The Ultimate Exercise in Democracy

By Liz Shadbolt, Volunteer Coordinator


For the longest time, I’ve had this quote from Marjorie Moore in my email signature: “Volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections once a year, but when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in.” As the volunteer coordinator at Open Table Nashville, I truly believe this—and I get to see the transformation of our community alongside our volunteers every day.


At OTN, we focus on outreach: meeting people where they are geographically, emotionally, and spiritually. Even though we have an office space, that’s not where the real work happens. It happens on the streets, in campsites, hospitals, jails—wherever our people are. This can sometimes make it tricky to involve volunteers in the day-to-day work that our outreach workers do. Still, volunteers play a huge part in our overall work, especially in supporting our resource shelters, winter canvassing efforts, donation collections, and special events. These are things that we couldn’t do without volunteer support!


So what does volunteering with OTN look like? For many, it means signing up to serve at one of our bi-monthly resource shelters. There, volunteers set up the space, bring and serve dinner, spend time talking with guests, give hair cuts and do foot clinics. Volunteers even stay overnight as inn keepers and handle the laundry afterwards. Those who sign up to do winter canvassing get a completely different experience—they go out in teams with outreach workers on cold nights to take supplies to folks who are outside. Other volunteers spend time in our donations room, sorting treasures and making Welcome Home Kits for those moving into housing. We are also very lucky to have some wonderful folks who offer their professional advice and skills to us in areas like marketing, technology, and medicine. And aside from all of the tasks and jobs that volunteers do for us, we sincerely value the way volunteers partner with our friends experiencing homelessness. We see amazing friendships form, stereotypes erased, and our community strengthened.


Are you ready to experience community in a whole new way? We’d love to have you join us at the table where we work to interrupt cycles of poverty, journey with the marginalized, and provide education on issues of homelessness.


Ask yourself the question: how do you want to cast those everyday votes about what kind of world we want to live in? Take the next step: fill out our volunteer interest form here or check out opportunities at Resource Shelters here. Follow us on social media. Consider coming to one of our upcoming training events, such as our Winter Outreach Training on Tuesday, 11/14 from 6:00-8:00pm at Glencliff United Methodist Church. 


Dorothy Day is one of my heroes, and this quote from her sums it all up: “What we would like to do is change the world. . . by crying out unceasingly for the rights of the workers, of the poor, of the destitute. We can throw our pebble in the pond and be confident that its evert widening circle will reach around the world.”