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VOL. 37 | NO. 21 | Friday, May 24, 2013

Country Cares

How Amy Grant led the way to connect country music with people in need

By Brad Schmitt | Correspondent

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Photograph by Jim Wright

In Nashville, it’s almost a requirement for celebrities to get involved with charities by donating time, money and talent. But how does a country star choose an organization to represent?

Why, they ask Amy Grant, Nashville’s homegrown humanitarian.

Think charities and nonprofits in Middle Tennessee and you almost immediately think of Amy Grant and Vince Gill.

They play dozens of shows each year to raise money for some do-gooder organization or the other in Middle Tennessee. They do public service announcements to raise awareness of the groups’ missions and needs.

Grant and Gill are so involved that they received the Joe Kraft Humanitarian Award from The Community Foundation in 2011 and were also named Tennesseans of Year by The Tennessean.

Amy Grant stands with some of the people contributing their efforts to the album “Everybody Has a Story.” Sales of the CD will benefit the music therapy program at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.

“Amy has touched a lot of lives with grace and graciousness which seems to know no bounds. She has taught so many the joy, the ease and the meaning of giving,’’ says Ellen Lehman, president of the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee.

At the Kraft celebration dinner, Grant and Gill received a patchwork quilt with decorative squares from the more than 60 groups they’d helped over the years.

Make-A-Wish, mental health groups, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Second Harvest Food Bank, Compassion International -- the list is nearly longer than that of the No. 1 hits the two have compiled over four decades of making music.

Grant’s legacy will endure, says Lewis Lavine, president of the Center for Nonprofit Management in Nashville.

Country music star Brad Paisley and his wife, Kim Williams-Paisley, joined other Nashvillians in Haiti to build a water purification system and bring aid to residents.

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“Years ago, Amy Grant uniquely bridged the gap between the music industry and the nonprofit sector with her philanthropic work. Now that the gap has been eliminated, she has taken her place as a leading community advocate and contibutor to nonprofit causes,’’ he explains.

Family favorite

So how can Grant possibly pick one charity that might be her favorite?

“Challenge Aspen was started by my brother-in-law, Jerry Verner,” she says.

“Relationship proximity,” Grant adds.

And that’s how Challenge Aspen – which provides outdoor activities for those with physical disabilities – became her favorite charity.

Grant says she became interested immediately because it gave her a way to reach out to hundreds of people with disabilities she meets at concerts and other public appearances.

Amy Grant, right, works with Gigi Pasley on her recording of Gigi’s song, “What is Normal,” on the CD “Everybody Has a Story.” Several Nashville music artists contributed their voices to an album of songs written by patients at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt in its music therapy program.

“There are these kids in wheelchairs at concerts, or someone who’d been hurt. It would be nice to say, ‘Are you interested in outdoor activities?’ ” she says.

After 12 years with the charity, Grant can rattle off programs and features like she can rattle off the names of family members.

Challenge Aspen serves entire families of those with disabilities; they offer zero interest loans, job opportunities and other programs for disabled veterans; the largest segment is of Iraqi War veterans.

And for Grant, it’s also about family.

Gill’s daughter, Jenny, came out to sing last year.

“My niece asked Jenny to be a counselor for the rest of the week. And Jenny said, ‘OK!’”

Amy's new album is out!

Amy Grant is out with her first new album in 10 years, How Mercy Looks From Here.

And the first single, “Don’t Try So Hard,” performed with pop icon James Taylor, is streaming for free on Grant’s website, www.AmyGrant.com.

Other tracks feature her husband, country star Vince Gill, as well as pop singers Sheryl and Carole King, and Nashville rocker Will Hoge.

Grant wrote all but one of the songs on the album.

Her young adult son Matt has been rafting with disabled vets.

“He called it 10 days of monotonous mutiny,” Grant says. “They were treating him like scum on the bottom of the pond because he hadn’t had military experience.

“He finally said, ‘If you don’t shut up, I’m gonna throw your one-legged, one-armed ass in the river, and I won’t come after you!’ And it changed everything. They fell out laughing.”

Grant says she has become much more aware and much more comfortable with people with disabilities.

“I was in Macy’s a few Christmases ago, a guy in a wheelchair was looking at two sweaters. ‘Do you want a woman’s opinion on which looks better?’ she asked. “He said: ‘that would be fantastic.’

Grant says spending time with Challenge Aspen makes all the difference.

“I don’t think I would’ve done that before my work with Challenge Aspen.”

For more information or to get involved: http://www.challengeaspen.org/

Brad Paisley and Kimberly Williams-Paisley

Country star Brad Paisley and his actress wife, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, became involved with providing clean water and medical care to impoverished residents of Haiti through a relationship with another famous couple.

Olympic gold medal skater Scott Hamilton and his wife, Tracy, moved to Nashville a while back, and Tracy Hamilton joined the board of Live Beyond, an organization that provides mobile medical support after disasters.

Tracy Hamilton invited Kim Williams-Paisley on a trip to Haiti last year, and the Paisleys have been involved ever since – in a very hands-on way.

“Kim has her hands on patients. She helps treat women who are coming in with labor pains,” says Live Beyond co-founder Laurie Vanderpool. “And she also works in a staging clinic. She washes them down and washes their little ringworm-infested heads.”

The country star has actually worked on building water purification systems.

“It’s very, very significant to see Brad standing in front of a water well and all the residents come around and thank him,” Vanderpool says.

Her doctor-husband, David Vanderpool, notes that Paisley has more than 1.5 million followers on Twitter, “which is significantly more than mine.”

“Our website goes crazy when he tweets, and volunteers come out of the woodwork,” Vanderpool says. “It’s a significant boost.”

The Vanderpools recently decided to sell all of their possessions and move to Haiti to help residents in need of health care, education and spiritual aid. Vanderpool was a trauma surgeon before he opened a vein clinic in Middle Tennessee. They have purchased 63 acres outside of Port-au-Prince.

For more information or to get involved: http://www.mmdr.org/

Tracy Lawrence

In Nashville, Tracy Lawrence is almost as well known for his annual turkey fry for the Nashville Rescue Mission as he is for a string of 1990s country hits like “Alibis” and “Time Marches On.”

And it was his love of deep frying turkeys that got him involved with the annual event. Lawrence works with dozens of pots of boiling oil and hundreds of friends to provide food for the homeless – something he’s been doing for the past seven Thanksgiving seasons.

“I was always frying up turkeys for the family gathering Thanksgiving morning,” he says. “And then I just started taking orders for people at the church or neighbors on the street.”

Bigger is better, so eventually, Lawrence went to the Nashville Rescue Mission to see if residents there might not like some fresh fried turkey on Thanksgiving morning.

That grew to a massive effort of frying hundreds of birds that are distributed to the needy throughout Middle Tennessee.

But it’s no coincidence that Lawrence picked the Nashville Rescue Mission.

“When I first came to town, I slept in my car a few times. I could’ve been there really easy,” he said. “I haven’t forgotten that. And I don’t think there’s any shame in that.”

For more information or to get

involved: http://www.nashvillerescuemission.org/

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