Help choose the next Volunteer Innovator
of the Year

     TN Media, parent company of The Tennessean, Nashville Lifestyles and 12th & Broad, would like your help honoring this year’s Volunteer Innovator of the Year.

    The category is part of the 28th annual Mary Catherine Strobel Volunteer Awards, held April 22 by Hands On Nashville at the Marriott Cool Springs Conference Center in Franklin. It is one of seven categories honoring volunteers in Middle Tennessee, and the only one that engages the public in choosing a final winner.
    Here are the three finalists; please vote for your favorite during National Volunteer Week, April 6-14.

Rita Atkins
Sew for Hope, a ministry of Thriftsmart


Rita Atkins has a passion for teaching refugees skills that can open up a world of opportunities. Recognizing that Nashville’s refugee community faces barriers when it comes to employment, Rita developed a program at local nonprofit Thriftsmart called Sew for Hope.

The goal is to empower Nashville’s immigrant community to learn sewing and business skills that will lead to employment. Since its 2012 inception, 54 students – from Iraq to Malaysia – have graduated from Sew for Hope. Graduates receive a new sewing machine and supplies to set them up for success, and many go on to start their own businesses or work for local designers. In addition to giving students the chance to earn a living, Sew for Hope unites Nashville’s refugee communities across ethnic, religious, and cultural boundaries.

"My goals for Sew For Hope are to teach refugees sewing skills to empower them with sustainable income, to believe in their abilities and to find friends from many different paths of life. Every day I have the joy of seeing women of different races, religions and ethnic cultures greet each other as friends and putting aside differences to find common ground to celebrate." – Rita Atkins

DeeAnn Hodge
Wonderfully Made Ministry for Girls, Preston Taylor Ministries


DeeAnn Hodge demonstrates the tenacity to make dreams happen. In 2012, she reached out to Preston Taylor Ministries (PTM), a nonprofit that serves the children and families living in Preston Taylor public housing, to find out how she could help.

Out of this grew the idea for Camp Wonderfully Made – a weeklong day camp for at-risk girls that DeeAnn hosts each summer in partnership with PTM. The camp offers new experiences (swimming, art, tennis) and surrounds the girls with positive role models that help them realize that they are “wonderfully made.” DeeAnn has inspired Preston Taylor Ministries to work harder to match students with positive relationships and opportunities to dream, resulting in the hiring of a program director who is responsible for “dream management.”

"Ms. DeeAnn is sweet and fun. She makes me feel safe. She helps me to learn that God made me in a wonderful way. She didn't have to, but she made a camp to help girls understand that God has fearfully and wonderfully made them". - Kourtney, PTM 5th grader

Aaron Grunke
Survivor Fitness Foundation


When Aaron Grunke completed his treatment for an aggressive cancer in 2006, he quickly learned that his journey to recovery wasn’t over. Medical teams provide much-needed support during treatment, but after the cancer is gone, support can be hard to find. Inspired to help recent cancer survivors regain strength and wellness, Aaron founded Survivor Fitness Foundation in May 2013.

Survivor Fitness participants complete a 14-week program consisting of personal training sessions and guidance from an expert nutritionist, at no cost to the participants. Since beginning one year ago, Survivor Fitness has helped five participants complete the program. Aaron has a goal of helping at least 30 cancer survivors regain their health and wellbeing in 2014.

"I will never again be the person I was in June. I am changed inside and out and Survivor Fitness was the catalyst. I am so much healthier and determined to continue working out and eating healthy and keeping my body as strong as possible. I truly believe that I am reducing my chances of cancer recurring by losing body fat and being fit!" – Survivor Fitness participant

Vote for the winner here

Finalists will be recognized and the winner will be announced at the Mary Catherine Strobel Awards on April 22. Tickets to the luncheon are available now.

More about the Strobel Awards

The annual event, founded by Ford Motor Company, recognizes volunteers who were nominated by the community in six categories for their outstanding contributions to Middle Tennessee. In addition, Hands On Nashville will recognize adult and youth volunteers in a new seventh category.

More than 700 volunteers and agency representatives will attend the luncheon and ceremony at the Marriott Cool Springs Conference Center in Franklin on Tuesday, April 22. Tickets to the luncheon are available at

The eight award recipients will be selected from 24 finalists and a record 139 nominations. The following finalists have been named for 2014 (more information about each finalist can be found at

©2011 Jenny Downing. CC BY 2.0