A group of Nashville volunteers is ready to support residents in the event of a disaster
- Lori Shinton is President and CEO of Hands On Nashville and President of Nashville VOAD.
When tornadoes tore through Tennessee in the middle of the night on March 3, 2020, the devastated community of Nashville raced to respond. Helpers came in droves with chainsaws, supplies, food and donations.
Hands on Nashville alone saw more than 20,000 volunteers in the week following the tornado. The city is counting on me, as CEO of Hands On Nashville, and my team to lead volunteer efforts after a disaster. This is what we do.
This morning in early March, we immediately sprang into action to lead these efforts. It was a difficult, sincere and sometimes chaotic effort.
We quickly worked to make sense of the chaos, and within weeks of the tornado, the Davidson County Long-Term Recovery Group formed to coordinate ongoing services for survivors.
This is where we really started to assess the landscape: which organizations were providing which services? How could we streamline and not duplicate efforts?
Hear more voices from Tennessee: Receive the weekly opinion bulletin for insightful and thought-provoking articles.
How VOAD was born
The success of this team approach has led me – working alongside my nonprofit peers from the American Red Cross, the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee, the Community Resource Center, Neighbor 2 Neighbor, Salvation Army and United Way of Greater Nashville – to create a steering committee to re-establish Nashville’s Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD).
Nashville VOAD is structured around a coalition of dozens of nonprofits, community organizations, faith-based institutions, and government departments. We have found that the presence of these representatives is essential to the success of disaster recovery.
The first VOAD activations took place after the Christmas Day bombing in 2020 and again after South Nashville flood in 2021. During the response, VOAD coordinates and responds to needs such as case management, counseling and communications.
Being a coordinated group, the response to these disasters was much more efficient and allowed each agency to know exactly how they could help. We now have key activation protocols in place to help respond at all times.
In conjunction with Metro’s Office of Emergency Management and the Mayor’s Office, we may alert local media and the public via social media, email and text of hazardous weather conditions or other messages of interest. public to keep our communities safe.
Our powerful group of 41 nonprofits stand together, ready to respond to whatever comes next.
Listen to the Black Voices of Tennessee: Receive the weekly newsletter for powerful and critical think tanks.
We are ready for the next crisis
Disaster response is an exhaustive job, and our community has been stretched over the past two years. The sad truth is that it is difficult to convince people to devote resources to disaster preparedness when there is no disaster at hand.
Disaster preparedness work is crucial to disaster response, and any support you can provide will help us as we continue to do the work.
Hands On Nashville benefits greatly from its membership in VOAD Nashville. We are a customer-focused organization that builds the capacity of nonprofit organizations by recruiting volunteers. We have become a larger and more inclusive organization through our disaster work, and people beyond our target audience have come to know us and trust what we are capable of doing.
VOAD is built around local people who care about our city and the people who live there. We stand ready to provide service and support our friends and neighbors in the next crisis, whether it’s extreme weather or man-made.
Lori Shinton is President and CEO of Hands On Nashville and President of Nashville VOAD.