Open Table Nashville was founded in 2010 and is an interfaith homeless outreach nonprofit that disrupts cycles of poverty, journeys with the marginalized, and provides education about issues of homelessness. Our journey, however, started long before 2010. In the late summer of 2008, OTN’s founders were a ragtag team of homeless outreach workers, ministers, and volunteers who were introduced to Tent City, Nashville’s largest homeless encampment that was located on the banks of the Cumberland River.
Over time, we became friends with the residents, advocated with them for their rights, received hospitality from them, officiated at their weddings and funerals, and realized that a majority of the residents couldn’t stay at traditional shelters because they were couples, pet owners, working non-traditional hours, or struggling with severe mental health issues. We helped dozens of Tent City residents move into permanent housing, but as these residents left their tents, others moved in who were trying to survive the country’s Great Recession. In the late spring of 2010, about 140 people and over a dozen cats and dogs called Tent City home.
Then, in May 2010, the unthinkable happened. After record rainfalls, the Cumberland River and many of its tributaries flooded. Tent City and large swaths of Nashville were completely engulfed. As the waters rose, we evacuated the residents and their pets to the Red Cross Shelter at Lipscomb University and made a promise that would change our lives: we promised that we would not abandon them.
When the waters receded and the Red Cross Shelter closed, city officials condemned Tent City and failed to provide adequate solutions for the majority of the displaced residents, many of whom would be sent to the streets, only to be subsequently cited or arrested. Because we had promised the residents that we would stand beside them, we began organizing volunteers, collecting donations, and asking the city, churches, and landowners for land on which we could set-up a temporary encampment. Lee Beaman, owner of Beaman Toyota, offered us a 2-acre parcel of unoccupied land in Antioch, TN, so we moved about 40 of the displaced residents there. After spending 40 days on Beaman’s land, the city closed the camp because of outcries from the Antioch community who didn’t want “the homeless” temporarily in their “back yards” and because the land wasn’t zoned for camping. Hobson United Methodist Church in East Nashville offered to rent us their parsonage and we helped a number of displaced residents move there. For over two years, the parsonage—“Hobson House”—served as our transitional housing community.
After the post-flood chaos and months of 80-hour work weeks, we went on a two-day retreat in Southeast Tennessee. There, we came up with the name for our group—a group that was growing into a movement through the energy and tension that had been forming around us and around Tent City for years. We named it Open Table Nashville and in June of 2011, OTN was incorporated as an interfaith 501(c)(3) non-profit community. Since then, OTN has continued to grow and has been recognized locally and nationally with numerous accolades and awards. We continue to work toward personal and systemic transformation in Nashville and beyond.
“When people ask about the name ‘Open Table Nashville,’” says Director and Co-founder Ingrid McIntyre, “they ask if it’s about a ‘food thing.’ I tell them that we’re all motivated by our faith and that to us, an open table means a place where everyone is welcome. The table is never too full and there’s always an open seat. I guess we could have called it ‘Available Chair,’ but that didn’t have the same ring.” Co-founder Lindsey Krinks adds, “For us, an open table signifies fellowship, community, and radical inclusion. In other words, we’re not here just to make sure our friends on the streets get crumbs from the table. That is no more than charity. We’re here to make sure our friends have a place at the table, and that is about justice.”
*Many of these events are depicted in the documentary “Tent City, U.S.A.”
Top 5 accomplishments:
1. Over six hundred people placed into permanent housing since Open Table Nashville's inception.
3. Collaborated with multiple housing resources to better serve our friends on the streets.
5. Provided education to 18 distinct groups totaling 3,550 people.
We couldn’t do the work we’re doing in the community without our volunteers. In 2016, we had over 8,320 volunteer hours (that’s over 200 work weeks)! You can also email Liz, our volunteer coordinator, to find the best fit for you. email@example.com
Volunteer Groups: cleaning encampments, organizing donations, helping residents move in or out of housing, and putting together food boxes and Welcome Home Kits are a few possible projects for volunteers. If your group is interested in volunteering, please fill out our group volunteer and education form. http://opentablenashville.org/get-involved/groupform
Resource Shelters: OTN partners with local churches year-round to host outreach-focused shelters. We help guests with birth certificates, hair cuts, housing applications, medical foot clinics, and navigating resources. Volunteers help to set up beds, serve dinner, provide basic medical needs, stay as innkeepers, and help with clean up.
Volunteer Trainings: We hold volunteer trainings quarterly but can also schedule one-on-one or group immersions, education sessions, or trainings.
Internship Opportunities: Our interns have formative experiences that shape the ways they live and view the world. Are you interested in joining us? http://opentablenashville.org/get-involved/internship-application
Volunteer: Ready to help? Whether it's volunteering to help with day-to-day operations and tasks, serving at one of our resource shelters, or something else you have in mind, let us know a little about you by filling out this form. http://opentablenashville.org/get-involved/volunteer-form-for-individuals
I first became an Open Table Nashville volunteer because they gave me the most opportunity to companion with people experiencing homelessness. I worship as a Christian, and our scriptures are clear about not only the beauty and joy of life but also my responsibility to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with my God so that all people can experience that beauty and joy. These scriptures are also clear that I am to care for those who have been widowed, orphaned, imprisoned, or who are suffering from illnesses. I spent years giving money or goods to “good causes,” but still felt like the only time I was living in the same world with the ones God has called me to was when I prayed for them – it felt very abstract. When I became the Training Director for the National Health Care for the Homeless Council, I learned about outreach and engagement to unhoused people. I learned how building relationships with people helped me understand unique stories, decisions, and situations that lead to loss of housing and support; I saw firsthand how widows (and widowers), orphans, sick people, and former prisoners were ostracized from society. During this same time, I completed a year’s worth of training to become a Stephen Minister, a worldwide ministry of listening and presence with someone experiencing a life transition. I realized that I wanted to be a kind of Stephen Minister among people suffering the kind of trauma that leads to and results from homelessness, and OTN gave me that opportunity.
OTN puts people together, and together those people share resources, learn more about themselves, figure out what wholeness looks like, and make progress toward that wholeness. While OTN specifically records the transitions and accomplishments of its clients – who they call friends – it could just as easily record the transitions and growth in its volunteers and advocates. They track friends who move into temporary shelter, community housing, and independent housing, but they could also track how volunteers and advocates – people who build long-term relationships with friends – experience personal growth and understanding of how to advocate for a social structure that includes more people rather than allowing so many to be discarded.
I consider the positive impact on the lives of friends, advocates, volunteers, and staff the greatest success of OTN. The organization provides the space and freedom for people to partner, rest, heal, and grow. I know challenges related to tangible resources are documented by staff, and I agree with them that financial stability and space are serious challenges. But I also think another OTN challenge may be their staff’s humility. They are sincere about creating, building, and maintaining authentic relationships with friends in their paths, and they will not seek self-promotion. If fact, Paul the Apostle would recognize them in his description of love: they donot envy, do not boast, and are not proud. Thankfully, though, they have created and are listening to to a strong board who is committed to helping them keep the doors open – or to keep the tables open – so they can find financial stability they need to keep focusing on the work.
Relationships make Open Table Nashville distinctive. Relationships impact how OTN understands conditions that lead to homelessness and recovery, seeks funding and resources, maintains relationships with friends (who other agencies call ‘clients’) and service providers, and measures growth and success.
First, Open Table Nashville (OTN) believes people experience homelessness not because they suffer from addiction, illness, or one streak of bad luck – many people have suffer from those things and have not become homeless. Rather, OTN believes homelessness results when there is a lack of community around someone who is suffering. Often, people who are unhoused have either ostracized themselves or been ostracized from people who can support and nurture them back into health and stability. Most housed people know that if something happened to them, they would have people around to help them recover. But for unhoused people, that community has disappeared. OTN provides that community again, helping friends journey toward wholeness and rebuild around themselves the community they need.
Second, OTN avoids government funding. Breaking the cycles of poverty and illness that contribute to homelessness requires loving people outside lines government programs are forced to draw. OTN advocates help people find ways to meet their own unique needs for food, shelter, and community. This support nurtures the stability and strength to find and claim one’s place in any social structure. Sustaining this kind of longitudinal relationship requires flexibility, diversity, and patience that cannot always be supported by government programs.
Third, where other organizations in Nashville provide just-in-time services of mercy like shelter, food, or clothing, OTN invites unhoused neighbors into our community, allowing them to be in relationship with others while partnering with an OTN advocate to obtain housing and employment. This program allows friends to set personal goals while building relationships; it also allows OTN staff and advocates to help friends collaborate with other providers while avoiding duplication of services.
Finally, because of OTN’s relationship-focused, longitudinal, and collaborative approach to recovery, OTN seeks to only grow to the extent that it can maintain relationships with friends, fulfilling responsibilities to not let any friend fall through the same cracks that lead to loss of housing the first time. In addition to quantitative measures, OTN measures success by watching friends live into wholeness as interdependent members of the Nashville community.
Open Table Nashville believes that in order to disrupt cycles of poverty and homelessness, we must first understand such cycles. Therefore, we facilitate trainings and provide resources and curriculum to help groups better understand the complexity of these issues while promoting personal transformation and systemic change in our community.
How’s Nashville is a community-wide, collaborative, and inclusive effort to end chronic homelessness in Nashville. It was launched by the Metropolitan Homelessness Commission in 2013 under the leadership of 5 other community partners, including Open Table Nashville. The campaign is driven by 30 collaborative community partners that meet regularly to work on the initiative’s goals and monitor its progress.
How’s Nashville aligns itself with the national 100,000 Homes Campaign and its successor campaign called Zero: 2016 and is focused on assisting the most vulnerable and chronically homeless individuals and families in our community.
2016 by 2016 is our community’s push to end Veterans homelessness and chronic homelessness in Nashville. Our goal is to assist 2,016 households (individuals or families) who are homeless veterans or experience chronic homelessness by the end of 2016.
First, Open Table Nashville’s biggest opportunity is to continue doing its unique work placing friends without homes in both shelter and community – a resource no other local service provider offers. In fact, because OTN’s friends are both housed & surrounded with caring peers & providers, agencies providing health care, food assistance, & job placement can take effect in ways not possible when people aren’t housed.
Second, OTN has the opportunity to expand its relationship with universities from four to six. OTN exceeds requirements for internships, service-learning, & fellowship placements. Educational experiences provide authentic engagement leading to reflection on concepts of service, companionship, responsibility, & community for undergraduate & graduate students in social work, sociology, & religion.
Finally, OTN’s educational opportunities with churches & civic groups continue to grow. OTN staff & volunteers provide training on causes of poverty & homelessness, how to engage & respond to individuals seeking assistance, & ministries & programs that can contribute to healthier communities for everyone .
OTN’s challenges include financial stability, affordable housing, & space. First, because OTN receives 0% government funding, the organization has to depend upon private donations to keep open seats around the table. Second, it is no secret that Nashville lacks affordable housing for people living in the lowest percentage GMI. If we are to end homelessness, we have to have homes for people to move into. Finally, while OTN is currently operating out of a small space in a local church, our biggest space issue is to have a warehouse or storage facility in which to keep our donations.
OTN has turned a big corner in 2015 regarding governance. First, we have completed and are living into a new strategic plan through The Center for Nonprofit Management. Next, we have successfully added an Advisory Council to our leadership structure in order to help us broaden our reach, advocacy, and experience. Lastly, we have created six standing committees that are taking on the responsibilities of the board, which has, until recently, been handled by a few dedicated individuals.
Our biggest challenge recently has been the political climate that resulted in legislation criminalizing camping and the lack of affordable housing. The discussion has created many opportunities for education around issues of poverty and injustice, but the needs for outreach and advocacy also have proportionately increased.
The opportunity for our diverse board - we are educators, businesspersons, formerly unhoused persons, and religious leaders - is for us to educate and support one another as we guide OTN to the stability and scope just right for OTN to best serve our community. The Executive Director is regularly working with a strategic planning consultant to develop short, medium, and long-range plans, including financial goals. The board has recently increased its meetings from eight to twelve per year, and in spring 2016, will complete both continuing education with local fundraising experts and exploratory sessions with the strategic planning consultant. The board is also seeking ways to support the morale of the nine staff members and dozens of volunteers daily engaged in healing relationships.
Ingrid McIntyre holds a BS in Communications from the University of Evansville (1998) & a Masters of Theological Studies from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC (2008). Through her leadership she creates circles of diverse, capable people & moves them towards not only OTN’s goals & objectives but also toward improvements in areas related to poverty & justice. In OTN’s brief existence, she already has formed collaborations with dozens of groups from government, education, corporate, & religious sectors. Her management is so effective that city leaders call her before their government-funded colleagues to get things done.
Since her youth, Ingrid has been a servant-leader in outreach & mission-oriented work. While still a high school & undergraduate student, she served with the Appalachian Service Project & Habitat for Humanity. As a college student, she received the Golden Heart Award for campus volunteer coordination, & initiated her campus’s first ever involvement in Make a Difference Day, the national day of service.
Her experience with grace & racial reconciliation ministries in Africa encouraged her to explore ministries of justice as well as ministries of mercy, & informed her graduate studies in theology & human rights. Ingrid’s study & experience has prepared her to encourage cultural understanding while nurturing human connectivity and community.
Vocationally, Ingrid has served as Youth Director at Christ UMC (2000-2005), Director of Connectional Relations for Schools and Universities at the United Methodist General Board of Higher Education & Ministry (2008-2010), and is a pastor in the United Methodist Church. She continues to serve on the boards for Church and Society of the Tennessee Conference of the UMC (2009 – present), Just Peace Center for Conflict Resolution in Washington, DC (2008 – present), & the Nashville Homeless Coalition (2011 – present), who also nominated her for their Nashville Volunteer of the Year award (2011). She was most recently featured with Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes as he highlighted Nashville's efforts in the National 100,000 Homes Campaign (Feb 14). Ingrid was also awarded the 2014 Long Haul Award for Progressive Leaders by the Tennessee Alliance for Progress.
Because Open Table Nashville organized itself while intervening to save vulnerable lives during a national disaster, its origins reflect efficient, effective response to need. Because OTN’s philosophical approach is grounded in belief in the dignity of all human lives, and its relational approach recognizes community as a way toward wholeness, the board, Executive Director, and staff seek a management paradigm that continues to meet needs while providing creates stability for the community; allowing all community members to have a voice, share responsibility and celebrate success; and both seeking and providing opportunities for growth for both individual members and the organization as a whole.
OTN staff and governing members work together holistically to make management decisions. The organization has created and follows an organizational structure to address the needs of the business, staff, volunteers, and friends. Weekly meetings are held with staff and all persons are encouraged to contribute agenda items, participate in discussion, and support or question organizational decisions. OTN staff use the consensus model of decision making, creating space for proposals and the airing and resolution of concerns or objections rather than outvoting them. This consensus model encourages broad involvement and discussion that continues until all blocking concerns are alleviated or voting members have chosen to step aside. The transparent organizational structure also allows for an open-door approach to the Executive Director and board members.
OTN is a blend of introverts and extroverts, business people, social workers, religious leaders, artists, and educators, each approaching this work as both business and opportunity. In its day-to-day operations, the board, staff, volunteers, and friends function like pieces of a puzzle, each providing a different form and function, and intersecting together to form a complete project. The organization’s management goal is to continue operating within best business practices to keep the organization solvent and available when people need them. Because this work also allows all involved to learn more about how the world works, how to understand lack and barriers, and how to be part of solutions, continuing education opportunities are regularly pursued by and provided for board members, staff, volunteers, and friends through the Center for NonProfit Management and similar organizations.
Indirect Public Support HelpIndirect public support represents revenue received through solicitation campaigns. This includes funding United Way and other federated fundraising organizations, but does not include donor designated contributions.
Earned Revenue HelpEarned revenue represents income generated in direct exchange for a product or service.Earned income includes income from government contracts.
Financial figures taken from the 990.
“Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.” In the United States, it is a typical expectation that everyone will have the opportunity to live in a decent and affordable home, in a community that promotes opportunity and a better quality of life in a secure and attractive environment.
Families in poverty often do not achieve this expectation. Instead, many live in distressed neighborhoods, which often lack grocery stores, banks, and health resources. These neighborhoods typically have relatively high rates of crime and unemployment, as well as under-performing schools. Climbing out of poverty is even more difficult because of the lack of entry-level jobs in or near distressed neighborhoods, in combination with the lack of affordable housing in suburban communities where personal vehicles are often necessary to get to places of employment...
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