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VOL. 37 | NO. 11 | Friday, March 15, 2013

Midstate rich with varied, innovative nonprofits

By Linda Bryant

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Fred Bailey, third from right, is the founder and executive director of Children Are People, a program for at-risk students in Gallatin schools.

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Middle Tennessee is home to scores of nonprofit agencies, with some organizations such as United Way offering a wide range of services, programs and aid, while others have a more narrow focus.

Here are some of the noteworthy organizations helping others in Midstate counties.

Sumner County

Fred Bailey, founder and executive director Children are People in Gallatin, was born blind, one of 15 children born to a poor sharecropper. Bailey says he never believed that his background or personal circumstances could keep him from achieving at the highest levels. He wants at-risk children and teens in Gallatin to feel the same level of hope about their own lives.

Bailey founded Children are People in 2000 with the mission of rescuing kids falling through the cracks in Gallatin schools. There are about 73 youth in the afterschool program and about 30-40 on the waiting list at any given time. CAP’s passenger vans pick up students at all of Gallatin’s public schools.

“We work on homework for about 30 minutes, but character development always becomes the most important thing,” Bailey says. “I pound away at what it means to be American, and talk to them a lot about the debt they owe to the veterans of wars.”

CAP has a 100 percent graduation rate and 94 percent of the students go to college, Bailey says.

Cheatham County

Before the recession, about 2,000 people a year found solace at Penuel Ridge, a 135-acre interfaith retreat on Sams Creek Road in Ashland City. To attract visitors to return to the retreat space, Executive Director Laura Valentine reached out to more faith communities and to groups focused on volunteerism and public service.

As a result, the interfaith getaway began to attract a much more diverse base of visitors, including student groups on “alternative spring break” who came from as far away as Pennsylvania. “We are getting close to our pre-recession levels,” Valentine says. “Last year we had about 1,700 stay at Penuel Ridge.”

Penuel Ridge was founded in 1984 by Don and Joyce Beisswenger, a well-known area Presbyterian minister and his wife. Volunteers at the retreat work at everything from clearing trails to fixing fences. Valentine is the only paid employee. She says the retreat is able to continue because of earned revenue that comes from visitor fees, contributions and small grants.

Wilson County

After realizing many in their community needed help with food, fuel and utilities, ministers in western Wilson County came together in 1984 to launch the Mt. Juliet Help Center.

Denise Brantley, left, director of Maury County Animal Services, and Sonjalyn Dickson Rine of the nonprofit Pet Pals have their hands full with two six-week old black labs.

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“There were a lot people coming to individual churches asking for help,” explains Carolyn Smith, director of the center. “Everyone felt like it would really help a lot to have a central place for those in need of the service.”

The center is open half-days during the week, 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

“We have a core of about 15-20 dedicated, compassionate volunteers,” Smith says. “They know it’s hard to ask for help.”

Provisions and help with utilities are meant to be supplemental, so there are limits on how many times a year a participant can use the center. Generally, a food trip is accepted six times a year. However, bread and baked goods and gently used clothing are available on an unlimited basis.

A registered participant must live within west Wilson County, which includes Lebanon west of Hwy. 109 to the Davidson County line, Mt. Juliet and portions of Old Hickory). The center is currently located in a trailer at 3425 N. Mt. Juliet Road.

Rutherford, Cannon counties

United Way of Rutherford and Cannon Counties is heavily focused on giving money back to the community, supporting more than 122,000 services to residents of the two counties in 2012. The operating and management budget is $389,715, $346,654 of which goes into programming.

“We experienced some setback from some of our corporate partners due to the economic climate, but through some creative ideas and thinking outside of the box, we were able to generate new revenue,” says Meagan Flippin, president and CEO. “Our fundraising amount for 2012 was the highest to date for our organization.”

“Education will always be a foundational priority issue for us that impacts so many other areas of human needs,” Flippin says. “Literacy, specifically, is crucial to the success of individuals being able to maintain self-sufficiency, such as secure, stable employment, and thus having access to health insurance.”

Dickson County

It’s rare for a nonprofit such as Dickson County’s Renaissance Center to find a home in a town of 14,000.

The comprehensive arts and education center offers a full array of arts, technology and theater classes, hosts national entertainment acts and conducts community-wide fairs. Classes from Austin Peay State University in Clarksville and Nashville State Community College also operate in the large facility.

“We cut back on employees during the recession, but we were still able to maintain a full slate of classes and events,” says Melissa Cross, senior director of marketing. “The region has really embraced us. We have school children coming through on field trips from all over Middle Tennessee. Many schools have been forced to cut back on the arts, so our presence has become even more critical.”

Cross says the opportunity to study professional theater at the Center continues to attract children, teens and adults.

“Quite a few of our students have gone on to pursue professional theater at a higher level,” she adds.

The Renaissance Center is funded by the Jackson Foundation, which was founded after the sale of the Goodlark Hospital to HCA in 1995, grants from the Tennessee Arts Commission and from user fees.

Montgomery County

Rita Arancibia is a force of nature in Montgomery County. The fulltime community volunteer is coordinator of the Nonprofit Leadership and Volunteer Network, a one-stop resource for volunteer information in the Clarksville-Montgomery County region.

“I started NLVN because collaboration and communication is so important for nonprofits to succeed,” Arancibia says. “When you get together and share as a whole community, then missions start to flow together and everyone realizes we’re all in this together. Then we don’t compete against each other, we find out that we have a common mission – our community.”

NLVN offers workshops and training, provides networking, peer mentoring and helps students of all ages find meaningful volunteer opportunities.

Through the organization, Arancibia partners with Austin Peay’s School of Technology and Public Management and the APSU Department of Public Management and Criminal Justice to offer an annual leadership conference for agencies and board members throughout the region.

Williamson County

For almost two decades, the Community Housing Partnership of Williamson County has helped create affordable housing solutions for individuals and families of modest means in Williamson County.

During the recent recession, a time when many nonprofits were scrambling for funds, CHP was bustling.

“We got very busy,” says Laura Tracy, operations manager. “There were distressed properties for sale at that time that wouldn’t normally have been available.”

Community Housing rehabilitates modestly-priced properties for resale or rental and is also a general partner in Caspian Hills, an 88-unit affordable housing development of two and three bedroom townhomes in Fairview. When a home is purchased, it is subsidized with CHP funds so that mortgage payments are affordable for the client.

Tracy says the fact that Williamson County is one of the most affluent areas in the country underscores the importance of providing a housing balance for residents of modest means, some of whom are pushed out by high property values.

More than 1,200 low-come families and elderly citizens have been helped through CHP’s Owner Occupied Rehabilitation program, which assists with heating and air-conditioning costs, handicap ramps, plumbing necessities and carpentry-related repairs.

Maury County

Despite having no paid staff, volunteers at the Pet Pals of Maury County fostered over 200 abandoned and unwanted pets and distributed over 4,000 pounds of pet food to senior citizens in 2012.

Pet Pals gets the word out about adoptable pets through various means – a website (petpalsofmaurycounty.com/wordpress/), Facebook (facebook.com/PetPalsofMauryCountyTN) and a network of local and national animal advocacy groups. The group has had an impact beyond the borders of Maury County. Animals have found homes in places as far away as Canada and Virginia.

“Our mission is to make sure our pets are spayed, neutered and vaccinated,” says Sonjalyn Dickson Rine, outgoing president and longtime advocate for animals in Maury County.

“We are also extremely concerned about promoting urgent animals who have run out of time at the animal shelter.”

Additional fundraising and collaboration with community groups are slated for 2013. Pet Pals is partnering with Arts in Action to create Columbia’s first Chalk, Art and Music Festival on June 15. Children, adults, students and professional artists will join together to decorate city streets in chalk, and local artists and musicians will sell original artwork and perform.

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