The devastation is overwhelming. The need is overwhelming. The outpouring of volunteers has been equally overwhelming.
The Flood of 2010 and its images of buildings floating down interstates, children being rescued by boats and floating ottomans, and the elderly being carried by strangers to safety, will stick with us for a lifetime. What will also stay with us is the spirit of volunteerism that has taken over a city taken over by water.
Our images are now turning to neighbors helping neighbors and strangers helping strangers haul personal belongings to curbside trash heaps; to scores of people distributing food and water to those who have none; and to cleaning up, piece by piece, person by person, so we can move toward the next steps of recovery: rebuilding and restoring.
On May 2, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean announced that those wanting to help with flood relief efforts in Middle Tennessee should go through Hands On Nashville. In short, HON serves as a hub for volunteerism by linking volunteers with available volunteer opportunities.
Coordinating volunteers is what we do every day at Hands On Nashville. We are no strangers to witnessing the selflessness required to volunteer one’s time for the benefit of another. That said, our staff, quite simply, is forever changed by the amazing outpouring of support since May 2. We typically coordinate an average
of 100 projects per month. This month, we’re averaging approximately 50 per day.
Between May 2 and May 12, more than 10,000 people in our community have donated nearly 45,000 hours to flood recovery at more than 500 sites through Hands On Nashville alone. To put 45,000 hours in perspective, that’s a little more than five years of time. The economic impact of these efforts, according to Independent Sector research, is nearly $1 million.
These numbers account only for verified service contributed by volunteers registered through www.hon.org. They do not include the hundreds of volunteer referrals made each day by Hands On Nashville staff to facilitate grassroots efforts led by faith and community groups. Nor does it represent the countless hours put in by volunteers through other organizations or who simply have shown up and started working somewhere.
Again, the volunteer effort is overwhelming. And it needs to be.
To the nearly 16,000 people who have registered in the Hands On Nashville database, thank you. To those who have found an opportunity and have helped this great city of ours, “thank you” does not adequately do justice to the gratitude owed you. For everyone else, it is important to remember that the need will continue for weeks and months to come.
After people have gone back to some sort of normal life, when there is less news coverage about the flood and relief efforts, and when Facebook status updates have gone back to the funny and mundane, remember your city will still need you. We must continue to help our neighbors — whether they are down the street, across town or in another town.
It will take a lot of work to rebuild and restore ourselves and our neighbors, our homes and our neighbors’ homes, our businesses and the businesses of others, our beloved landmarks, our schools and, ultimately, our city. But we will do it because the spirit of volunteerism in Nashville and Tennessee is alive
and well. It always has been and always will be.
Since Hands On Nashville was founded in 1991, our volunteers have worked 365 days a year to make Nashville a better place. In 2009, Hands On Nashville connected 38,969 volunteers to service. Our agency is honored to help organize volunteers in record numbers to support those affected by the flood. Please visit our website for more information, to sign up for volunteer opportunities and email updates, to see a list of flood volunteer needs, or to donate to HON to support flood-related volunteerism.
Williams is the executive director of
Hands On Nashville, www.hon.org