The Face of A Flood Volunteer : Tell Me More Guest blogger Johann Wilkerson writes about how the people of Nashville have pulled together in response to the region's devastating flood in early May.
NPR logo The Face of A Flood Volunteer

The Face of A Flood Volunteer

Tammy Awali, right, hugs her mother Patti Hollingsworth as her granddaughter Aaliyah Muller, 6, watches in Nashville. Volunteers helped salvage some of the personal items out of the home, which was filled with water. John Partipilo/AP/The Tennessean hide caption

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John Partipilo/AP/The Tennessean

It was Monday, May 3. Football teams, neighbors, co-workers, cheerleaders, churches, schools, men, women, boys, girls, young and old gathered together to become part of one of the most life-changing events to ever take place in Middle Tennessee. To some it might sound like a Super Bowl Sunday, and to others, the making of a country music video! But for Tennessee, it was the day that Nashville would be remembered for more than just its music. It would go from being the Volunteer State to being a state of volunteers, working on our own behalf.

In times of need, Tennesseans have been known to drop everything and volunteer in other states or countries. The volunteer spirit often shines throughout our community. But this time, it's on a much larger scale. We have to be to ourselves what we have been to so many others in times of crisis. It is by no means unusual to see a Good Samaritan at work in this state. With its small-town, large-city climate it is not uncommon to run into friendly faces and kind hearts. Whether you're a Wynona Judd, a CeCe Winans or a Josh Landtroop, the same sweet spirit and kind words ring true — "Hello Neighbor."

Josh — a young, kindhearted father, who worked two jobs to provide for his kids — became a victim of Nashville's horrific flood. A guy who was known to give you the shirt off his back is now gone. Josh was walking home from work when the gush of floodwater washed him away. He was found floating in the stream of water several blocks from his workplace.

And who will ever forget the spirit of a loving, heroic father eager to lend a helping hand to save his daughter, only to be sucked in by the current, as they both drowned? As his widow put it, "He literally gave his life for his daughter." Though Josh is gone, his "volunteer spirit" lives on.

And you can see that spirit throughout our state.

In the streets of Tennessee, you won't hear the sound of a defeated people. Instead, you will hear a sea of Tennessee volunteers — from the poverty-stricken areas, to the middle class, to the wealthy— all asking, "Hello neighbor. How can I help?"

And help, they do!

Groups like the Samaritan Purse, the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, churches, schools and many others. That phrase — which has never been uncommon here — became quite common to many languages, cultures, and communities. And the Tennessee "volunteer spirit" continues to ring strong.

Flood recovery equipment: millions.

Flood damage: one billion.

Over 7,000 Nashvillean volunteers within the first 48 hours: priceless.

Johann L. Wilkerson is an educator living in Nashville, Tenn. She's the author of two children's books.