
By: Kingsley East
“By letting my light shine through volunteer work, I’m able to help others have a better quality of life- no matter where they are in their journey.” Brandi Nunnery lives to make the world a better place by meeting people where they are and serving them. Brandi is involved with a multitude of volunteer work that stems from her church, sorority involvement, and family life. Brandi says, “Whether I’m raising money for juvenile arthritis, serving my church on the board, organizing readers for Read Across America, or building a home for Habitat, I’m able to show enthusiasm and passion for helping others.”
Since 1993, Brandi has worked with her sorority Alpha Omicron Pi to raise support for the Arthritis Foundation. This philanthropy is dear to Brandi’s heart, as is her continued involvement with her sorority. Brandi currently serves as the President of the Nashville Area Alumnae Chapter for Alpha Omicron Pi. As she reflected on supporting arthritis research, Brandi said, “I’ve been able to raise money, organize teams for the Jingle Bell Run, walk in the Walk to Cure and, most importantly, hear the stories and MEET THE PEOPLE that we strive to support.”
At the Unity of Nashville Church, Brandi served as a board member for five years and as the Unity Build Coordinator for four builds. These positions enabled Brandi to play an active role in her church while reaching out to the community. For instance, Unity of Nashville works with Habitat for Humanity to build homes in the community. Some of Brandi’s best volunteering memories are from the work that she did with her daughter Parker at the Unity Build for Habitat for Humanity. Brandi includes her daughter in each of her volunteer efforts in order to instill a servant heart in Parker. She encourages others to let their lights shine because anything that you say or do has an impact on the community, your family, and even yourself. By volunteering, Brandi uses this power to make the lives that she encounters better.
Roopa packing books for low-income children at Book’em
Written by: Kingsley East
“Volunteering helps me to develop skills, learn more about career options, make friends, spend time, build confidence, and even just shake up my routine.” These are a few of Roopa Srinivasa Rao’s reasons for volunteering, and she encourages others to get involved in their communities as well. Roopa is passionate about helping others, finding solutions to meet people’s needs, and expanding her own network of people. Through volunteering, Roopa has found an outlet for each of these desires.
Roopa serves a non-profit called Book ‘Em that works to provide underprivileged children with books. Since its foundation in 1989, Book ‘Em has donated over one million books to various schools, camps, and programs throughout Middle Tennessee. When Roopa first went to Book ‘Em, she immediately felt appreciated by the staff, comfortable in Book ‘Em’s environment, and inspired by their mission. Having moved to America from India only a year ago, volunteering with Book ‘Em provides Roopa with a growing network of people and a way to spend her time so that it helps others. Additionally, Roopa believes that people gain knowledge through their experiences, and she encourages others to learn new skills through volunteer experiences.
The Harbin Family
Michele Harbin began volunteering in 5th grade, continues today, and is passing it on to her daughter. Michele grew up in a serving home as the daughter of two ministers where service had always been their way of life. Yet formal volunteerism was introduced to her in 5th grade at Beech Elementary School in Hendersonville. As she finished her school work, she was allowed to help with a special needs class through volunteer opportunities with 4-H, Beta Club, and other non-profits.
This introduction to a lifelong passion of working with people with disabilities. Not only did she meet her future husband while volunteering, yet also eventually founding Alliance for Recreational Empowerment Foundation (ARE) with a group of friends, and planning for the future by involving her 3 year old daughter. The proud mother is happy to say her daughter “has yet to ask ‘why is she in a wheelchair, or why does he have a feeding tube?’ To her, it is (all) still normal!” Michele also says, “It’s important to me (as her mother) to instill those values in her at a young age.”