Young nonprofit leaders say poverty hard to see among wealth


Young nonprofit leaders say poverty hard to see among wealth

Casey Enright and Zach Wolfson spoke Monday morning at the Westhaven residents’ center about youth entrepreneurship/ Photo by Brooke Wanser.

By BROOKE WANSER

Continuing a monthly lecture series, young leaders spoke during a panel on entrepreneurship and nonprofit leadership.

Zach Wolfson, 18, is a senior at Franklin High School. After starting a coat drive in middle school, Wolfson carried his passion for serving his peers into high school. A coat drive his sophomore year yielded 100 coats, which encouraged him to start Threads of Care, a nonprofit that provides homeless and low-income youths with essentials like shoes, socks, underwear, and coats. To date, Wolfson said he has collected over 7,300 items of clothing for those in need.

“I think one of the things we don’t talk about a lot in Franklin is poverty. We are considered one of the wealthier counties in the country,” he pointed out. “But the problem with that is there are a lot of people here that aren’t even having their basic necessities met when they go to school,” he said, pointing out the number of students eligible for free and reduced school lunches.

“A lot of these kids don’t have anything but the clothes that they have on their back. They don’t have new shoes, they’re not able to participate in regular school activities that many of us were able to,” he continued.

“A lot of these students are completely disregarded because we assume that Williamson County is the place where they can just prosper like a lot of people do here.”

Wolfson’s organization is working within Franklin, Page and Brentwood high schools, but he hopes to expand it to private schools, then across Tennessee.

The name, he said, is related to “the thread of a grand tapestry we’re trying to weave together,” in trying to help the young homeless and low-income community.

After Casey Enright, 23, graduated from Belmont University, she started nonprofit the Word Wagon, which is literacy organization that provides reading opportunities and materials for children who lack access to books. The organization involves a mobile library; she has held over 40 reading events and given away 1,500 books since beginning two years ago.

Enright said that only one out of 300 children in a low-income neighborhood have access to an age-appropriate book. “That was so astounding to me when I heard that,” she said.

The respective organizations are currently looking for resources: Enright said volunteers are needed for reading days on Saturday mornings, and Wolfson is beginning a shoe drive.

Enright and Wolfson were joined by Diane Hayes, the executive director of the Young Leaders Council, which helps young professionals ages 25 to 40 prepare to serve on a nonprofit board.

A lot of time people on boards are over 45, 50, and sometimes lose sight of what a person 25 to 40 can bring to a board,” she said, which is traditionally because of a lack of financial resources. As the times have changed, Hayes has trained leaders in Williamson County and Nashville for a year-long tenure with a nonprofit board, which will hopefully catapult them into serving on that board.

Franklin Tomorrow’s Executive Director Mindy Tate interjected her support of this idea: she said the organization had several interns from the Young Leaders Council. “It’s been very positive for us because they are trained. They know what board service means.”

Tate said a lot of people join a board because someone asked them, without truly understanding the responsibilities a nonprofit board member holds.

Hayes acknowledged that many people join nonprofits for that “warm and fuzzy” feeling associated with acts of service. But she cautioned that being on a board is not simply a fun volunteer experience. “It’s not warm and fuzzy,” she said. “You’re dealing with a business.”

FrankTalks is a discussion series on issues that affect the community of Franklin. Hosted by Franklin Tomorrow, the free series continues on the second Monday of each month. The next FrankTalk will take place on Monday, Dec. 11 at Columbia State Community College.

About The Author

Brooke Wanser is the associate editor for the Franklin Home Page, and can be reached at brooke.wanser@homepagemediagroup.com. Follow her on Twitter at @BWanser_writes or @FranklinHomepg.

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