CFMT Grantee: The Importance of Neighborhoods in Rebuilding and Recovery Efforts

UPDATED 03/01: The following story includes original reporting, as well as updated information provided by CFMT and Neighbor 2 Neighbor’s executive director, Jim Hawk.

Neighbor 2 Neighbor is a local and nonpartisan nonprofit founded by neighborhood leaders across Davidson County. Neighbor 2 Neighbor equips residents and neighborhood organizations with the tools they need to preserve and improve their neighborhoods. Formerly known as the Neighborhoods Resource Center, the organization was founded in 1997. It has received a $5,000 grant from The Community Foundation’s Middle Tennessee Emergency Response Fund.

Neighbor 2 Neighbor received a $5,000 grant to provide support for the coordination of the Eastside Tornado Recovery Group and debrief/planning session with up to 20 neighborhood leaders.

“It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor.” — Fred Rogers

It really is a beautiful day for neighbors. And for rebuilding neighborhoods, no matter the uphill climb.

Drive the streets of North Nashville, Germantown, East Nashville, Hermitage and Donelson today, and you’ll still see plenty of destruction from the tornadoes that ravaged Middle Tennessee in the early evening hours of March 3.

Trees uprooted. Houses with boarded up doors and windows, blue tarp where once was a roof.

Shuttered businesses. Dashed hopes. Unfulfilled dreams.

The neighborhoods will recover and rebuild. But it will take time.

And the recovery and rebuilding will depend upon neighborhoods helping neighborhoods — just as neighbors have been helping neighbors since moments after the mighty storms left devastation in their wake.

That’s the message from Jim Hawk, longtime executive director of the North Nashville/MetroCenter-based nonprofit Neighbors 2 Neighbors. His agency is at the forefront of neighborhood coordination and cooperation during tornado recovery efforts, which are expected to take 18 months to two years.

Hawk responded to questions from The Community Foundation on June 13:

CFMT: How are you using, or planning to utilize, the tornado emergency response grant or grants?

N2N: Neighbor 2 Neighbor was asked to assist in the coordination and administration of the Eastside Tornado Recovery Group, a coalition of neighborhood and community leaders living and working in East Nashville. This group has been assessing the needs of the community and working to ensure those needs are met. We have hosted regular weekly progress meetings as well as an online town hall with members of the community and key agency partners (like FEMA, SBA, and HUD).

Just as importantly, this summer we will be working with neighborhood organizations across Davidson County that were affected by the tornado. We want to learn how prepared neighborhood organizations were for the disaster, what they did in response, and when they feel neighborhood organizations need to do in preparation for the next big disaster.

Ultimately, we hope to develop a neighborhood disaster preparedness and response kit that can be available to all neighborhoods in the metropolitan area.

CFMT: In light of changes in how we all live and work due to the COVID-19 coronavirus, how is your organization managing to work in supporting tornado relief and recovery efforts? What challenges have you all overcome or are overcoming?

N2N: A majority of our work is now done via phone, emails and online conferencing. The biggest challenge we all have faced is getting to the people to who do not have internet connectivity.

CFMT: In terms of tornado relief and recovery, what needs remain in your community or communities for tornado relief and recovery?

N2N: We are having a major meeting of all neighborhood and community leaders this week [the week of June 15] to update our needs assessment. There is still a great deal of cleanup to be done. And, while we see a lot of roofs going up, we know that many residents have put off any interior repairs because of the COVID-19 public health crisis. This work is much harder to identify, and assessments are made more difficult by the current crisis.

CFMT: Your organization participated in Nashville’s efforts in the 100 Resilient Cities program, which the Rockefeller Foundation concluded in July 2019. Among the program’s mission of growing and catalyzing the urban resilience movement was training neighborhood leaders in disaster preparedness. What’s your perspective now of resilience training, in these tornado recovery and pandemic times?

N2N: Creating a resilient city demands that we create resilient neighborhoods. We need caretakers in every neighborhood across the metropolitan area working to preserve and improve their neighborhoods. This leadership, at the neighborhood level, must be intentional and long term. We must work on gathering our neighbors and creating the opportunity for us to get to know one another and build the trust that is needed to create positive change and maintain a high quality of life in each and every neighborhood.

CFMT: Define the word “hope” for you and your organization.

N2N: Hope is wrapped up in feelings of trust and desire. We trust that we will get through these difficult times. We desire a day when we can all be together again and our lives made whole.

Follow up with Jim Hawk, Executive Director, Neighbor 2 Neighbor

CFMT: From your organization’s perspective, what progress has been made since the March 2020 tornadoes, and what more still needs to be done for survivors?

N2N: While life for many of our neighbors has returned to normal, there are still a large number of people who have tarps on their roofs, interior work incomplete, or are unable to return to their homes. There are still large swaths of a few neighborhoods that lie bare where homes used to be located. The pandemic has complicated the recovery process and slowed down repairs for many residents. It will take time.

Just a few weeks ago, we had the first tornado warnings of 2021. At Neighbor 2 Neighbor, we are keenly aware of the lack of preparedness at the neighborhood-level. While we continue to support our neighbors in recovery, the tornados of March 2020 exposed how ill-prepared residents and neighborhood organizations really are to respond to a severe weather event.

We need to create a network of local residents across the area who can assist in disaster preparedness and response at the neighborhood level. These individuals, with appropriate training, can help prepare their neighbors for potential disasters and other emergencies, as well as serve as a contact point between the residents and responding government and nonprofit agencies seeking to assist in their recovery.

One of the best ways to support those who survived the March tornadoes, and every citizen, is to have in place such a network and training program. Neighbor 2 Neighbor is working to create such a training program and network.

Neighbor 2 Neighbor hosted a virtual meeting of the Eastside Recovery Group. Photo courtesty of Neighbor 2 Neighbor.

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