I’d Like You to Meet: Rejoice School of Ballet

Motivated by Christ’s love, Rejoice School of Ballet empowers youth to realize their potential by training, nurturing and celebrating dancers from diverse racial, socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds. This year Rejoice celebrates its 15th year and more than 1,000 students who have been able to receive an excellent dance education in an environment focused on diversity and Christian formation.

Above is the mission statement and heart of the nonprofit I have had the privilege of volunteering at as a part of my service year internship. I couldn’t be more glad that God led me to Rejoice. Each week I run the music for ballet classes on Monday nights, and I have also been able to work directly with the PR and Marketing coordinator, Jo Ellen Weedman. What a dream! I have learned so much about not only nonprofits and fundraising, but about a true example of a tight-knit community that thrives on relationships, love and encouragement.

Rejoice Headshots 6-2015 Classes Rejoice Photo Shoot 6-2015 IMG_5988275168Patricia Cross had the idea for Rejoice in 1993, feeling called to offer classical training to children who couldn’t afford it, knowing the impact that dance can have on a child’s life. Rejoice offers so much more than just becoming a good dancer. Dance teaches students discipline, self-confidence, a healthy work ethic, exercise and the knowledge that they can excel at whatever they set their mind to.

In 1999, Rejoice School of Ballet was born as a non-profit organization, and in the fall of 2000, 14 students walked in the door to a ballet school that offers excellent training to every student, no matter their ability to pay.

All dancers at Rejoice pay on an income-based sliding scale. Around 80 percent of students pay $17 a month for classes, dancewear and costumes.

Rejoice School of Ballet By the Numbers:

  • 84 percent from low-income families, as defined by federal poverty standards.
  • 61 percent African American or African
  • 28 percent Caucasian
  • 6 percent Bi-racial
  • 5 percent Latino

Jo Ellen, my mentor and mother of 4 girls (2 of whom dance at Rejoice), says that Rejoice has always been important to her family and the community because of the excellent training the studio offers to families who otherwise could not afford it. “I think recently with such terrible news all around the country of racial tension and violence that Rejoice’s mission to create art in a diverse environment is more important than ever,” she said.

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As a part of my volunteer position and internship, I had the honor of assisting with a fundraiser luncheon to educate potential donors about Rejoice’s story. My part was small- just a simple slideshow video that played while guests ate. However, the best part was watching the speakers of the program talk about how Rejoice has impacted their lives and their families.

First, Founder Patricia spoke about her passion for the art of dance and the ministry of providing this art to the community. One of the student’s mothers spoke next about the love and trust she has for Rejoice to drop her babies off at class three times a week. She mentioned the sacrifices she makes to ensure her daughters get the dance experience she was never able to have as a girl, and how Rejoice has made that possible. Her daughters even talk about opening their own studio some day.

American Ballet Certified Faculty Gerald Watson, spoke next about starting dance at the age of 13, and although he has accumulated an impressive dancer’s resume as a choreographer, director and apprentice at the Nashville Ballet, he was called to teach. It is his purpose in life to help his students with their passions and to find their own callings in life. Finally, Remi, the student who will actually be dancing the part of Cinderella in the upcoming show in February, spoke about how through Rejoice, she has gained a confidence she never knew she had, she has felt a love from her teachers and peers she hasn’t known before and how much her faith in God has grown. Aka, Haley cried at that luncheon.

I thought I had already been convinced of how great this small little studio was, but it wasn’t until I heard first-hand testimonies that I was genuinely moved. Trust me when I say, this place is making a difference in the world.

Dance 9 Large 20Today is “Giving Tuesday.” If you are able, consider giving $15 to this important organization for their 15th year! You can donate here.

“Rejoice is such a loving community of people who come from all kinds of backgrounds and walks of life. Patricia and her teaching staff have created a rigorous and excellent ballet school that also encourages dancers to take care of themselves and others. They work each day to bring out the greatness that is in every one of our students.” -Jo Ellen Weedman

Check out ways to volunteer, and be sure to mark your calendar for Cinderella, Friday, February 26 at 7 p.m.; Saturday, Februrary 27 at 2 and 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday, February 28 at 2 p.m.

cinderella save the date

 

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What We Served: Thanksgiving Edition- Skillet Apple Pie

Happy Thanksgiving!

For the past week or so my roomies have been attending different “friendsgivings” and letting me tag along. One was a group of social work majors, and the other was a group called Slow Food that focuses on eating food that isn’t “fast food.” Both dinners were pot luck style, much like a family Thanksgiving dinner would be.

I love how pot luck style creates a totally different community vibe than simply being a guest at someone’s house would. You have a role and a purpose, and you feel needed. I’m all for playing hostess and putting on a special night for my loved ones, but I am so thankful that Thanksgiving gives us the opportunity to realize that we are needed and that we do have people that need us! Even if it is just our food they want 😉

IMG_3331My roommate brought the best apple pie I have ever had to the social work major dinner, so I just HAD to share it. I’m even baking one myself to bring to my boyfriend’s family’s dinner tonight. It’s THAT GOOD. Here it is:

The Best Cast-Iron-Skillet Apple Pie

Ingredients:

2 lb Granny Smith Apples

2 lb Ambrosia or Braeburn Apples

1 tsp. Ground Cinnamon

3/4 C. Granulated Sugar

1/2 C. Butter

1 C. Firmly Packed Light Brown Sugar

1 Package Refrigerated Pie Crusts

1 Egg White

2 Tbsp. Granulated Sugar

Vanilla Ice Cream

 

Steps:

  1. Preheat oven to 350. Peel apples, and cut into thick wedges. Toss apples with cinnamon and sugar.
  2. Melt butter in a 10 inch cast iron skillet over medium heat; add brown sugar, and cook, stirring constantly until sugar is dissolved (1 to 2 minutes). Remove from heat.
  3. Place 1 pie crust in skillet over the butter and brown sugar mixture. Spoon apples over piecrust, and place second pie crust on top of the apples.
  4. Whisk egg white until foamy and brush over top. Sprinkle with the remaining granulated sugar. Cute 4 to 5 slits in the top for steam to escape.
  5. Bake at 350 for 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes, or until golden brown and bubbly, shielding with aluminum foil for the last 10 minutes to prevent excessive browning. Cook for 30 minutes before serving. Top with vanilla ice cream and enjoy!

 

How do you celebrate Thanksgiving? Does grandma do all the cooking, or does your family split up the tasks and come together as a community of potluckers? Let’s discuss!

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Community Spotlight: Q&A with Founder of Flourish Supper Club Bethany Edwards

“Hi my name is Bethany, recent college graduate, relatively clueless about what on earth I’m doing and living the retail dream at Anthropologie.”

-Bethany Edwards, Founder of Flourish Supper Club

When I was first developing the NashNeighbors concept, I was really really hoping I would find a group of people in Nashville who set aside intentional time to build community and dive deeper into relationships with one another. This is something my household is doing, but what I wanted to find was a second, unrelated group. A group to prove that these community dinners are worth doing, worth sharing, worth attending. WELL, ladies and gents, I am pleased to announce that I found Flourish Supper Club! Yes! I stumbled upon an Instagram post from a girl I went to high school with who had attended the very event that I knew had to exist! Lo-and-behold, there IS another group working toward this goal of intentional community. And, I was lucky enough to ask its founder, Bethany Edwards, a few questions about how it got started and what it means to her.

flourish 5

Q&A with Bethany

NN: What gave you the idea to start Flourish?

BE: The idea for Flourish started once I returned home from a four-month study abroad trip to India. I can hardly explain the amount of change I went through during that time and basically came back a different person which is still overwhelming to me at times when I look back on it. In the past I would’ve looked for things like Flourish to be a part of, but would never have assumed I could start something like this on my own. Basically I said to myself, “You are capable and gifted because of Jesus and you can do this.” I’m sure I had a little pep talk in the mirror with myself as most of us do from time to time.

Social media is a great tool and allowed me to get a feel for people’s interest level, and once I felt like this was something other women would want to be a part of, I just went for it head first! I’m still pretty unsure of my future career plans, but while I was in India I finally admitted to myself that the direction I was going was not one that really got me excited and would be fulfilling for the rest of my life. When graduation is within your reach and you realize you aren’t going to use your degree the way you thought, you freak out a little bit. And your parents do, too. But having Flourish has been such an awesome experience for me so far, as I hope it has been for those involved, and having a space to experiment creatively has been exactly what I’ve needed as I try and figure out what’s next.

Flourish is another creative outlet for me and a time for me to see if design and styling is something I could or would want to do long term.

Flourish 1

As we get older, friends are getting married and getting full time jobs, and it becomes more challenging to find time to spend together. Flourish is that intentional time set aside each month to learn about what is going on in each other’s lives on a deeper level and also a time to make new connections and friendships. Also, women are just incredible, am I right? So I say, Why not celebrate ourselves and other women? Popular culture doesn’t set us up for building each other up, but rather finding ways to tear each other down as a means to feel better about ourselves. I, for one, don’t want to be a part of that. We can be catalysts for positive change and be women who love each other well.

NN: How many dinners have you done? How did they go?

BE: We’ve had five dinners so far; four in Nashville and one in Salem, Oregon. They’ve been INCREDIBLE. It makes my heart so happy to be doing this and provide a space for others girls in the same life boat to find connection, belonging and new friendships. The number of girls has varied each time, but it’s usually around nine to ten. My grandmother is the most darling human being I know and lets me host the dinners at her home. While it was still warm outside, we were able to have dinner outside (which will always be my favorite), but now that it’s getting chilly we’ve just moved it inside to the dining room. Her home is so cozy and welcoming that I honestly can’t imagine a better place. I’m not sure where we’ll go as the group grows but we will figure that out when the time comes!

NN: Where do you get the resources for the dinners?

BE: For the first couple dinners, I and my best friend Emily, took care of all the food, but quickly found that to be a little overwhelming and unkind to our bank accounts. I love hosting and entertaining, and the two of us love to cook, but there is only so much a couple of recent college graduates can do. I’m lucky enough to have a family full of dishware-addicts so I have no shortage of pretty plates and glasses to use for dinner, but it would make me happy to be able to grow my collection to create even better tablescapes. When it comes to food though, we’ve decided to make Flourish Supper Club potluck style so that 1.) We can enjoy the night even more because we aren’t busy cooking all day and using up all of our paychecks, and 2.) Because I think it makes others feel like they are even more so a part of something. Committing to bringing food makes for a more special feel to the evening, I think. Flourish Supper Club is not just for me, it’s for everyone.

flourish 4I would love to partner with some local companies though! I think that further illustrates the desire of bringing this community together and making even more connections, plus as someone just starting out in this area, it would be a major help to be provided with better resources from those who are doing well in their field. Partnerships are typically about marketing and advertising, and since we’re still pretty small, I haven’t felt as confident about reaching out, but I have definitely considered the idea.

NN: Are the dinners open invitations, do you have to register or RSVP or is it mostly a closed group?

BE: Open open open! No closed group here. Obviously the group is for women, as we’re here to celebrate each other and learn from those walking in similar and sometimes not-so-similar walks of life, but any little lady that wants to come is welcome! I usually post a few things on Instagram leading up to the next dinner and send out a couple group texts to those girls I know are planning on coming. If anyone ever reaches out to me on Instagram or through a mutual friend, I make sure to get in contact with them so they can get in on the details of the night. I try to get a solid count at least two days before, but sometime that doesn’t always happen. I like to keep things laid back so it works for me.

NN: Do you have any stories or specific examples of new relationships formed as a result?

BE: Absolutely! This has been the most incredible part about it and what excites me the most. Last month a friend of a friend, whom I’d never met, reached out to me about wanting to come- which of course I was thrilled about. We just messaged back and forth on Instagram, and a couple weeks later there she was at the door with a bottle of wine! She was so kind and lovely, and now the whole group has a new friend. A decent amount of us are either Trevecca students or recent graduates from Trevecca, but that doesn’t necessarily mean everyone knows each other. It was awesome for me to see two of my close friends who never really connected while in school make plans for a dog park friend date. It makes me so happy to see friends of mine connect.

flourish 2NN: Where do you hope to see Flourish go? Do you have long term plans with it?

BE: Wow, where do I see it going? I mean anything is possible right? I definitely plan on keeping this going long term even if I never have more than ten girls come. It’s been such a special thing for me to host and has been incredibly fulfilling.

 

So, there you have it folks. Doesn’t Flourish sound amazing? I cannot wait to attend one, myself. What do you think? Would you go to these awesome dinners, or maybe even start your own group of friends who commit to diving a little deeper over a nice meal? Let me know in the comments or tag me in your community dinner posts!

Give Flourish a follow on Instagram, and bring your pretty self to dinner!

 

What We Served: Spinach Lasagna

In a house divided between the veggie lovers and the meat eaters, there’s only one sure-fire way to make sure everyone gets fed: Make two lasagnas. And for the people like me who love food in all shapes and sorts, you get to eat two different lasagnas! Win-Win.

When we invited the Hunt family over for dinner earlier this fall, this is exactly what we did. Everyone seemed to love both. So, since there are a million recipes on the interwebs for the meaty lasagnas, here is Jacob’s mom’s recipe for the spinach! Good for the veggie lovers, the meat lovers, and the community passing the two around the table 🙂

Side note: Don’t you love the thought of stealing others’ recipes? Especially if you know it is something they have made time and time again? It’s like you are borrowing a piece of their heart. A memory they have. Something they trust in. Shout out to the Curry family, and here is a recipe I believe you can trust in, too:

What We Served: Spinach Lasagna

6 oz. can tomato paste

15 1/2 oz. can tomato sauce

2 1/2 cups water

2 eggs, beaten

16 oz. ricotta cheese

10 oz. package frozen chopped spinach- thawed and drained

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

lasagna noodles

2 pkg. mozzarella cheese slices

Combine spaghetti sauce mix, tomato paste, tomato sauce, & water in saucepan. Bring to boil over medium heat. Remove from heat, set aside.

Spread 1 cup tomato sauce mixture in a lightly greased13 x 9 x 2 inch baking dish. Layer half each of lasagna noodles, spinach mixture, mozzarella cheese, and tomato mixture; repeat layers. Sprinkle with remaining Parmesan cheese.

Cover dish securely with aluminum foil. Bake @ 350 for 1 hour. Let lasagna stand 10 minutes before serving.

This dish is easy to make and great for combating the Monday blues! What are you serving tonight?

Why do Volunteers Get their “Hands on Nashville?”

My mission was to answer the question, “Why do they do it?” There must be a reason why people give up their time to help others, with no visible evidence of compensation, and I was going to find it. I walked into the renovated Rolling Mill Hill Trolley Barn that is now the official Hands on Nashville office space, question in hand, to talk with the nonprofit and volunteer relations coordinator, Julie Abbott. As someone from the West Coast, this overwhelming hospitality and seemingly always-present “extra set of hands” was a new concept to her. And although I have grown up in The Volunteer State myself, our conversation during those thirty minutes was going back and forth, working to uncover what it is, precisely, that give us the want to, the need to, the drive to give back.

After five years in Nashville, Julie explained the realization that it is now hard for her to go back to the West Coast. “People here live up to the “nicest city” reputation. The feeling of wanting to give back… it’s just what Nashville does! It’s why volunteerism works here,” she said.

I think something of note is the community present in the HON office. Julie explained that the employees come together as service-oriented people and each department has a good idea about what everyone else is doing. “Everyone’s door is wide open; it’s the culture here. We all wear multiple hats, and our work is intertwined,” she said. “I think when new people come to work here, they are blown away by the fresh fruit and veggies provided to us every Monday morning, just a part of our green and sustainable culture. I consider myself very lucky to have gotten on here.”

Hands on Nashville has 150 community partners, and the full-time employees spend 40 hours a year serving them. One of Julie’s favorite projects is a big hit: the Home Energy Savings Project. Julie, as a project manager, goes in to engage volunteers in improving the energy efficiency, comfort and safety of Nashville homes owned and occupied by Nashvillians living on a very-low-income. Utility analysis of each home allows for measurement of the environmental impact of the work: changing lightbulbs, caulking windows, adding insulation to the attic, etc. You can see the immediate effect on the house from the difference in the air flow and being able to watch the number drop. “It’s so awesome to see how a lady’s energy bill every month would be dramatically different, just from two simple hours of work,” said Julie.

So why do these people find their work important? They are the liason between the eager volunteers and the needs of the city. The nonprofit partners come with their needs, and through the HON system, the needs are met. Julie said they can always use more volunteers, but do not generally find a shortage of them: “The big thing is that people are always willing to step up and help. It may not be the frontline opportunity, but it’s important. When people learn about it, they always seem to be ready.”

Service HouseSo then I have to ask myself, why do I do it? Why am I spending 10 hours a week serving? Admittedly, it feels good to serve, but I don’t think that means there is a selfish motive, necessarily.  I think the best I could describe it is through my value of being a servant and showing others the hope and love I have. I’ve never been in a postition where I was the victim and a team of volunteers came and made life better for me. So my need to give back might just be from a place of gratitude for the blessings in my life already. For the want to share the kind of life I have. To make the relationships with those who don’t have the life I have, and being able to provide something better for them. And even with that said, I still don’t think that describes it, fully. I’m stuck.

But one thing I can do? Follow up. Make the connection, and don’t let it go. There is a certain upkeep to these projects, and it’s up to the volunteers to make sure things are working and will continue to work. There may be a lot of “one-and-done” sort of jobs, but the community is fostered when the relationships are maintained after the fact.

There are a lot of repeat volunteers. Julie has noticed that after someone has been served, sometimes they are the ones coming and helping to pay that service forward to someone else. Giving back. It truly is a need we feel as humans. Is it guilt? An allegiance? Who is to say? Whatever it is, it garnered roughly 1,600 volunteers at this year’s HON Day on September 19, in its 24th year. People spread out all over Nashville, painting, weather-stripping and gardening at 31 Metro Nashville schools, including some former students of those same schools, making a $110,736 economic impact.

So, I cannot say whether or not we were successful. This is a question I think that one cannot really answer, but only observe. I think our conclusion was that people volunteer for their own reasons, and individuality may actually be at the core of this Nashville group mentality, as ironic as that sounds. People do it because it’s in their blood.

 If you feel it’s in your blood too, head on over to the Service Calendar or the HON Service Opportunity Site, and find your own avenue to give back! And if you think of anything else that might prompt one to serve, let me know in the comments!

What We Served: Healthy and Simple Banana-Chocolate Chip Muffins

This weekend I will be going to a huge national conference for PRSSA in Atlanta, so naturally I was thinking of a motivator for our caravan of students leaving early this Friday morning. I decided to revisit a recipe we had at one of our Service House breakfasts: a huge crowd pleaser! So, last night I made the best banana and chocolate chip muffins of your life. The best part is there are no eggs, just a wee-bit of sugar, and you use whole wheat flour! And there’s fruit… So, healthy right? 😉

imageI also used little pieces of parchment paper in place of muffin tins, just to make sure that no little crumbs are lost! Don’t you hate it when that happens?

Anyway, here is the recipe. Let me know if you decide to make these!

Banana and Chocolate Chip Muffins

Ingredients:

4 tbsp. Butter, softened

1/4 c. Sugar

1/2 tsp. Vanilla

1 1/2 c. Whole Wheat Flour (or all-purpose if you wish!)

1/2 tsp. Salt

1 tsp. Baking Soda

3 Ripe Bananas, mashed

1/2 c. Chocolate Chips (or whatever add in you choose! Walnuts, anyone?)

Tubinado Sugar for Topping (optional)

Steps:

  1. imageMix together butter, sugar, vanilla.
  2. Add in flour, salt, and baking soda. Mix well.
  3. Mix in bananas and chocolate chips, or add-in of your choice.
  4. Scoop into muffin tin or parchment paper. (Can add sugar on top, if you so choose!)
  5. Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean, at 350 degrees.
  6. Let cool. Enjoy! Sooooo simple!

Delight Ministries Invites College Women into Christ-Centered Communities

Mackenzie Wilson and Mackenzie Baker were driving to Texas as they spoke on the phone with me, on their way to meet with five chapters of the women’s college, Christ-centered community they started- Delight Ministries. What started as a few friends, meeting their sophomore year at Belmont University in a small little chapel under the bell tower, has turned into a quick-spreading, nationwide series for women to foster vulnerability and transform stories.

Now college grads pursuing their dream full-time, the co-founders looked back on how far their little community has come. “Three years ago we would always say, ‘How amazing would it be if after we graduated we got to keep doing this on a bigger scale?’ And that is exactly what we are doing,” they said. “We found that, in college, you can find some of the best people, but you don’t always talk about your religious thoughts. We wanted to be intentional about our faith, to be vulnerable and to learn from each other’s stories in a real, raw, honest setting. Delight is intentional about Christ-centered community. There is a gap in the common women’s ministry, and it was put on our hearts to reach out to other schools to give more students the opportunity to be surrounded by women who encourage them and challenge their faith.“

IMG_2311Mac Wilson handles content and marketing, designs content and curriculum and maintains the Delight website and social media accounts, along with all of the creative side of things. Kenz Baker is the relationship director, coordinating new campuses starting the chapter process.

The Delight curriculum is founded on stories. The 12 personal testimonies come from the members, sharing what they have gone through in college and what God has done in their lives in their four years, whether its depression, loneliness or something else, and what they have learned through it. Each story has a foundational scripture, which is what the chapters study each week. The women are encouraged to be transparent, something they do not get from the outside world. The community is real, formed around what is really going on it the members’ lives, sharing those stories and remembering that God is good through it all. The girls don’t have to wear a mask like they have it all together.

Another important way the community makes sure it maintains and sustains the relationships within the group is to have weekly, one-on-one coffee dates. Intentionality. Taking the breakfast hour to start their day off on the right foot: in an open, warm setting where they can be heard and loved. The group pulls names from a hat every week and makes a point to build deeper connections within their broader network.

The thing they say really separates Delight apart from other college ministries is that most others tend not to encourage leadership and ownership as much. Delight, however, is a place that all women are called to be leaders. With more than 40 women sharing their devotions for the curriculum and blog, students are the ones wanting to expand the ministry to their own campus. When the founders and their friends would go home for Christmas and summer breaks, they would tell their hometown friends about Delight, and the passion spread. “The girls are listening to God and are taking ownership in it. That’s why we are growing,” said Mac.

11888540_10205882175467780_7884189916470252306_oFor example, the first leader at Hanover University in Indiana, an incredible leader named Mal, signed up to lead through the website. Her bio mentioned that while she was passionate about having this type of community at her campus, she was incredibly nervous, questioning her calling and feeling inadequate. Mac and Kenz continually prayed for and encouraged Mal, skyping with her and walking her through the process. At the beginning Mal considered transferring universities because of her anxiety, but through her perseverance and prayer, Mal was able to recruit a huge turnout and what the Delight founders described as “the coolest stories” coming from this chapter. At the end of the first semester, Mal received Hanover’s Emerging Leader Award. This is simply one example of how Delight is celebrating women and helping them step forward in their callings from God to be great leaders and change lives.

The “Mackenzies” are excited to watch this community continue to grow in the next few years. “From the beginning, God has just blown our expectations out of the water. Soon, we would love to attend conferences, continue to expand and just always be open to what the Lord has for us,” they said. “Our biggest dream is that every girl in college would be able to invest in a Christ-centered community, and for Delight to be that for them.”

Stay up-to-date on all that Delight is doing on their website, twitter, or Instagram