“People are sometimes not just desperate for home ownership; they’re just desperate for affordability.”
Casey started her first nonprofit job 12 years ago—and has been at Habitat for Humanity ever since. She oversees the program that manages financial education for future homeowners and provides support once applicants become homeowners. The biggest barriers her clients face is the cost of housing. She says since starting this job and having her own daughters, she more and more understands her clients’ desire for a safe, comfortable place to raise their children. “What I work for in my personal life to try to give my children—I’m also at work doing to help other people give to their children.”
Facilitator. Retired principal. Activist.
“Our biggest challenge is how to transition from that climate where people left their doors open and took care of each other and fed each other … to a rapidly growing urban center that is an economic dynamo but brings with that growth even more dramatic challenges for people in need. I think our biggest challenge as a city is to literally identify who we want to be and how we are going to become that.”
Avi worked as a middle school teacher and principal in Chicago for 35 years before he moved to Nashville with his wife, an advertising writer who invented the dancing California Raisins. She wanted to become a songwriter; he enrolled at Vanderbilt to receive his doctorate of education. He says he takes immense pride in our community’s development but recognizes the burden that growth places on those who can’t afford it and are left in its wake. Now as a retired administrator, Avi uses his time and energy to advocate for social and economic change in Nashville.
Healer. Survivor. Artist.
“It’s like a part-time job just to stay alive.”
Slyms’ kidneys were rapidly failing when she and her six-year-old son moved to Nashville. She was recently divorced and her kidneys no longer worked well enough for her to survive without dialysis or a transplant. Treatment at Vanderbilt meant the difference between life and death. For years, Slyms has been on hemodialysis, which requires her to drive to a facility 25 minutes away, three days a week. She’s not able to work because dialysis—and the recovery from dialysis—takes up most of her time. This makes working full-time and providing for her son by herself impossible. After an evaluation at the Vanderbilt Transplant Program, she hopes to transfer to type of dialysis that can be done at home while she sleeps. She’ll be able to eat more, use fewer medications and do more of her daily activities, making it is easier to work or travel. However, a requirement for at-home dialysis is—a home.
“I love being a lunch buddy. Sometimes if I’ve had a bad day, going and spending 45 minutes or an hour with a first- or second-grade student and escaping into their world—whether it’s coloring or playing games, seeing just for a moment what their day is like through their eyes—it really puts what my worries or my problems are into perspective.”
An attorney in a corporate contracts and legal department, Betsy started her blog Goldwill Digger four years ago as a way to introduce her followers to her love of Goodwill and to the world of conscious consumerism. She says she never considered herself particularly stylish but always knew a good deal when she saw one. Betsy wants to encourage people to think critically about how the purchasing decisions we make affects the environment and the economy. When she’s not working and thrifting, she volunteers as a lunch buddy at Buena Vista Enhanced Option Elementary School.
Believer. Partner. Educator.
“I think if we just put all of our ideas, our preconceived notions, whatever it may be—whether it’s being homeless or being HIV positive or being hungry—I think if we put all those aside and simply help people, I think it just cuts through everything. That changes everything. It changes our community. It changes our world.”
Tim has been at Columbia CARES for more than 25 years. He tested positive for HIV in 1993 and stayed in the traditional workforce for a few years until becoming an educator and now executive director at CARES, which serves rural communities affected by HIV and AIDS. Tim says as he battles the stigma associated with HIV, he can bring a unique perspective to his position. “I can understand what a person is going through. I know what excuses we make. That helps too—to know where someone may feel that we aren’t strong enough, but I know that we are. That helps as much as anything.”
Go-getter. Listener. Presbyterian.
“You can feel very isolated once you can’t get in that car and go any time you want.”
Rita is legally blind. Nearly a year ago, she lost her vision and, with that, the ability to drive. After her diagnosis, Rita had been having some pinched nerve problems in her legs, and it was important to her that she get treatment. But not being able to drive, getting to her doctor’s appointments posed as a significant problem. A neighbor who volunteers for FiftyForward recommended Senior Ride Nashville, an organization that calls on volunteers to provide transportation to older adults who can no longer drive themselves. Rita filled out the application, was interviewed and then accepted into the program.
Voice of the Tennessee Titans. Sportscaster. Volunteer.
“Things have changed so much and for the better in many ways, but we have an opportunity to do even more. And we want to make sure that everyone is considered with every decision we make.”
Mike lives for Sundays at Nissan Stadium. As the official voice of the Tennessee Titans, he has the opportunity to do what he loves: talk about professional football through the Titans’ broadcast. He’s a Nashville native and had the opportunity to return to his hometown for work more than 20 years ago. Mike says it’s extra special to tell the story of the Titans each week and to see how the joy and entertainment of the sport brings people closer.
Fundraiser. Giver. Cat lover.
“There are so many outside reasons as to why a family is struggling. It’s not just child care. It could be that they are displaced; it could be that their lights went out. There are so many pieces to this puzzle.”
Melissa moved to Nashville from Los Angeles a few years ago and serves as the director of development at Fannie Battle Day Home. The oldest child care center in Middle Tennessee, Fannie Battle has been serving children and families in our community since 1891. Many of Fannie Battle’s families suffer from financial stress and often live paycheck to paycheck. “For a lot of our families, education is really important and unfortunately they can’t get a better job unless they have some sort of education behind them. And with that of course you need childcare.”
Daughter. Educator. Caretaker.
“It was so much more than just losing weight. I found myself.”
In the span of a few years, Mingyon faced four egregious losses. Her sister passed away from stage 4 breast cancer, and her mother lost a 10-year battle with dementia. Six months later, her brother died from a pulmonary clot, and another brother died suddenly of a heart attack. With each loss, Mingyon turned to overeating and unhealthy habits—until she walked through the doors at New Beginnings.
“Making sure that we’re giving those who don’t feel like they have a voice an opportunity to speak about the things that they need is really important to the community leaders and specifically to the Chamber and myself.”
Jordan is a Jill of all trades. While she leads a small staff of three as the president of the Robertson County Chamber of Commerce, she’s really at the helm of this resurgence for the entire county. The Chamber works to build a strong economy and community for its neighbors. But Jordan’s work doesn’t stop there. She says only through strategic partnerships will we be able to ensure that housing stays affordable; that no one is left behind; and that everyone has the same opportunities.
Translator. Navigator. Counselor.
“I meet people who work two jobs, have multiple children, don’t speak English and yet are still saving for this dream they’ve had their entire lives at a rate that’s astounding.”
Ryan’s work at Conexión Américas is two-fold. Half of his time is spent managing some of the adult education programs at Conexión Américas, while the other half is focused on financial counseling. 95 percent of his clients are Spanish-speaking. He says that the barriers they face are often complex and unjust. “If I encounter a financial issue, there are thousands of places I can go and people I can call. The government is ready with programs to help me do that. But when my problem is that the naming customs for my country don’t match with how credit bureaus work and I have seven different versions of my own credit profile floating around—and I can’t access any of them—that’s a little harder to navigate. And if I don’t speak the language, it’s even more difficult.”
Advocate. Confidante. Brother.
“Remember that we’re a lot more alike than we are different.”
Muggs was in his early 40s when he tested positive for HIV. While visiting friends in Nashville, he knew something felt off. There had been a persistent fear, a worry in the back of his mind, for several months. “Could this be HIV?” he’d thought. It had been a year since he was last tested. Doctors would blame his symptoms on allergies or sinus pressure. He was told he was fine and not to worry. But something wasn’t right. “By the time I came here, I decided I was going to find out.”
“I’m optimistic about my future. I’m really excited. I’ve come so far from being homeless to doing drugs, getting my GED, working to become mortician, hopefully next: a home.”
Keyaundra is studying to be a mortician. She says she’s been fascinated with the art and science of death since she was a little girl. But her story is not one of death or darkness, but of life—and light. Keyaundra was living in Cayce Homes, Nashville’s oldest and largest public housing project where the average family lives off about $8,000 a year, when she heard about the Martha O’Bryan Center several years ago.
“A lot of people end up in difficult circumstances and don’t always know where to turn. There are some really terrific organizations in our community that are set up to help people with all kinds of needs in different stages of their life.”
Brian grew up in a tough New York neighborhood. He was hanging around the wrong people and making bad decisions, so he was given a choice: He could go to the Boys and Girls Club or somewhere much worse. That’s when everything changed. He started playing basketball and paying attention in school and went on to lead several United Ways across the United States. Now, as president and CEO of United Way of Metropolitan Nashville, Brian works to ensure that our community supports important organizations that care about our neighbors and help to guide them on the right path.
Professor. Entrepreneur. Trailblazer.
“When you’re talking about our neighbors, we’ve got to look at other underlying issues that cause people to live in poverty … but one organization, one entity, can’t do it alone. We have to come together. Leave the egos outside the door. Come together, sit at a table and talk about what’s best for our community.”
Bernard’s nonprofit roots run deep. He came to Belmont University 11 years ago to begin the nation’s first social entrepreneurship undergraduate program. Before that, he worked at Meharry Medical College and has traveled the country working, volunteering and advocating for organizations that support those affected by HIV and AIDS, even writing the grant that brought the Ryan White Part B HIV/AIDS initiative to United Way in 1989.
Student. Dreamer. Animal lover.
“It’s not just my obligations to my family or my obligations to myself. I have an obligation to my community.”
Jaquelin and her family came to the U.S. from Mexico in search of a better life when she was just two years old. A senior at Lead Academy High School, she boasts a 3.9 grade point average and landed a perfect score on the ACT’s reading section, despite English being her second language. Jaquelin uses her perspective and platform to be a strong advocate for her peers and for the Latino community at large, a voice she’s honing through the Oasis Center’s International Teen Outreach Program (ITOP) at her school.
“Nashville has progressed so far, so fast in the last decade, but not everyone has kept pace. Some have been left behind.”
Gord is a global leader and has been investing in local United Ways across the country for more than 20 years. As chairman of United Way of Metropolitan Nashville’s Board of Trustees and president and CEO of Bridgestone Americas, he fosters a workplace built on community, taking care of our neighbors and building a better Nashville. Gord’s passion lies in education and he believes we all must do better to ensure that every child in Nashville has a bright future through a strong, solid education.
Education advocate. Giver. Director.
“I can go back in my life and name the mentors … the home economics teacher, the shop teacher. They planted the seed that education is important. They planted seeds along the way and those seeds replaced all the things in my head that I was told … that I was dumb, that I was stupid, that I’d never amount to anything. Those mentors, those people planted their seeds and there were enough of those seeds to point me in the right direction.”
Marilyn grew up in in rural Minnesota and couldn’t say the alphabet until the third grade. Now as a member of the senior team of Cummins, a $1.2 billion company, she’s adamant about giving to United Way and ensuring that all of our young people have the tools and support they need to succeed.
Survivor. Grandmother. Achiever.
“My counselor taught me how to love me. And how to appreciate that I did have a job and that I could get out.”
As a young girl from Tallahatchie County, Miss., Dianne knew she would become a homeowner one day. At 57 years old, she and her husband closed on their very first home. Homeownership might not have happened as quickly as she would have liked, but with resilience and discipline, Dianne worked to climb out of debt and dream a house of her own into existence.
Dianne’s debt reached its peak during her drug addiction. She had a good job but continued to live paycheck to paycheck because of excessive spending. At one point, she owed 25 cash advance loans and eight unsecured loans.
“Basically we look each year at the nonprofits that United Way supports and any time there is a program that supports children or seniors, then that’s where I emphasize our need and my support for those programs.”
Charlie was born in Nashville, grew up here and raised his family here. He’s witnessed decades of change that most Nashville residents only hear about. Charlie began his career with the City in 1958 and was appointed Trustee in 1993. He’s served on United Way’s Finance Committee for 25 years and believes the more the community grows, the more United Way will grow.
Judge Alberto Gonzales
Dean. Former U.S. Attorney General. Avid film-goer.
“I believe in United Way because it’s an effective organization in helping meet the needs of others. It’s been very effective in getting together diverse groups, identifying problems within our community and providing leadership and solving those problems.”
Alberto was the first Latino to serve as White House Counsel. He comes from modest beginnings as one of eight children in a small town outside of Houston, Texas, and believes education should remain a top priority in Nashville. He’s a strong supporter of United Way initiatives that prepare students for the first day of school. “This is the start of a new journey for them. We want them to know they’re fully supported.”
Mother. Homeowner. Fighter.
“I want my kids to know that it starts with them. I want them to remain consistent and let them know that when they set a goal, the baby steps that they’re taking will eventually help them accomplish their goal. Everything that they’re doing now affects their future.”
Shawnta remembers the day the walls were raised. In October 2018, she created a legacy for her children by becoming the first in her family to own a home. But as a single mom with three kids, the road to get there wasn’t necessarily easy. It was paved with rejection and hard work and a community standing strong around her.
“I get up every day because I have three children and I don’t want them to have to experience this devastating crime. I want to keep fighting—keep working—toward a community that is void of sexual violence. That motivates me every day.”
Rachel started at the Sexual Assault Center as a graduate intern. 18 years later, as CEO, she’s curating a space marked by peace and compassion. A space where those who have been affected by sexual assault can come to heal and to move forward. “It takes so much courage to come into our building … the people we serve have to relive one of the darkest moments or some of the darkest moments of their lives and we get to walk alongside of them in that journey … that’s really inspiring.”
Musician. Neighbor. Son.
“Nashville is one of the greatest cities in the world. It’s a destination I just had to be. Compared to other places, people have friendships that last a lifetime here.”
Jackie knew he wanted to be a singer when he first walked into a recording studio at age six. A month after he graduated high school, he packed his car and moved to Nashville to begin his music career. But, he decided to stay for the community because it’s a place where people know their neighbors, he says. A place where people want to raise their families.
Tax guru. Volunteer. World traveler.
“By working together through United Way, we can take a lot of dollars and combine them to make a major impact on the community.”
LaNessa became a top supporter of United Way when she led a workplace campaign a few years ago. She’s worked in information technology at Caterpillar Financial Services Corporation for more than 10 years and uses her platform as campaign manager to advocate for literacy and financial programs, specifically the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance free tax prep program. With a passion for helping others with their personal finance goals, LaNessa is a longtime VITA volunteer and loves to help prepare people’s taxes each season. “I want to help families build a foundation for success.”
First-grader. Reader. Future scientist.
Even as a seven-year-old, Amare is very technically-minded, interested in thinking critically and exploring his world. “He likes to see how things work,” his mother says. “I’m pushing him to be independent, to do things on his own.”
Despite his determination, Amare struggled as he learned to read throughout kindergarten. His mom noticed he was having trouble with his speech, so she enrolled him in speech therapy after school. Then she discovered the Y Literacy program through the YMCA of Middle Tennessee. That’s where he met his tutor and friend Heather.
“I love the work that we do at Renewal House. There are days when I don’t really feel like I’m working. I’m giving back to my community and the people who need services. That’s why I do what I do.”
Pamela found her purpose as a college intern at a children’s emergency shelter. She knew there was so much to be done, so she applied for graduate school to better prepare for the work ahead. Now, Pamela has been in social services for more than 30 years and as the CEO at Renewal House, she’s leading the charge in offering hope and recovery for women who are affected by addiction.
Former Mayor. Nashvillian. Georgetown graduate.
“The prosperity we’re seeing is going to be limited in the long run if we don’t bring more people along. Eventually, we’ll get so spread out that the people at the top and the people at the bottom are too far apart.”
David is a longtime Nashvillian and served as Nashville’s mayor from 2018 to 2019. He encourages people who want to better serve their community to start with their own neighborhood. “No matter where you live in the city, you’re going to find somebody who could use some assistance, some help to have a better life.” As Nashville’s leader, he believes we need to work on housing so that families aren’t removed from their neighborhoods and the quality of education for young people.
Sewer. Designer. Teacher.
“Working together as a community, we can help each other in a lot of ways that we don’t even realize. I see that all the time in my classroom because I have people coming from all walks of life that would never meet each other in the normal world. I know that every day I get to walk into work and help my students better themselves and help them get closer to their goals.”
Trishawna loves to help people make things. Growing up in her mother’s fabric store, she started sewing at age five. She went to school for fashion design and after years in the corporate design sphere, Trishawna now leads the Sewing Training Academy, a Catholic Charities of Tennessee program that teaches people to sew for the purpose of their career.
Songwriter. Optimist. Friend.
“My financial life was a mess. That spilled over into my personal life, of course. I definitely spent a few nights sleeping in my car. I had to spend many nights just … keeping myself busy.”
Alan’s relationship with debt began the day that he moved out of his parents’ house. As his career and public life grew more fulfilling, his financial life moved in the opposite direction. For years, he struggled just to make the minimum monthly payments. With no realistic end in sight, he figured his best bet was on himself and his ability to write a hit song that could save him from the mounting debt. Again, he continued to take advantage of new, higher credit limits and loan offers. As the number rose, he sank further into financial despair and desperation.
“I always tell my friends … if you want to feel like a superhero, take 30 minutes out of your day and go read to preschool kids.”
As a human resources lead at Bridgestone, Kendrick is determined to grow and support our community’s pipeline of young leaders. He volunteers for United Way’s Read to Succeed program and deeply believes in the importance of literacy for our community’s future success. “There are a lot of struggles that students face that I’ve never faced. I want to be a part of the solution and not a part of the problem.”
Philanthropist. Communicator. Fashionista.
“It’s not just money that makes a difference—it’s time, it’s leadership, it’s vision.”
Terry’s love for reading began with father-daughter trips to the public library as a little girl. Now, she tells anyone she can about important literacy-focused community programs like Imagination Library and Read to Succeed. “These programs are critical for our community to stay strong and become stronger,” she says. Terry has been a United Way advocate for many years and runs her workplace campaign at Comcast Communications each year. She loves being a part of the Young Leaders Society and showing the next generation of donors that even when they’re just starting in their career, they can already be giving back.