Day of Volunteering Becomes a Way of Life
A version of this story was originally published in 2011 in the book "Take My Hand: How Nashville United in the Wake of the 2010 Flood.
When the floods hit, LaQuita Summey knew she couldn’t just sit at home and watch the news on television. She had to get out and do something.
She made her way to the East Nashville Volunteer Reception Center and was impressed with what she saw - not only were volunteers providing food and water to flood victims, they had already moved beyond those basic functions and were collecting clothes, organizing home assessments and cataloging residents’ needs.
LaQuita was just a face in the crowd that first afternoon – helping with whatever the organizers needed. It was a long day, she was growing tired, ready to go back home. Then she received a call from a friend in North Nashville. “LaQuita, you’ve got to get over here,” her friend said. “It’s sheer chaos.” Then another call; the occupants of a rental property in North Nashville that LaQuita owned and managed with her husband were on the line, and they were in a panic – the water was rising fast.
So the stay-at-home mom and graduate student with four courses remaining before she earned her degree in public administration decided not to go home that afternoon; instead, she drove over to North Nashville and volunteered some more. To anyone who would listen, her message was the same: Tell me what to do, and I’ll do it. Today, I’m all yours.
What began as a day of volunteering turned into a life’s mission.
Long after the flood waters had receded, after the dignitaries had returned to Washington, D.C., after the media had turned to new stories and even after many Nashvillians had returned to their “normal” lives, LaQuita Summey was volunteering more than 100 hours per week to help finish the work that she and thousands of volunteers started on that day in May 2010.
After arriving at the North Nashville corner of West Hamilton and Tucker Road, LaQuita was prepared to be just one of many volunteers, as she had in East Nashville. But it soon became apparent that a leader was needed, and LaQuita was approached: Would she coordinate Hands On Nashville’s Volunteer Reception Center there?
“I prayed about it, spoke to my husband about it, and he said, ‘If you really want to do this, do it.’ So she said ‘yes,’ and soon was organizing an effort that would come to include more than 4,100 volunteers, most of whom were pointed to the North Nashville Flood Relief site by Hands On Nashville.
These volunteers were largely assigned to assess more than 200 flood damaged homes and take on the laborious process of gutting them out: knocking down and ripping out drywall, pulling out damaged insulation, removing furniture, clearing out debris, mitigating mold, scrubbing floors and windows, and salvaging personal belongings.
As days turned to weeks and then to months, LaQuita was impressed with the outpouring of support from volunteers, not only those from Nashville, but folks from as far away as Michigan and Pennsylvania who were driving down to Nashville to help out, and college students who were spending their spring breaks working on drywall in North Nashville rather than their tans in sunny Florida.
The 100-hour weeks were challenging for LaQuita and her family; she won’t deny that. Rather than spending time with her daughter at home, she often found them bonding at The Home Depot when they were out purchasing carpeting or linoleum for a damaged home. But the rewards were richer than she ever imagined.
“At times, it can be challenging as a wife and a mother and a grandmother –there are definitely moments when it seems overwhelming,” she said at the time. “But so many people lost so much, and some people lost everything. One woman told me, ‘I had 45 years of memories that I lost in 45 seconds.’ It’s so hard for people to recover from something like that. So the reward is when you see the smiles on the faces of the people you’ve helped. They’re really grateful that someone is still there when they don’t know where to turn. They have confidence in the work that we do, and that means everything.”
About Take My Hand: How Nashville United In The Wake Of The 2010 Flood:
In the first days of May 2010, Nashville, Tenn. was devastated by a 1,000-year flood. All Middle Tennesseans were affected, either personally or through friends' and family members' hardships. Yet out of this tragedy came triumph in the form of a historic volunteer response. "Take My Hand" celebrates the thousands of volunteers who refused to let the flood destroy Nashville. It is about the volunteers who worked night and day to help total strangers, and about Hands On Nashville, the organization that led the volunteer effort