According to CEO Eden Murrie, Operation Stand Down first started in 1993. She says they have three focus areas: engaging, equipping, and empowering military veterans and their families through their crisis, career, and connection services.
Federal funding allows this organization to help Veterans with temporary financial assistance if they struggle with rent, utilities, and security deposits. Operation Stand Down also offers some services to surviving spouses, however, federal money cannot be used for that.
Through their connection services, OSD reaches out to those who served and connects them with other vets, the VA, or other organizations. They look at how they can help veterans with their careers, help them find more affordable housing, and with food assistance. Through their Operation Commissary, the program sets up veterans with one food bag per family member, per month. It also sets them up with case management to check and see if they enrolled in their Veteran Affairs (VA) benefits, or other programs to help with finances, employment, and housing. For those transitioning out of the military, or moving to Tennessee, Operation Stand Down helps you through their career services. They assist veterans in finding a job, help build their resume, help with the equipment they may need, or help you with any certifications or licenses a vet may need. Operation Stand Down's biggest goal is to connect veterans with other veterans. Murrie says they hold events just for that, such as going to a brewery, a picnic, or gun range. Murrie knows some vets want that connection, and some don't, but even if you do not want to meet up every day or at every event, occasionally talking about the past and going to events can be nice.
One reason Operation Stand Down focuses on connection so much is because of the suicide rate among veterans. Statistics show 17 to 22 veterans take their own life every day, and according to Murrie, 50% of those vets are not connected to a veterans organization or the VA. While this organization isn't a mental health provider, it can connect a veteran with one. To make that connection, they must get veterans needing help to reach out to Operation Stand Down through their outreach program, where they meet and just chat with veterans. This organization welcomes vets to their offices to chat if they need help, they are located in Nashville, Clarksville, and Colombia, each office has a coffee bar, so vets can grab a cup of coffee while they chat.
Along with connecting with other veterans, Operation Stand Down encourages those transitioning out of the military to enroll in their VA entitlements, which can help with burial costs and survivor compensation. OSD's health care navigators help veterans enroll in the program, and let them know of any changes the VA has made with their care. Newly introduced, veterans at imminent risk of self-harm can go to any VA or non-VA health care facility for emergency health care at no cost. It includes inpatient or crisis residential care for up to 30 days and outpatient care for up to 90 days. Veterans aren’t required to be enrolled in the VA to use this benefit. According to Murrie, post-911 veterans could be entitled to GI Bill benefits, Yellow Ribbon benefits, and veterans could go back to school almost for free.
If you'd like to honor a veteran or veteran supporter, you can do so with the Portraits of Patriots. After your purchase, a plaque will be hung at the entrance of the Nashville Veteran Service Center. Another way you can recognize a veteran is through the Dog Tag Flag. For $100 you can memorialize a Veteran, family member, or friend with a pair of personalized dog tags. One dog tag will be displayed on a custom American flag made by those dog tags at the service center, and the other dog tag will be yours to keep.
Mundito Spanish is a language and culture learning organization for children. Founder and Lead Teacher Casey Cabbage says she had the idea to create the program after she spent some time overseas teaching English as a second language. She wanted to come back to the U.S. to create something for children using her experience abroad.
Mundito Spanish targets kids in grades K through five. Casey says she specifically targets that age range, because there are more options for learning a different language after elementary school. Casey says her program consists of 90-minute sessions, in the first 35 to 40 minutes the kids will learn vocabulary, and numbers, and just work towards objectives, next during a break the children will have traditional Spanish food as a snack so that they can learn more about the culture. The food either comes from local restaurants or staff, and their groceries come from a local Latino market, so it is all authentic. The class will then have independent learning time, where the kids will play with puzzles, books, and interactive activities, where they are encouraged to speak in the Spanish language. This program also offers private lessons, and if a school is interested in adding a Spanish curriculum or enhancing their Spanish already in place, the program partners with Nashville home schools, Metro Nashville Public Schools, and other organizations.
Class times for Mundito Spanish vary throughout the week:
Mondays - Franklin - 4:30 pm
Wednesdays - Berry Hill - 4:30 pm
Thursdays - East Nashville - 3:30 pm
Saturdays - Berry Hill - 10:00 am
The program has a non-refundable $75 registration fee that will be charged upon acceptance of class registration. It's due once a semester. For tuition, they have two payment options, monthly and semester. If you chose monthly, $99 will be due at the beginning of each month. The semester installment will cost $425 due at the beginning of each semester. During the Fall students will attend class from August through December, and during the Spring, class is in session from January through May. Mundito Spanish is a year-long program, according to Casey, she says it's not so much a month-by-month program. She says this option is more for those unsure if taking Spanish is right for their child.
The program usually consists of six team members, but right now they are a team of four. Casey tells me she is looking to hire a teacher's assistant, lead teacher, and life teacher. To be hired, a background check is required, teachers must be vaccinated, and be able to speak the Spanish language. There is also travel involved since the program meets at different churches at different times throughout the week. Teachers will also be required to volunteer with local non-profits each semester. If you are interested you can read more and apply here. For those interested in volunteering you can also find that information on the same page.
Mundito Spanish partners with non-profits each semester, right now it's the Nashville Adult Literacy Council, and next semester it will be TIRRC. Casey says the partnership includes different donation cased activities and market events, where the funds will go back to the non-profit. Casey tells me another great thing about this learning organization is that they value the work of other non-profits in the community and want to be a part of the change they are creating with the minority communities. Casey tells me they are also looking for sponsorships so they can have their own place, this way their teachers can have their own set-up and a designated area to work on their lesson plans after class. If you are interested, their website is linked below.
If you would like to learn more about Mundito Spanish, head to their website here. Their social media is linked below.
La Paz Chattanooga is seeking help as they aid migrants passing through the city of Chattanooga seeking asylum. Reports say the bus of migrants were sent from Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s administration. There are also headlines of the republican governor sending those seeking asylum to D.C. and New York as well.
Right now, our assistance is needed here in Tennessee. As these individuals are legally seeking asylum, La Paz Chattanooga is performing case management and supplying them with essential items they will need as they continue their journey.
As La Paz helps these individuals with their journey, the non-profit is also in need of donations for the asylum seekers. They are accepting the following:
I reached out to La Paz Chattanooga this week, and if you live out of town and would like to send a package, they are accepting those too. However, if you would like to make a monetary donation to help with transportation and lodging, you can click on this link. Before you submit your donation, include "funds for transient migrant travels and lodging" in the comments space.
In response to the migrants passing though Chattanooga, the city issued the following statement to a local news provider, saying in part "This administration will respond with compassion to vulnerable people fleeing extremely difficult circumstances."
For more on La Paz, links to their social media pages are below. For their address check out their website here.
Project Return is a non-profit that helps provide support for those beginning a new life after incarceration. Right now, they have two locations in Tennessee, one in Nashville and the other in Chattanooga.
I spoke to Project Return's Operations Director Corey Richard about how they provide support to those leaving jail or prison. Richard says their primary focus is on employment because if people can work and support themselves they are less likely to go back to prison. Project Return helps individuals by helping them find jobs with either a referral partner, independent search support, or in many cases transitional employment. The non-profit also has hard skill programs, such as construction readiness. With this program, they pay participants a daily stipend, so they are not losing money while learning skills, participants will also receive an OSHA certification and NCCER certification after two weeks. Project Return is also working on a CDL program and is working towards bringing in a computer literacy class, as they help those in the program build up their resume.
Project Return also has a high-quality staffing agency. This is where they partner with local businesses to provide staffing in the form of their participants, and also provide transportation to and from those jobs with a fleet of vans that run through the city 24/7. They also take participants their paychecks every week and ensure they have clothing, IDs, food, and other supplies they may need. Their second enterprise, called PROPS, is a property make-ready company where Project Return employs participants directly where they will do commercial cleaning or landscaping. Their last enterprise program, Pro Housing, provides long-term housing for their participants. The non-profit buys a property in a neighborhood, pays its participants to renovate the properties, and rents them out to those in the program for an affordable rate. Operations Director Corey Richard says this program addresses that many landlords will not rent to someone with a felony or criminal record.
How do those currently in prison learn about Project Return? Richard says they physically go into the prisons and local jails at least once a quarter. During their visits, they go in with materials about the program, tell people how they can access Project Return, and answer any questions they may have.
It's also important to note that right now the state of Tennessee has an incarceration rate of 838 per 100,000 people, which according to Prison Policy, we lock up a higher percentage of people than any democracy on earth. Most of these crimes aren't even criminal offenses, according to Sycamore Institute, property crimes accounted for the largest share of entries to state incarceration in FY 2018.
If you would like to volunteer with Project Return, they have resume development days on Thursday and Friday, you will also conduct practice interviews and coaching. They also have food packing opportunities. Volunteers are also needed to answer phone calls.
For more on Project Return follow their social media pages below or head to their website with this link. To watch our interview, click here or scroll to the video below!
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Chattanooga (BBBS) is a member of the largest youth mentoring organization in the United States. They serve 6 counties in the area including Hamilton, Marion, Bradley, Walker, Catoosa, and Dade counties. Executive Director Jessica Whatley says BBBS started with just a community-based program for decades where mentors (Bigs) hang out with their Littles, whether that is going to the park, the movie theater, or a game. This program is more about the time spent together and building the relationship from that bonding. If you are a part of the school-based program, Whatley says mentors can go see their Little at school. From there, they can do a lot of those similar activities, bring them lunch, read books in the school library, play board games. BBBS also has activity boxes at those schools that give Bigs ideas of how to spend time with their Littles. Recently, the non-profit started a school mentor program in partnership with Tyner High School, where Bigs and Littles meet virtually once a week and in person once a month.
Another program BBBS has is called Beyond School Walls. This work-based mentoring program partners with local companies so the Littles can interact with a working environment. Middle Schoolers will be able to go to companies like Unum and see the different job opportunities and learn about the workplace to see what's out there in the community.
With all of these wonderful programs, how do you volunteer? For the school-based and mentoring progams volunteers have to be over 18 years old. For the community-based program, you have to be over 21 years old. To participate in Beyond Schools Walls you have to be an employer with Unum, City of Chattanooga, Elliot Davis, or United Way. All volunteers will go through an orientation process online, where you can read about the programs, learn more about Bigs and Littles, and the benefits of mentoring. After that, you will go through training, background checks, and once you get through the interview process, you will meet with your Little and their guardian to get to know them and go through some rules and guidelines.
But don't worry if you are nervous, because each Big has a match support specialist. This is a person to communicate with to help you with any issues, if you need additional training, ideas, or if there are struggles. Your match support is there to help you know how to deal with things your Little may be going through and how to communicate with them. Another reason for the extra help is for child safety, so they check and make sure the kids are in safe relationships.
For more on other programs like Bigs in Blue or how UTC students can get involved check out the full interview listed below or by clicking here. For more information on Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Chattanooga, or to volunteer, click here.
The Chattanooga Trans Liberation Collective (CTLC) is a coalition that provides support to the LGBTQ+ community. CTLC began in 2020 after anti-LGBTQ+ legislation began forming in Tennessee.
There are a lot of us out here that do not support those laws. I know there may be a lot of people that are very loud around you that, you know, might tell you that you don't belong, but that's not true, says Hannah Schobert.
Hannah Schobert with CTLC says they do not support these restrictive bills and are here to let young people know they are not alone. Hannah says the coalition knows what the trauma feels like, and they want to mitigate the harm that these bills are causing. She says the legislation made them want to take action and do something, so, they threw a rally in Coolidge Park last fall to show support for the transgender community and speak on these laws.
One bill that CTLC is keeping an eye on is SB 657. This bill "prohibits a person from providing or facilitating the provision of sexual identity change therapy to a minor who has not yet entered puberty." Once that child hits puberty, there is still a list of things, the teen must do to actually receive sexual identity change therapy.
Another bill that cause a lot of controversy in Tennessee, required businesses to post a notice if they allow transgender people to use bathrooms that match their gender identity. During the summer of 2021, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on behalf of two business owners, one being the Sanctuary Performing Arts & Cafe in Chattanooga, to block the law from taking effect. When I spoke to Hannah about the bill, she told me that there has not been an update on the lawsuit.
Here at home, Hannah says the Chattanooga Trans Liberation Collective does not have a physical space to meet, but they do connect virtually on Sundays through Zoom. She says if anyone is interested in participating you can reach out on Facebook on Instagram. The coalition hopes to begin regular meetings, where members can talk about things they want to see happen in the community, and Hannah says we should see more events from them in the future.
Chattanooga Area Food Bank: Providing Meals To The Community In More Ways Than One
The Chattanooga Area Food Bank has been serving the community for nearly 50 years. During this time they have provided millions of pounds of food across the 20 regions they serve in Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia. Director of Community Engagement Jennifer Lockwood Fritts says just this past year they have provided over 18 million pounds of food to those in need, resulting in about 15 million meals served. Their “Snack Pack Program” provides snacks to students throughout the school year and during the summer. Fritts says the packs are anywhere from three to five pounds and are full of food children like nutrition, and easy to make meals.
The food bank also operates a mobile pantry program where they bring food into communities, they also operate a produce empowerment program that delivers fresh protein to residents.
According to Fritts one of their most recognizable programs is the emergency food box program that provides food to families who are in critical need. The food bank also offers Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as SNAP, to help families purchase groceries at the store.
Often times the community will see a pop-up pantry from the food bank. But, how do they decide where to hold one? Fritts says they look for places that have enough room for them to set up since the mobile pantries serve anywhere from 250 to 500 families. In this process, they also look into communities that may be a food desert, low income, or are disproportionately affected by food insecurity. Fritz says the food bank will sometimes reach out to those community partners, but other times the community will reach out to them.
We really can't do it alone, you know, on either side. So we hope to be just as much of a service to our community partners, as they are to us just a hand in hand working together.”
The Food Bank’s mobile pantries are operated by churches, whether that is setting up in parking lots or offering a drive-through style where families can pull up and get their groceries.
As the non-profit collaborates with over 250 community partners, one of those is La Paz Chattanooga. They are the leading organization promoting inclusion of the Hispanic and Latinx community in Southeast Tennessee. The Food Bank works with La Paz so the organization can operate a food pantry, distribute emergency food boxes, or bring mobile pantries out into their own communities. This way, both nonprofits can reach even more families that need food assistance.
The Food Bank also provides to the community whenever tragedy strikes. They provide support agencies like the Red Cross when a tornado hits the Tennessee Valley. After the Red Cross stabilizes families, the food bank comes in and provides groceries. Fritts also says the Chattanooga Area Food Bank also works with their sister food banks in Tennessee and Georgia if they ever need assistance.
So how has the pandemic affected the need for food boxes? Fritts told me they have tripled their capacity to distribute emergency food boxes, meaning they have gone from providing around 30 to 40 food boxes per day to upwards of 150 at the height of the pandemic. The pandemic also took a toll on their volunteer base. The food bank lost 75% of its volunteers, which greatly impacted its ability to distribute food. They had to fill the gap with temporary workers, recruit volunteers from new places, and look for new distribution methods and vendors to access food.
To sign up to volunteer you can click here.
If you want to monetary donation click here.
Another way to get involved in your community is by hosting a virtual or traditional food drive, if you are interested in that or would like more information head to their website by clicking here.
If you or someone you know needs help with food click here, if you live in Hamilton County you can also call 211 and access the United Way to get a food voucher to receive an emergency food box.
Want to watch my interview with CHA Food Bank? You can find that link below!
When Marina Peshterianu speaks about Bridge Refugee Services it’s with a huge smile on her face. Peshterianu is the non-profit’s Associate Director. The program was founded in Knoxville in 1982, with its branch office opening in Chattanooga in 1994. Peshterianu has been with the project since 1999. She tells me all of this started with a passion to be a good samaritan and to always help a stranger.
Bridge Refugee Services helps those who are fleeing persecution, war, political unrest, and genocide in countries all over the world. Their first steps are to resettle refugees into the community so they can rebuild their life. Peshterianu says they go through all of the vetting and necessary steps in the process to get them here, and it’s very lengthy. She says the average refugee spends 20 years in a camp, and the average amount of time for them to come into the United States is 24 months. Right now the average percentage of people who will be resettled in a permanent home is less than 1%. According to Peshterianu, there are 80 million displaced people, 45 of them would qualify as a refugee. This means someone who fled persecution will have a well-based fear for the rest of their life.
It's a life-saving program, it's very important that I think everybody understands. It's not the choice. It's just a life-saving humanitarian, human thing to do. These people flee because they realize that if they stay, their life will be in danger.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees will identify those who are set up in the refugee camps and then bring it to international attention and make sure refugees have conditions to survive. Those inside the camps do not know what country they will end up in, when, and if they get to leave.
Peshterianu says once they meet those coming to Chattanooga or Knoxville they settle them into apartments and have cultural orientations. They then set goals with refguees on how to achieve self-sufficiency, which could take anywhere from 6 to 8 months. Bridge also has many assistant programs, such as their employment program, school impact program, community connection, and case management.
The employment program helps assist newcomers to find a job to achieve self-sufficiency. They provide job readiness training, placement assistance, referrals to resources, and more. They also partner with a lot of employers in the community. Peshterianu says a lot of refugees are essential workers, that they are in our hospitals, grocery stores, food processing factories, and schools. She says they even worked through the pandemic in 2020 and never complained.
She says as they prepare newcomers, as they already have transferable skills and are strong and are hardworking people.
These are people that went through traumatic experiences were severely persecuted and had very little hope that they will ever find a place where they will be safe. So when it happens, the drive the motivation, the desire to rebuild life, you know, to go back to normal and to make it really worth it all the struggles and along the way is very big.
The Refugee School Impact Program works with local school systems, like Hamilton County Schools. Peshterianu says they have designated schools with the “English as a second language program,” also known as ESL. They also have summer programs, where they continue their education, and have fun with other classmates on field trips. Bridge also has a new program on its own called the “youth mentorship program.” They have a goal of getting every refugee training and a laptop so they can learn from home. Not only does Bridge Refugee Services partner with schools, but also colleges like UTC and Chattanooga State.
[The] American dream is still alive. Refugees are very positive people, everything after you run for your life, everything is in a different perspective. They're very resilient and very positive about the future.
Peshterianu says those who resettle want to be productive want to pay back to the country that welcomed them.
Now, how can you help Bridge Refugee Services? They have a volunteer program where they offer different volunteer opportunities to the community - from shopping for groceries to transportation to online English tutoring to helping set an apartment or help with a fundraiser.
participating in community support programs. Peshterianu says they never turn someone away, because there are a plethora of opportunities, depending on someone’s availability and personal preference. You can find a link to sign up here, or if you would like to make a donation you can click here.
I never felt even in the moments of despair that the community will not support us. You know, they were always there for us that always came through for us. And now we just look in the future with hope.
If you would like to learn more about Bridge Refugee Services, the interview with Marina Peshterianu is linked below, and trust me, you will want to listen.
What was once a fire station will now be the new home to La Paz Chattanooga.
La Paz Chattanooga holds the title of Latino Resource Center, acting as a connector guide for the Latinx community. Right now, the center is located on Bailey Avenue in Highland Park. Their new center will be located on South Willow Street, just a few minutes down the road.
In the new space, La Paz will have a food pantry available to the community, with their partnership with the Chattanooga Area Food Bank, which began last year. Right now, food boxes will be distributed once a month, for at least the next three months. La Paz also has a relationship with the Hispanic pastor at Red Bank Baptist so they receive food boxes from them more sporadically.
A commercial kitchen will be used for events in the new center and will be available for local Latinx businesses to come and sell food, along with local community members to use at their disposal and availability. Inside the building will also be panel murals, made by a local Latina artist. La Paz says they received a grant from Artsbuild, where they will expand on the artwork and make it a permanent piece somewhere inside the building.
Outside of La Paz, there will be a fun space where local Latinx restaurants with food trucks can set up, and sell food for those in the community to enjoy.
Communications Manager Lily Sanchez says the new building is a little over two times the size of their current space. This allows La Paz to have a central hub where the Latinx Community can come, be comfortable, and make the space their own. Sanchez says they wanted a larger space for the community so they could take the programs they offer into their own hands. She says the new building is two times the size of its current space.
The center chose this location because they wanted to stay in the Highland Park area, according to Sanchez this is where they are known to be a part of the community. The organization says they wanted to stay close to the area, where Latinx residents could access them. Sanchez says they are excited to remain in the neighborhood they have called home, for so long.
Other new features, to the new La Paz space, include a larger event space and more privacy for their social impact office. Sanchez says this will allow them to provide care and services to clients in a more dignified and private way.
Their Social Impact Department handles most of their case management, advocacy, and resource connection. La Paz says they see six-thousand or more clients a year. However, in 2020, because of the pandemic, the center says they saw over that number. The department helps clients find financial resources, counseling services, or connects them with other agencies in town that can offer further help.
A lot of services community members seek at La Paz, depend on the need. The center says they see a lot of referrals, while most are looking for reliable and trusted resources to establish themselves in their new home, in Chattanooga. Lily Sanchez says they connect clients to anything from doctors, to dentists, to immigration lawyers.
La Paz says for the DACA recipients in the community, they most often connect their clients with immigration attorneys, that will help them through the process. Sanchez says the center acts as a connector and advocate for anyone regardless of their immigration status. She says the center listens to their client's cases and depending on what type of situations they are in, they will access and determine what kind of support they need outside of the center's scope of work.
Another program La Paz offers is Professional Development Classes. This helps the Latinx community "bulk up" their work experience and other skills that can help them get a job. Other classes offered, before the pandemic, include a mental health support group, financial education, and learning how to use your digital literacy to build your business. Before the pandemic, La Paz would also hold town hall meetings, three times a year, for for civic engagement. The center believes it is important that the Latinx community members know their rights and what civil liberties they have. Sanchez says before the pandemic, they would have meetings with the local police chief or local government leaders. Sanchez says they hope to hold a town hall once they move into the new building, with social distancing.
Sanchez says La Paz Chattanooga is "very excited and honored that the Latina community has trusted us for so many years and we’re thrilled to be able to expand our services and our resources to them to continue growing and strengthening themselves in the community and becoming a community that thrives even more in Chattanooga."
La Paz hopes to move into the new building in June, and hold a grand opening during Hispanic Heritage Month.
Photos provided by La Paz Chattanooga.
My name is Jess and I love telling other peoples stories and bringing awareness to the community.