By Eric Dorman
Margaret Mead once said that we should never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. “Indeed,” she continued, “Itâ€TMs the only thing that ever has.” When Hal Cato reflected on Meadâ€TMs quote, he got inspired. He had been serving Meals on Wheels for a while—during his lunch breaks—and he caught a spirit of service. And it was contagious. His friends started to join him on deliveries, and they teamed up with additional nonprofits. They also visited with some folks in Atlanta who had been operating an innovative volunteer group to get some ideas about how to organize. Finally, Cato and his friends formed Hands On Nashville. That was in 1991. Twenty-five years later, Hands On Nashville (HON), Middle Tennesseeâ€TMs largest volunteer resource center, operates according to Meadâ€TMs axiom and Catoâ€TMs vision. Every year, HON connects thousands of volunteers to service opportunities supporting area nonprofits. The organization also has its own volunteer-fueled programs in urban agriculture, home energy savings, corporate volunteer activation and support for public education. Additionally, HON is a member of the AmeriCorps National Service Network. Itâ€TMs not difficult to see how HON maintains this almost staggering level of activity in the community. Tennessee is, after all, the Volunteer State, and Nashville has a reputation for living up to that name. Last year, Nashville ranked ninth among the nationâ€TMs 51 largest cities for volunteer-hours completed per resident. HON stands behind much of the work, and says that the local volunteer spirit helps to maintain Nashvilleâ€TMs “culture of service.” “The mission has always been to meet community needs through volunteerism with community volunteers,” said Daniel Brown, communications coordinator for HON. “Over the course of our 25-year history, we have engaged tens of thousands of volunteers. What started as an informal group of actual volunteers became an entire nonprofit.” And HON isnâ€TMt just trying to improve its own services: The goal is to help other nonprofits thrive as well, whether thatâ€TMs through education or simply by providing the hands necessary to get work done. “In one word, we are about community,” Brown said. “We really pride ourselves on being a capacity-builder for the community.” One of the starkest ways that HONâ€TMs services and success stand out is in disaster preparedness and emergency response efforts. This is most clearly seen in its work following the May 2010 flood in Middle Tennessee. Between May 3 and December 10, 2010, more than 22,000 people donated 91,000 hours to flood recovery through HON. As HON points out on its website, thatâ€TMs nearly 11 yearsâ€TM worth of time. HON also made approximately 125,000 volunteer referrals. In short, its efforts were absolutely indispensable to Nashvilleâ€TMs recovery, and the work continues today through environmental restoration projects and its home energy savings program. Another way that HON stands out every year is with its annual Hands On Nashville Day, where more than 1,000 volunteers come together to complete “done-in-a-day” projects in 25 local schools. This yearâ€TMs theme is “Serve and Celebrate,” in honor of HONâ€TMs 25-year anniversary. Anyone interested in supporting the effort can log on to www.hon.org/honday and sign up (starting August 25) or can make a one-time gift of $25 just to say, “Happy birthday, HON, and keep up the good work.”