The day begins to wane as you watch the vibrant sunset from the comfort of your trusty canoe, allowing the sun’s fleeting rays to warm your soul. As you paddle along you take note of the tiny turtle family sunbathing amidst a floating log on the nearby bank, and the rhythmic lull of the flowing river as the bow of the canoe bisects the current. You begin to comment on the perfection of the pristine panorama you are beholding, but what is that in the distance obstructing your view…a pile of tires? Unfortunately this has happened to me and many others across the world as we face an epidemic of illegally dumped tires in our lovely waterways, parks, roadsides, and just about anywhere imaginable. As un-anesthetically pleasing as this may be, abandoned tires cause far worse problems to our environment and health. With a little education and effort we can eradicate-or take steps to prevent- the tire pile-up by recycling, re-purposing, or reusing these tires in new and innovative ways.
At Lightning 100’s Team Green Adventures, we love the outdoors. We are passionate about maintaining a clean, sustainable environment for all to enjoy, and it is our goal to get the community of Middle Tennessee involved in our efforts. That’s why we incorporate as many community service events as we can to help raise awareness about environmental concerns.
Each year Team Green Adventures hosts multiple waterway cleanups to collect litter from our beautiful creeks and streams. In 2015, over 100 volunteers gathered for six different waterway cleanups; together we gathered 167 bags of trash and 118 tires!
Have you ever thought about how a trail is actually created? When I first began hiking, I was far too consumed with my natural surroundings to consider the work put in to design and construct a trail. Then I spent a Sunday morning rerouting the Fiery Gizzard Trail with Team Green Adventures, and my outlook on hiking trails was changed forever.
Hiking trails do not just appear out of thin air. They are created with in-depth forethought and are paved by nature lovers abound. Designing a trail requires proper vision with the most sustainable route in mind. Think long-term. How can we design a trail so it can be used for the next 50+ years, with the minimal amount of maintenance needed to keep it safe and functional?
With 2016 well under way and 2015 fading in the distance in our rear-view, it can be easy to forget all that we accomplished over the last year. Supporting the Nashville community through service is a core part of Team Green’s mission, and 2015 was our best year yet in terms of how much we gave back to Middle Tennessee. Before we dive too deep into the new year, let’s take a look back at all of the great opportunities we had over the last year to lend a hand to the community that so enthusiastically support us day in and day out:
When the Indian Ocean tsunami ravaged the East in 2004, the world watched in horror as entire nations were instantly engulfed in poverty and desolation. Not long after, Hurricane Katrina brought the reality of natural disaster close to home; hundreds of thousands of Americans were displaced or impoverished with no ability to recover. Back home in Nashville, Wayne Elsey watched the disaster footage as a single shoe floated onto shore in the wake of the tsunami. With that image burned in his mind, Elsey was determined to bring relief to areas of poverty. Out of that moment, Soles4Souls was born.
I recently sat down with Kelly Modena from Soles4Souls to get a glimpse into the impact of this organization. Soles4Souls aims to fight poverty by collecting and distributing shoes worldwide. They accomplish this goal through their team of 25 employees who are based right here in Nashville and the surrounding area. In less than 10 years, they have collected and distributed millions upon millions of shoes across the globe.
While Soles4Souls produces impressive numbers, the organization is not motivated by statistics. When I asked Kelly what drives her passion, she didn’t miss a beat. “Stories, 100%. Once I met a kid who was wearing a size four and needed a size one shoe. She said, ‘these were my sister’s shoes and I have to wear them’, so she would wear two pairs of socks. Another boy was wearing his dad’s huge shoes, even though they were so beat up. Just because we have strong ties to Haiti and Honduras and Guatemala and all the places we go doesn’t mean that we aren’t serving our community. That’s something that we are super passionate about and is so needed in Nashville.”
On another occasion, four construction workers were at a building site without adequate shoes. Their supervisor confronted them and threatened to send them home if they didn’t show up to work the next day with steel-toed boots. The men reached out to Soles4Souls completely frantic; they were paid hourly, so missing even part of a day would be difficult for their families. Before the start of the next day, Soles4Souls was able to track down four pairs of boots and prevent the workers from losing their jobs.
Avenues of Outreach
In some situations, like the case with the construction workers, people reach out to the organization. In other cases, Soles4Souls finds areas of need to do distributions and implement their micro-enterprise model, providing long-term solutions to poverty.
“The mission is broken into two: free distributions, 100% free new shoes and the micro-enterprise program,” Kelly explained. “Distributions – this was the birth of our organization. But as time went on and we started serving people, we wanted to help them in a bigger and better way. And although shoes are important and always needed, we wanted to do something to help the economy and help feed their families. We don’t have the liberty of writing a check, but we do have shoes. So we had the idea – what if we gave shoes to people who sold them to get money for their families and give back to the community?”
This was the start of the micro-enterprise program. In a nutshell, Soles4Souls partners with individuals to educate, supply, and support the start up of small businesses throughout the world. “We teach our partners about margins, supply and demand, and inventory,” said Kelly. “They learn how to hire people and how to pay for shipping, so it’s teaching them a skill so that they use to hire more people, which feeds another family. So it just keeps going and going. We want to build character and we also want our partners to build a business.”
One of their partners from Haiti, Marie-Ange, was on the verge of eviction when she began her partnership with Soles4Souls. Over time, she was able to save up enough money to buy a plot of land and build her own home. Check out this video for more of Marie-Ange’s story: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M84aorx5Ngs
Involvement in Nashville
While Soles4Souls reaches into lives all across the globe, they are committed to investing in our community right here in Nashville. This month, they are partnering with Lightning 100’s Team Green Adventures and the RAGNAR Relay Series to collect hundreds of shoes to give to the communities along the race route (for more information on RAGNAR, check out this blog post). The race will end with a celebration at the finish line filled with great food, a beer garden, and a huge stage with live music. The event is free and open to the public, so if you’re interested in learning more about Soles4Souls, swing by on October 24th.. Have a beer on the lawn, check out the music, and bring your shoes to donate!
Want to Get Involved?
If you’re interested in supporting Soles4Souls there are several ways to get involved:
- Donate your shoes. They accept all types of shoes in all conditions!
- Come to a distribution. See the impact on the Nashville community first-hand.
- Souls4Soles welcomes travelers to help with distributions worldwide! Find more information here.
- Spread the word! No shoes should be thrown away, regardless of their condition. Soles4Souls can use or recycle anything!
- Be Aware. There is need everywhere. People mask it, but poverty can be literally blocks away from your home. Becoming aware is the first step to making a difference.
– Sammi (Team Green’s Fall Intern)
Here at Team Green, we love working with local non-profits and other community partners to create high-quality and engaging events that range from free workshops to volunteer opportunities. This week, we sat down with Carolyn Wright, program and event director of Cumberland River Compact, who we partner with on the yearly Cumberland River Dragon Boat Festival. Check out what she had to say about Nashville’s most beloved source of water, and how we can get involved as a city:
“The Compact started in 1997 when environmental advocacy work became the new trendy thing, and a man named Vic Scoggin came along. Legend has it that one of our current board members used to be a private detective,” said Wright. “One day, he was out filming someone polluting the river, and then this crazy guy swam by. He tracked him down, and the man was Vic Scoggin. To help raise environmental awareness for it, he swam the whole length of the Cumberland River. That’s nearly 600 miles.”
Very soon afterwards, Scoggin ended up assembling an environmentally-conscious group of Nashvillians, and thus began Cumberland River Compact.
While the primary mission of Cumberland River Compact is to “enhance the health and enjoyment of the Cumberland River and its tributaries through education, collaboration, and action”, this is by no means a boring feat. Every year The Compact hosts the annual Dragon Boat Festival, which entails teams of organizations, corporations, and individual groups paddling across downtown Nashville’s riverfront in colorful Dragon Boat fashion.
“Team Green has a boat in the race every single year now,” said Wright. “They’re The Team Green Giants and it’s always so great to see them show up all hyped up and dressed as a team with their Green Giant drummer-mascot.”
This event is Cumberland River Compact’s largest fundraiser, and a huge opportunity to get people out on the water. This will be The Compact’s 9th year holding the race, and there are annually over 1,000 paddlers, 50 race teams, and 8 Dragon Boats. Each Dragon Boat holds 20 people, and has a drummer of its own to lead its team forwards with a solid paddling cadence.
Everyone is welcome to come, dress up, bring their kids for a bunch of activities, and be merry. This year’s Dragon Boat race will be on Saturday, September 12th at the East Bank Landing.
To help work towards their ultimate declared mission, Cumberland River Compact breaks their work down into three categories: teaching, protecting, and connecting.
The Compact is all about protecting the Cumberland River through advocacy, and that begins with education. This is especially true as the city of Nashville gains approximately 82 new Nashvillians every day, according to The Ashton Real Estate Group of RE/MAX Elite. With such growth, it is imperative that we proceed accordingly, and teach our younger generations to do so as well.
“It really affects our work here because with that many people coming, we have to have a louder voice,” said Wright. “It’s great for Nashville when we create new infrastructure, but we have to remember and actively live like it. The more people that come, the more that our resources will be stressed.”
A prime event to promote their theme of education is the annual Catfish Rodeo. This is a yearly free festival for kids and families to learn to fish, see some booths, and have some fun with over 1,700 lbs of catfish at Sevier Lake in Shelby Park.
Right next to educating the people who make use of the river, Cumberland River Compact’s most common form of advocacy is the physical protection and up-keeping of the river, its streams, and the surrounding land.
“Team Green adopted a stream!” smiled Wright. “Groups can go online on our website and, through us, can adopt streams. Then, these groups will have their own quarter-mile segments that they can have to clean up and take care of.” Team Green’s adopted section includes a one-mile stretch of Mill Creek near Ezell Road Park and the Mill Creek Greenway, and we’ve done 5 cleanups to date on that section.
Stream adoptions, tree planting, and rain gardening are just a few of the ways that both groups and individuals can get involved and do some of the grunt work that keeps our beloved river clean and healthy.
“After all, we use and drink the water that comes from the Cumberland. Might as well take care of what we have to put in our bodies,” said Wright.
The last, and certainly not least, principle of The Compact is to connect with people while helping others to connect.
Over the years, countless organizations, businesses, and people walking down the street have been able to form partnerships, friendships, traditions, and an overall stronger community for Nashville as a city through the work of Cumberland River Compact.
“To anyone who’s looking to be outside more, or help the community, or do something with their weekend, I definitely say check out our website because everything you could want to know about volunteering will be there,” said Wright. “We have a new recreation map on our website in the resources area. If you’re looking for anything to do around Nashville, check it out!”
– Aziza Cunningham (Lightning 100 Summer Intern)
If you’ve ever spent any time in Nashville during the summer months, then you know that our local waterways are a vital piece of the outdoor recreation puzzle here in Middle Tennessee. From canoeing or kayaking on the Harpeth, Piney, Caney Fork, or Buffalo Rivers, to paddleboarding and boating on Percy Priest Lake, to fishing in or hiking along one of our many local creeks, there’s no shortage of ways to enjoy the abundant bodies of water in and around Nashville. Even the Cumberland River is experiencing a resurgence in recreational opportunities of late, with projects currently underway to expand non-motorized boat access near LP Field and Downtown.
Despite the excitement that many Nashvillians feel as summer approaches, bringing with it the promise of long warm days on the water, little time is often spent thinking about the work that must be done to keep our waterways clean and healthy for all to enjoy. As an organization that loves to get people on the water as much as possible, we know that recreational use of local streams, rivers and lakes is a privilege not to be taken lightly, and that we need to do our part to make sure that we can continue to have access to waterways that are clean, safe, and beautiful long after we’ve paddled them. For that reason, we work year-round with several local partners to clean, protect, and maintain our cherished blueways. Here’s a little more on some of the great groups we join forces with and how YOU can get involved with the work we’re doing:
Cumberland River Compact
The Cumberland River Compact is the leading organization promoting increased water quality and health in Middle Tennessee, as they care for the entire Cumberland River Watershed, including the river itself and its many tributaries. Their work ranges from hands-on volunteer efforts like tree and rain garden plantings, stream cleanups, and dam removals, to educational initiatives like their River Talks series, which is aimed at informing the public about all aspects of the health of the Cumberland River Basin. They have made great strides in improving the long-term wellbeing of the watershed, and they continue to promote increased community engagement to further this goal through their active management of the Nashville Adopt-A-Stream Program and other ongoing programs. We adopted our very own one-mile section of Mill Creek through this program in the summer of 2013, and have continued to maintain that area through multiple cleanups every year. The Compact even hosts fun events like the annual Dragon Boat Festival on the Cumberland River to help raise awareness about water quality issues and fund their work, providing Nashvillians with a fantastic opportunity to have a great time while supporting the health of our local waterways. We have our own Dragon Boat team every year, and would love for you to join it!
Bridgestone Americas’ Tires4ward Program
Since it’s inception in 2012, Bridgestone Americas’ Tires4ward Program has aided more than 350 community cleanup events and recycled nearly 100,000 tires from streams and rivers across the United States. Part of Bridgestone’s larger efforts towards sustainability (called their One Team, One Planet initiative), the Tires4ward program seeks to promote a waste-free tire industry by repurposing or recycling one used tire for every new tire they produce. Bridgestone partners with local organizations in communities across the country to collect spent tires for free from cleanup events, making their tire collection services open to any and all who need them. We have directly partnered with this program for the last two summers, pulling more than 100 tires out of the Harpeth, Buffalo and Caney Fork Rivers during our annual summer canoe floats. Keep your eyes on our calendar for summer cleanup opportunities to be posted soon!
Hands On Nashville’s Waterway Cleanup & Restoration Program
In the immediate aftermath of the May 2010 flood, a huge community-wide effort was made towards restoring and cleaning up homes and businesses that had been damaged by record-high water levels, but little attention was paid to the damage done to some of our more minor local streams and tributaries. Seeing a need for a concerted recovery effort, Hands On Nashville created the Waterway Cleanup & Restoration Program to help clean up the debris that was left in Nashville’s waterways long after the flood waters had receded. Over the last four and a half years, local volunteers have participated in hundreds of cleanups around Davidson County, removing some 285 tons of debris from our waterways big and small, helping to restore these vital ecosystems to pre-flood conditions or better. This program has been so successful that the cleanup phase of the project is now complete, allowing Hands On Nashville to concentrate their efforts on promoting the long-term health and resilience of our streams through efforts to plant more trees to strengthen riparian buffers (a vegetated area that lines waterways, protecting it from the impact of nearby land uses) around the city. These plantings have continued to take place into this spring, providing a great opportunity for you to get involved! Other local organizations, such as the Harpeth River Watershed Association, also host regular tree plantings in riparian zones, so be sure to check out ways to lend a hand and do your part with either of these great programs!
So this summer, when you’re out paddling a local river and enjoying a cold brew, take some time to thank the dedicated volunteers who help maintain our waterways and keep them pristine. If you can, pick up any litter you see along the way, and maybe future paddlers will take some time to thank you too!
– Matt (Team Green’s Events Coordinator)