On July 17, Catholic Charities, Diocese of Nashville will mark the 60th anniversary of its founding.
This article is one in a series published by the Tennessee Register exploring Catholic Charities’ past, present and future.
View the entire series here.
Catholic Charities, Diocese of Nashville has been successfully providing services to the people of Middle Tennessee for the past 60 years. Being a non-profit, part of that success is due, in large part, to its volunteers, and in recent years, that’s only been more apparent since a more centralized volunteer program was established.
“Like all non-profits, our funding is limited, and we are running a pretty barebones operation as far as staffing,” said Judy Orr, Catholic Charities executive director. “That’s why committed volunteers and interns are so important to amplify the manpower needed to take care of our clients and to provide the prescribed support for a client per the contract or grant requirements (given by the funder), but if you really want to do the very best job possible, you need more, and that’s where volunteers and interns are especially helpful.”
Orr learned the value of this during her time working for Alive Hospice in Nashville when having regular volunteers and interns were required.
“I was very impressed … that we had such a robust volunteer corps, which along with the interns comprised an unpaid workforce that helped the staff,” Orr said. “I brought that notion with me to Catholic Charities.
“Catholic Charities is such a big and complex operation in the world of social services that we really have an obligation to share it as a training opportunity, to learn in the trenches with our staff,” continued Orr, who came on as executive director on May 13, 2019. “It was my vision that we would expand our intern program and, at the same time, build a large volunteer operation.”
This initiative led to the establishment of the Tennessee Serves Neighbors program in late 2020, after receiving a $7.3 million grant from the State of Tennessee to expand its services into more Middle Tennessee counties.
“My thought (with the Tennessee Serves Neighbors program) was that you start with one paid person, a social services professional, and then you flesh out that team with various volunteers in the local community,” Orr explained. “Then you look for interns who are studying in the area who want to have some hands-on experience in the community, and then you partner with other nonprofits, with healthcare agencies, and with faith communities.”
And that also meant finding someone to help recruit volunteers. That’s when Louisa Saratora, state refugee coordinator for the Tennessee Office for Refugees, suggested Orr talk to Brad Schrade, who was interning there as an AmeriCorps member creating volunteer mentorship programs for use by resettlement agencies.
“Louisa said to me, ‘Brad’s internship is coming to an end, but he’s a hard worker and really smart. You ought to talk to him,’” Orr said.
Saratora ended up being right, and Schrade came on as the Catholic Charities volunteer coordinator in July 2021. Part of his job was to create a more consistent volunteer recruiting process.
Before “each department was handling its own volunteers, but we needed to ensure there was one standardized process for the agency,” Schrade said. “We knew that a standardized process would protect the agency and allow us to better leverage volunteers in the community. We want to make it clear to all in the community that we’re here to engage them.
“I like to think of volunteers as having a multiplier effect on our efforts,” he added. “Instead of having just one staff member who can help, we get one staff member and several volunteers. Those volunteers might only come once a week, but they increase our ability and our capacity to serve our community.”
In just over a year, with this new program in place, Catholic Charities now has more than 700 volunteers who come to help when they’re available and more than 100 long-term volunteers who come in on a regular basis, Schrade said.
Volunteers are mainly recruited to help in refugee and immigration services, hunger relief, administration and the Family Resource Centers both in Davidson County and six other Middle Tennessee counties. However, Catholic Charities has other opportunities as well and will work to accommodate volunteers’ other abilities and interests.
“We have people come in just to do filing on Monday and Wednesday,” said Chris Alford, Catholic Charities volunteer coordinator for refugee and immigration services. “Whatever they want to do, we can find a place for them within the (organization) to best suit their skill set.”
And it does take finding the right person to fulfill a role, and sometimes it even takes a team, which has been proven when Catholic Charities needed someone to run the front desk in its main office at the Catholic Pastoral Center, Orr said. But they finally found the right trio to take on that task in Mary Pollman, Deacon Dave Lybarger and Leslie Young, who are all recent retirees of highly skilled, high-level professions.
For example, Pollman, a parishioner of St. Patrick Church in South Nashville, retired from healthcare in 2020.
“While I was working, my hours were long, and I had time for almost nothing extracurricular, so, when I retired, I didn’t quite know what to do with my free time. I got two bouncy puppies, but I still had time on my hands,” Pollman said. “I had always wanted to do volunteer work for the Church in some capacity, so I asked our pastor (at St. Patrick), Father John Hammond, for guidance in looking for a volunteer opportunity, and he introduced me to Judy Orr.
“At the time, she was considering making the front desk position a volunteer position, and I was intrigued by the opportunity she described to ‘triage’ the people who approached Catholic Charities for help,” she said.
Ready to take the challenge, Pollman began working the front desk in September 2021 and hasn’t looked back.
“I love the challenge of understanding people’s problems and trying to get them to the best person on the Catholic Charities team to help them,” Pollman said. “I love the variety of ways Catholic Charities helps people, from short-term needs for rent money or diapers, to counseling, to immigration and refugee resettlement.
“I like, as I get in my car to go home, thinking that, among all the people who walked in or called today, I must have helped at least a few people,” she continued. “I love working for an organization with so many people who have so much care and concern for others. In a corporate job you find people like that, too, but here it seems to be a dominant trait with almost all the staff.”
Pollman is just one of the many examples of the hundreds of volunteers helping fulfill the mission of Catholic Charities, completing the vision Orr originally had.
“All along, my intention was an agency-wide volunteer and intern program where folks from all disciplines and backgrounds could be embedded within our organization to help,” Orr said, “and we are giving people meaningful volunteer work where they’re making a real difference. That was my vision.”
To learn more about how to sign up to be a Catholic Charities volunteer, visit volunteer.cctenn.org.