As Nashville changes, so too do its most pressing issues. From opioid addiction to human trafficking, a rare genetic disease, and art in the classroom, these needs are being met by a group of strong women who have risen up by necessity, calling, and passion.
Nashville Predators Foundation
Launched concurrently with the NHL franchise in 1998, the Predators Foundation has grown at the same pace. In its inaugural year, it doled out a respectable $150,000 to local charities focused on youths and families. Fast forward to 2017, the second year in a row its namesake team made the playoffs, and it dispersed $600,000 in one day—only a part of a total $2 million that year.
Being nestled under a pro sports team has its perks, the main being low overhead: Its office is housed with the rest of the team, and its employees draw salaries from the same. This allows nearly all funds, which it raises through events like fishing tournaments and home-game merchandise auctions, to be pumped right back into charities.
“Our goal,” says community relations senior director, Rebecca King, “is always to raise more money and to give more money.”
While longtime partners such as Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, the YWCA, and the playground-building KaBOOM!, receive substantial sums, its greatest impact comes from micro grants between $5,000 and $10,000, which spreads its resources over a broad range of organizations, including some in this feature.
Tennessee Performing Arts Center
Roberta Ciuffo West leans in and says, very earnestly, “Since the beginning of time, the arts have been pivotal to advancing society.”
With this underlying belief, then, it’s no wonder that the Manhattan native and executive vice president of education and outreach for the organization is passionate about being a resource for both students and teachers, who themselves are the future of Middle Tennessee. Bussing in groups to watch matinee performances of some of the biggest traveling Broadway shows is a major part of the nonprofit’s work—more than 40,000 attend every year. But the greater part of its efforts takes place far from its stage.
Under Ciuffo West’s guidance for the past 20 years, TPAC has taken the theater to the schools. Its Disney program pairs directors with the students to put on fairy tales in the classroom, and it curates myriad lesson plans for teachers that incorporate the art with a number of core subjects. But its most time-intensive program is the residencies. Almost 400 visits every year are facilitated, with performers like puppeteers and musicians performing in the classroom.
“It’s in people’s DNA to want to be heard,” she says, “and when they are heard, good things happen.”
When Melissa Hogan’s son, Case, was diagnosed with Hunter Syndrome, her horror didn’t come from the expected mid-teens mortality rate.
“It was that he was going to lose everything,” she says of the disease’s debilitation, “and then die.”
Case, now 11, was fortunate to be selected for a groundbreaking clinical trial. But other parents weren’t as lucky.
“With the slow pace of medical science, this was not going to get to the point of FDA approval,” she says. “We knew that it would take lots of hustle, and we didn’t see anyone else doing it.”
Hogan, a lawyer by profession, founded Project Alive in 2014, a year after Case’s treatment began. The organization raises funds to one day cure the disease. Experimental gene therapy is on the horizon, but the disease’s rarity—only around 2,000 cases are documented around the world currently—has meant that private donations are its main focus.
Nevertheless, Hogan is forging ahead, even as she cares for her son: “I felt like I had the bandwidth,” she says, “because my kid was doing OK.”
End Slavery Tennessee
When Derri Smith spoke with state congressmen about human trafficking in their districts, they flat-out denied a problem. Smith didn’t blame them—it was only 14 years ago that she herself discovered it, explaining it as the relationship between sex, money, and coercion, often of children.
“It’s every kind of social injustice rolled into one,” the 36-year Nashvillian says. But in End Slavery Tennessee’s six-year history, Smith’s tireless drilling down into Middle Tennessee’s under-our-noses issue has created both increased awareness and, maybe, most importantly, a pocket in which traffickers know is risky to operate.
“Small, regional work is the only way to be effective,” Smith says. “We have to be small enough that we can give the attention to each survivor that they need.”
Of the more than 200 women who came through its doors last year seeking shelter, counseling, and a community, 80 percent were from Davidson and surrounding counties. They are also overwhelmingly women. But with a beachhead established, Smith’s team now turns its attention to labor trafficking, of which she will again learn its nuances and then advocate for public policy.
The Next Door
The “Wild Group of Praying Women” from First Baptist Church Nashville had a building, but no mission. That’s the way Linda Leathers, CEO of The Next Door, recounts her organization’s genesis story (pun intended) from 11 years ago. The original property, at 8th and Demonbreun, was lying fallow, so Leathers and her team went to the Lord and a host of Nashville charitable organizations to find out the community’s needs. The near universal response came back: women’s addiction services were in short supply.
While TND started as a midpoint between incarceration and reintroduction to society, its scope has since broadened, and it now focuses its efforts on both in- and outpatient services for addiction and mental illness. No woman, regardless of economic situation, is turned away, and its capacity has risen with demand. Its new headquarters, at 22nd and Charlotte, holds 82 inpatient beds, medically monitored detox, licensed therapists, and weekly meetings for program alumni. In an adjacent building, transitional housing is available for more than 20 families. But while its mission has remained constant, women’s needs are changing, and clients from all walks of life are arriving with opioid addictions.
“We want to break the stigma of addiction,” Leathers says. “It’s become everyone’s disease.”