By Karen E. Williams
When citizens are in trouble they call 9-1-1. They’re confident a First Responder will be there in minutes to help. But when a First Responder is severely injured in the line of duty, who is there to help them? Generally it is not the government. In fact, the First Responder may see medical disability income replacing only 50-60 percent of his or her income. And with long-term debilitating injuries, the First Responder may not be able to continue the second job they have held and the spouse may have to quit her or his job to care for the injured breadwinner. This leaves the family in a situation where they’re unable to pay their mortgage and meet the needs of their family. They are headed into poverty and despair.
With that dilemma in mind, in 2008 retired Metro Nashville, Tennessee Police Officer Mickey Milam formed Help the Good Guys. He had been injured in the line of duty and knew what many of his fellow first responders were facing. “My injury changed our lives,” Mickey said. “We were fortunate because my wife has a good job. We were able to refinance our home through a special hardship program and thankfully didn’t face the fate of losing everything. But others are not so lucky. Coming into my unplanned retirement I saw a need that many of my fellow First Responders have and decided to do something about it.”
Now Mickey is using his connections with the music industry in Nashville to organize benefit concerts and events wherever the need exists across the country to help severely injured Firefighters, Law Enforcement Officers and Emergency Medical Technicians.
Because of the generous partnership of entertainers such as Bucky Covington, Darryl Worley, Charlie Daniels, Ronnie Milsaps, George Strait, Vince Gill, John Michael Montgomery, Kevin Bacon, Trace Adkins, Alabama’s Randy Owen and others, Help the Good Guys has held concerts, produced a bowling event and sold CDs to benefit individuals in Seattle, Little Rock, Atlanta, Birmingham and Philadelphia as well as helping the Fallen Firefighters Foundation. We’re actively looking for other local First Responders in need,” he says.
But his latest project is the one that excites Mickey the most. He is bringing together Kidde, the world’s largest manufacturer of fire safety products, Americus Studios, a Nashville-based music video producer, and the Chattanooga, Tennessee Fire Department to create a video of “PROUD,” a new song recorded by up-and-coming singer George Shingleton. First Responders will be able to use the video in their fund raising efforts to assist members of their own departments who are severely injured.
Mickey says that volunteering comes easy to him. “I grew up in a small West Tennessee farming town and was taught from an early age to help others. My parents made sure my brother and I never missed a church service. Our church concentrated on helping the older people and the poor families in our local community. Our family raised a two-acre garden and gave food to people in need. I remember many times people coming to my father asking for money or food for their families. I don’t recall him ever refusing to help someone.
“Helping others brings a tremendous sense of tranquility and happiness to my life,” Mickey continues. “It makes me realize how fortunate I am with the blessings God has given me. When I meet God and He reads from the Book of Life I hope to hear ‘This is a man who touched many lives because he cared enough to make a difference.’”
In addition to his work forming Help the Good Guys Mickey volunteers as a Little League baseball coach, is a board member for East Williamson Athletics and volunteered during the summer at Camp Hope, Vanderbilt Medical Center’s camp for children who have been seriously burned. Mickey is a resident of Nolensville, Tennessee.
Click here for more information and to donate to Help the Good Guys.
Doing Good is proud to recognize Mickey Milam as October’s Volunteer of the Month. Megan McInnis, founder of Doing Good, says “Mickey’s volunteering has impacted lives of children and families and entire communities. He embodies the saying that ‘one person can make a difference.’”
Please join the conversation about volunteerism by adding a comment. What are you doing to make a difference in the life of someone else? How does that make you feel?
Doing Good is an organization committed to promoting volunteerism in Metro Nashville by telling the stories of local volunteers on the radio and television, and in print and the Internet. By educating and inspiring others about volunteerism, Doing Good seeks to increase the number of volunteers and the number of hours per volunteer.
You’ve retired from your primary career. You’ve found your second half in another field – something like real estate, for example – and you know that work and money aren’t the sum and substance of your life. So now what do you do?
For Harold and Carol Plemons, parents of two boys with two grandchildren, the answer came on two different, yet similar tracks.
First, they became foster parents of two siblings, ages 3 months and 20 months for an 18-month period – working with Foster Care, a program of the Department of Children’s Services (DCS). Even though they’re no longer serving as foster parents, Carol and Harold continue to personally support children in foster care by providing diapers, beds, toys and other items needed by families with foster children. “It’s so hard to be a foster parent,” Carol said. “This is just one small way we can help.”
But assisting foster children isn’t the only way the Plemons volunteer. Their second track was to turn their pre-retirement part-time real estate business into a full-time business. As part of their business they are using their skills and talents to assisting low-income persons and the marginalized members of our society find AFFORDABLE and PERMANENT housing. They work with several agencies to assist in finding affordable properties for their clients to rent or buy. Agencies they work with include Nashville CARES, Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency (MDHA), the Veterans Administration Supporting Housing Program (HUD-VASH), Magdalene House and Thistle Farms, and Shelter Plus.
For Harold and Carol it’s more than a business. When asked why they volunteer Harold quickly replied, “We felt that we were so fortunate. We just saw a need and decided to help. We are able to use our experience to help low-income people with little education, people who are mentally challenged in some way, or people who are battling addictions. We’re able to purchase homes through the HUD Section 8 program and provide affordable housing for them. These are people who don’t typically pass a background check and many rental agents are unwilling to rent to them,” he said.
In addition to helping these people find a home through their real estate business, the Plemons also personally assist the tenants by donating furniture and supplies to help them get set up in the home, along with food and clothing. This is where the different tracks of foster care and real estate services come together for the Plemons – volunteering personally to provide the items that both groups need to thrive in their new circumstances.
“We have tenants call us every day to thank us for getting them into affordable housing,” Carol said. “One homeless veteran hadn’t slept in a bed for two years until he moved into the house we were able to locate for him. But the best day was when a 5-year-old girl hugged us and thanked us for finding a place for her grandfather to live. That’s a worry and burden that a small child shouldn’t have to bear,” she said.
Harold and Carol offer advice to anyone looking to volunteer. Work with organized charities they say. That way you will be assisting people who have been screened and are working to get back on their feet.
“You don’t need a PhD to volunteer,” Harold says. “Just be willing to help people. The benefits we get are not financial, they’re much deeper.”
“When you get a hug, that’s the biggest payment you can get,” Carol added. “You’re at the highest when you lean down to pick someone else up!”
Doing Good salutes Harold and Carol Plemons as Nashville’s Volunteers of the Month for June. Congratulations!
What is your passion? Is it assisting the homeless, helping children, or working for a health-related charity? Something else? Join the conversation on why you volunteer!
What leads someone to become a volunteer?
For Rachel Moore it started early. While still in school in Hickman County, Tennessee, she liked to read so she volunteered at her local library. And her mother always told her “You need to help someone whenever you can, because you may need help sometime, too.”
For Rachel, that sometime came three years ago when she lost her husband to suicide. She turned to the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network for help, and then became a volunteer. “It was a chance for me to learn about suicide so other people don’t have to go through what I did,” she says.
Rachel says that volunteering has helped immensely in her recovery. She is able to relate her personal story to help others who are in a similar, or even in worse circumstances than her own.
“I have met some of the most amazing people while volunteering. I know I have gone through periods of strife myself, but to see some of these people makes me feel ashamed of ever complaining about my life.” She has also learned that you can’t judge people by what you see. She always gains inspiration from the people she is working with.
“They teach me that it’s all about attitude.” For example, through her volunteer work Rachel has met a high school athletics coach who is missing both of his arms. She’s seen people with MS who spend hours at a park helping a benefit walk. And she says, “I’m VERY lucky to have met a lady who began volunteering three weeks after losing her spouse to suicide. “
While she does most of her volunteering for the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network and Mental Health America of Middle Tennessee, Rachel often teams up with colleagues at United Healthcare to volunteer. The company encourages employees to post volunteer opportunities on weekly email and recruit others to help on their projects. When an employee completes 30 hours of community service in a year the company will donate $200 to the employee’s charity of choice.
Rachel has participated in a wide range of volunteer activities including answering phones and entering data, helping package food for a mobile food pantry and distributing it to the public. She has spoken to high school classes, helped organize benefit walks, tended booths at numerous events, rounded up volunteers for a 5K race, sorted food at Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee and helped build a home for an amazing family with the Nashville Area Habitat for Humanity.
She’s excited about her next volunteer gig helping an organization that donates pet food to owners who can’t afford it.
“I love volunteering,” Rachel says. “To me, it’s a rush to help others. I’m in awe of all the people I’ve met through volunteering, and I count myself blessed to call them my friends.”
And she offers advice for anyone looking to volunteer. “It’s easy,” she says. “Find something you’re passionate about and just ask what you can do to help.”
Doing Good is thrilled to recognize Rachel Moore as Nashville’s Volunteer of the Month for May 2013.
What are you passionate about? Why do you volunteer? What kind of rush do you get from volunteering?
Well hello there, my name is Donna. It’s so nice to meet you!
I’d like to share a little bit about Safe Haven Family Shelter and “our” story. Safe Haven is the only “family” shelter in Nashville, where a family can stay together. I started volunteering there about 10 years ago. Compared to many, many people, my level of volunteering is actually pretty weak. I mean they have these amazing super-volunteers who stay overnight once a week or more and give so much more of their time and energy…all I do is show up once a month (along with other volunteers from Hands On Nashville) and bring dinner. But it’s so awesome!
I am naturally an introvert, but I love to cook for people, so this has always been the perfect opportunity for me. Volunteers from all different types of groups and organizations provide meals for Safe Haven 365 nights a year. Hands On Nashville has two nights each month and one of them is mine to coordinate. I have a couple of “regulars” who normally sign up to help, then usually a couple of newbies will sign up. The new volunteers are always fun, because I’m sure most show up there a little nervous, with no idea what to expect. They get to meet people, learn about the program, and leave with a new enthusiasm. Safe Haven is not at all what you would picture when you think “homeless shelter”. It may be temporary, but it is still a “home”.
For the most part, residents of Safe Haven are just like you and me. They are not chronically homeless, they just hit hard times and got to the point they couldn’t bounce back on their own. Maybe they were working hard, but just barely getting by, when their car breaks down. Without transportation, they can’t get to work, lose their job, can’t pay rent, can’t afford to get the car fixed, can’t get a job without a car, get evicted…just a vicious downward spiral. Safe Haven gives them an opportunity to get back on their feet and learn ways to manage their families more efficiently. Families who complete the Safe Haven program have a very high success rate. Many of them have been so thankful for the opportunity that they have come back as volunteers. I can only imagine how unnerving it would be to move your family and belongings into a shelter, but then how comforting to talk to someone who had been in your exact position, made it through, and is now thriving.
My three favorite things about dinner at Safe Haven are the volunteers, the residents, and the food. I have met so many interesting people who came to volunteer over the years…college students, single parents, ministers, attorneys, chefs…you name it. I’ve also made several friends, including one of my very best friends! People usually have a specific reason for volunteering and leave feeling better than when they got there.
As I mentioned earlier, I’m an introvert. Sometimes it’s challenging for me to strike up conversations with people, but something I’ve noticed is no matter who I eat dinner across from that night, we will find something in common. Last week, I was chatting with a cool teenage girl about her choice to not eat meat (I did that for five years.) Other times common ground has been religion or families or careers or favorite foods. Everyone has a story, sometimes you just have to ask a few questions to get to it.
Finally…FOOD. We always have good food! Sometimes we’ll do Mexican Fiesta and sometimes we go more traditional and have chicken breasts, beef roast, or pork tenderloin. Mmm…makes me hungry to think about it!
Okay, enough about me. What about you? Do you volunteer? If so, what is your story? And if not, what is holding you back?