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VOL. 37 | NO. 11 | Friday, March 15, 2013

Floodwaters lift a new generation of nonprofits

Disaster of 2010 gave new & native Nashvillians a renewed drive to give back and the tools to reshape lives

By Hollie Deese

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In May 2010, Ryan Havice had graduated college and was living back home in San Francisco, bartending while deciding what was next.

Service was important to him, and a recent stint with AmeriCorps, which partners volunteers with nonprofits across the country, was fresh in his mind when he heard about the flood in Nashville. So he left California and came to help.

“I didn’t really have anything keeping me where I was, and I thought I would check it out and volunteer for a couple of weeks,” Havice says.

He lived in his car while mucking houses, then volunteered with Second Harvest Food Bank. He graduated to the couches of some new friends and then finally pulled the trigger on a place of his own.

“After being here for three months, I figured I would try a new city,” he says.

Second Harvest hired him as a volunteer manager and in May, three years after he first came here, he will have his master’s degree from Lipscomb University’s Civil Leadership program, a member of the program’s first class.

Havice represents the current wave of activism in Middle Tennessee that encompasses community service in all aspects of life, government and business, a trend that is on the rise.

The 2012 Corporation for National and Community Service’s Volunteering and Civic Life in America report shows Nashville ranks 14th among the 51 largest cities in the country in terms of volunteerism, its highest ever rating, including the surge that happened after the flood.

That same study cites the number of Nashville volunteers in 2011 at 386,200 with $879.9 million of service contributed.

Government involvement

It helps that Nashville’s Mayor Karl Dean has always been a proponent of service, and was even awarded the Local Leadership Award last month at a reception hosted in Washington D.C. for innovation in leveraging national service to meet local needs.

“Nashville is a city that gives and keeps on giving,” says Mayor Dean. “We saw it unite our city during the floods, and we continue to see a strong volunteer spirit today. Volunteerism is one of Nashville’s biggest assets and a major source of community pride.”

Nashville’s mayor is a founding member of the Cities of Service coalition and has developed a comprehensive service plan and coordinated strategy focused on matching volunteers and established community partners to the areas of greatest local need. He also has initiated a Workplace Challenge that encourages businesses and organizations to integrate service into their work.

Nashville was named a City of Service in September 2009.

“I think our civic health is one of the strongest in the United States,” says Laurel Creech, chief service officer for the mayor. “You can see that with the number of non-profits in this community, the strength of the non-profits in our community and the way that people give, not just financially but with their time, passion and skill.

“The opportunities for that continue to increase for our city.”

Dean’s comprehensive local plan, Impact Nashville, is meant to increase civic engagement by leveraging institutional and cultural capital through impactful volunteerism directed toward public education and the environment. Since its inception, some 2,520 volunteers have spent 18,626 hours on its initiatives.

“We are one of the leadership cities in the City of Service movement because we are able to see that uniqueness here in the city of Nashville and are able to harness that asset and put it towards the largest needs and greatest needs of our community,” Creech says.

“A healthy community in terms of being healthy economically and in faith and happiness has to do with being in an engaged community with people who care and give their time to others. Nashvillians really care about that and they want to be involved.”

Social entrepreneurship rises

In the hours after the flood, Josh Newman, owner of ST8MNT brand agency, noticed an increasing number of “likes” on designer friend Susannah Parrish’s Facebook page after she posted mock-up T-shirt designs in support of flood relief.

The shirts carried a simple message: “I love Nashville, Flood 05.2000.” A large heart, substituting for the word love, features an umbrella shedding a steady rain.

“I thought it was an awesome idea, and that was at 6 p.m.,” Newman says. “By 9:30 p.m., the picture had 500 likes and then the next morning, there were 3,000 likes and I thought this thing was about to blow up.”

Because he had the manpower, and was inspired by the book “The 4-Hour Work Week” by Timothy Ferriss, he stepped in to help her create a web store for Nashville Flood Tees and push the shirts through social media.

From then on, people were demanding shirts as soon as they were printed. In fact, PayPal shut them down because they had made too much money – nearly $50,000 – in the first 24 hours without fully completing the correct paperwork.

“It was stressful, but it was also exhilarating,” Newman says. “There has always been a place for a greater good to what we do, and this was definitely an opportunity to step in and use those talents to bring awareness to flood relief.”

The shirts raised $250,000 for flood relief efforts, which were distributed through Cross Point Church, Grace Church Nashville, United Way Williamson County and Music Cares. It was the ultimate crash course in social responsibility.

Newman learned some lessons along the way, but came through on the other side with a business model he can use when needed, like after the storms in Birmingham and Joplin.

“We ran into some hiccups with distribution and actually worked through all that,” he says. “If something happens now, we respond to it if we have time.”

Moving non-profits to a more sustainable business model can be scary, but one that is becoming more common as it is becoming harder to get people to simply write a check. Plus, people want to be more involved.

“I think that there is a real rich pool of people that this resonates with, particularly among young people, and that is for a lot of reasons,” says Dan Surface, chairman of the Nashville Social Enterprise Alliance Board.

“The younger generations in general are looking for innovative ways to solve problems, issues in communities and in the world. Nashville has traditionally been a very entrepreneurial city, but they also want to make a social impact.

“So they are either drawn to creating companies because they want to address human trafficking or homelessness or food deserts, but in an entrepreneurial way. Nashville has huge potential for becoming the leading social entrepreneur center in this part of the country.”

Surface cites the synergy between the local community, Dean, the Chamber of Commerce and thousands of local non-profits as helping make Nashville an incredible place to give.

“We all share a passion of coming up with ways of doing things, and this is a much more financially sustainable way, creating social enterprises that use traditional business methods and market-based strategies to keep up with sustainable solutions for social impact,” he says.

After all, it works for The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and even the Nashville Ballet, the Frist Center for the Visual Arts and the Adventure Science Center, all non-profits.

Educational options abound

Nashville has become a hotbed for higher education’s focus on civic duty and leadership. At Belmont University, Bernard Turner started the country’s first undergraduate major in social entrepreneurship.

Jim Shore, president of the board of the Social Enterprise Alliance and a Vanderbilt professor, has taught social entrepreneurship for years at the University of California-Berkeley.

“Students going out in the community through experimental learning very much enriches their educational experience and whatever their particular major might be, but at the same time providing substantive community service,” Surface says.

Havice, who is currently a site coordinator at Martha O’Bryan Center, is earning his master’s degree in May from the Nelson and Sue Andrews Institute for Civic Leadership from Lipscomb, which was established in 2010.

“The institute is based on the idea that if you brought business and government and non-profit leaders together for the common good, that you would get from that collaborative solutions for our community that make it a stronger, more thriving city,” says Linda Schacht, executive director at the Andrew Institute.

Instead of a thesis, Havice and his peers created non-profits. His organization, Service Learning in Elementary Schools, pairs children 12 and younger with volunteer opportunities they might not normally be able to participate in because of liability issues.

“Ryan has the most phenomenal project,” Schacht says. “He is a wonderful example of a student who really was able to take the concept of cross-sector collaboration, identify an issue that he wanted to develop a project around and created something that really filled a niche.

“The whole idea that volunteer service for children under 12 clicks because most non-profits have liability issues and can’t normally allow children to participate, which also holds back parents.

“The whole point of this is to keep service learning in the classroom and making it as accessible and functioning for the teachers as we can,” Havice says.

Another student in the program, Laurie Corley created Faith Care Connections, matching congregations and synagogues with caregivers of patients with dementia in their faith community.

Maura Cunningham created Rock The Street Wall Street, teaching financial literacy to girls, and is now established in six locations.

Schacht has seen an increase in volunteerism since the flood, but thinks that is just how good Nashville is and the flood just brought it to the surface.

“It was already in our DNA, the notion of volunteering and helping each other,” she says.

“The flood highlighted that and maybe even was a catalyst for even more. It was a catalyst for us to do it at a much more intense level. And what the flood proved to Nashville – to us – was that there was something to this notion of a Nashville model.”

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