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Hands on Nashville charges volunteers to help Metro Schools

Posted in Disasters, Nashville, Tennessee, Uncategorized, Voluntarism by Mike Byrd on August 13, 2010

In the wake of the May 2010 Nashville floods the refrain bounces around that Nashville never waits on anybody else to volunteer to relieve and to restore. That comment seems like an underhanded swipe at government response, which is not exactly off base.

However, it is disingenuous, since Nashville often does wait on non-profit relief organizations that contract with local government to organize volunteers. Hands on Nashville (HON) is one of those organizations. It says that it mobilized thousands in response to the May floods. While I do not question the truth of the reportage, I believe it is perilous in general for Nashvillians to accept a government contractor’s numbers on faith without some form of independent verification. But I digress.

Even before the May floods Nashvillians who wanted to volunteer for projects on neighborhood public schools, for instance, were required to sign up with HON for teams that were limited to a certain number of people.

Last year I wanted to sign up for a work day at my daughter’s school, which is practically in our neighborhood. The idea that people who live in the same neighborhood as community centers have more personal investment and “buy-in” to those centers is both logical and noble. When I consulted leaders at the school about chipping in for work day, I was told that I would need to volunteer through HON. When I went to their website I found that the dozen or so spots to work at the school were already filled.

While it may serve bureaucratic purposes to limit the number of community volunteers from the top-down, it also kills hyper-local initiative and self-reliance to restrict volunteer spots on a day dedicated to sprucing up neighborhood schools. I was essentially made to wait until this year to get a workday spot at my daughter’s school.

But after reading an e-mail sent to an East Nashville e-list (forwarded by Mike Peden) from Hands on Nashville, I’m not so sure that I will volunteer through HON this year either:

Hello East Side,

Are willing to spare 4 hours on 9/25 to benefit our community and its children?  Be a Team Leader and organize a team of 10-30 volunteers for four hours of service.

Hands On Nashville Day is the community’s largest day of service to Metro Schools. This year’s event is as important as ever due to the May flood. Over 20 schools experienced flood damage and although urgent repairs happened immediately, Metro Schools still have plenty of needs, such as

painting and landscaping, which are great projects for volunteers.

I am on the steering committee for this year’s Hands On Nashville Day and I would LOVE to see the members of this listserv form a team and commit to volunteer from 8am-12pm on September 25th.

The sooner you form a team, the better selection you will have of school sites at which to work.  The team can choose the project online atwww.hon.orgwhen registering (registration is between September 1 and September 24.)

…. You will notice that there is a $25 registration fee per volunteer. You will also receive a T-shirt and an invitation to the Celebration after-party from noon-2pm at Limelight.  Plus, you’ll get that warm fuzzy feeling you

get when you do good.

If you are interested, please email me back off list.  Thanks!

Shelley Madison

Since when do we start charging volunteers a registration fee to volunteer? This seems to be bursting the meaning of voluntarism beyond commonly understood boundaries. Not only is HON making it harder for people to volunteer in their neighborhoods, but they seem to be trying to skim revenues off of our good will.

I am disappointed that Metro Nashville Public Schools and Mayor Karl Dean’s office are more interested in contracting with large, growth-oriented organizations and not promoting local voluntarism through the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhoods. There are a number of neighborhood associations in and around the schools in the North End who would probably devote work days to campus upkeep.

However, even if Metro and its contractor HON are going to organize county-wide work days for local schools, they should refrain from putting up barriers to voluntarism like restricted lists and registration fees.  In the meantime, I am not going to wait on any higher power, including Hands on Nashville, to be involved in the upkeep of our neighborhood schools.

UPDATE: Despite the fact that the e-list message above in no way communicates that the “registration fee” is not compulsory, Hands on Nashville responded to me today on their twitter stream, insisting that the fee is not required. It seems to me that what distinguishes a registration fee from a donation or an offering is the voluntary nature of the latter. The message is unclear, perhaps misleading, but take note now that your fee is actually more of a donation than a fee. I have worked in the non-profit world for a couple of decades, and in my opinion, Hands on Nashville needs to make a clear distinction between their volunteer and fundraising efforts, particularly because they are also a government contractor. As a private extension of Metro government, HON ought to consider renaming their “registration fees.”

UPDATE (August 17): HON contacted me through the Twitter stream to say that they are changing the name of the $25 registration fee above to “$25 suggested donation.” They did the right thing in my opinion. Now if they can find a way to make the Metro Schools work day more inclusive by targeting the neighborhoods in which the schools sit or working with PTOs directly, they will have vastly improved the September event.


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