Volunteer Guide: Your Guide to Giving Back in East Tennessee

Where to go and what to do to help

By Jordan Achs, Luke Brogden and Rusty Odom

The holiday season and the impending start of a new year often tend to bring out the best in folks when it comes to helping those less fortunate than themselves. A generally pervasive spirit of goodwill and a desire to start some positive new habits is common – and it’s a good thing because there is a plethora of people in Knoxville who need help, as well as many wonderful programs and organizations that are in constant need of volunteers to aid in bringing their missions to fruition.

For BLANK readers looking toward 2018 with bright eyes and open hearts, ready to make a difference yet unsure where to start, here’s a robust volunteering guide full of options to assist you in hitting the ground running. To make it even easier, we have broken everything into categories. Selections without attribution have been taken verbatim from promotional materials provided by those organizations and are listed after those written by our staff members. Happy helping! – Luke Brogden


The Love Kitchen

Since 1986, this labor of love has prepared and plated more than 3,000 meals each week for the elderly, people with disabilities and folks who are homebound. Twin sisters Helen and Ellen Ashe began the service in an East Knoxville church before moving the operation to a building of their own just down the street at 2418 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. Sadly, Ellen passed away a couple of years ago, but Helen still spearheads the effort that is supported entirely by volunteer labor, donations and fundraisers/food drives. To sign up to volunteer, visit thelovekitchen.org. – LB

Beardsley Community Farm

Beardsley is an urban community farm and nonprofit that’s been working on supporting a healthy, sustainable food culture in Knoxville since 1998. They use sustainable methods like rainwater harvesting, drip irrigation and composting, and they do not use pesticides. The farm has a manager, an assistant and some rotating AmeriCorps volunteers, but it otherwise is maintained by community volunteers.

Growing more than 10,000 pounds of produce annually, Beardsley donates its produce back to the community, giving to soup kitchens, Mobile Meals, KARM and other nonprofits to help feed the hungry in Knoxville with nutritious, locally grown organic produce.

One of the city’s most popular annual fundraising events is Snow Day, an all-star night of music and soups that benefits Beardsley and that was hosted by Barley’s for several years. Anyone who attended the last few gatherings there knows how crowded they could get, and that prompted this year’s move to a larger venue, the Mill & Mine, which will host the event on Jan. 26, 2018. The event some years has brought upwards of 800 attendees and usually raises 15 percent of the farm’s annual operating budget. Visit beardsleyfarm.org for more information. – LB

Scarecrow Foundation

Jimmy Buckner has long been fighting hunger in Knoxville from behind the scenes. And with the help of Harry Wade, Derrick Furlow and dozens of other folks, the Scarecrow Foundation has become an umbrella charity that aids various other hunger programs throughout the year. In its nearly eight years of collaborative existence, Scarecrow has remained steadfast in its mission without a paid staff or a campaign to raise money. Bill Regas explains it best when he says, “Scarecrow helps the helpers.” If you’re looking to get started soon, Fight Hunger Week runs from Jan. 27-Feb 4. Volunteer options are varied and available at any time. Find more info at scarecrowfoundation.org. – Rusty Odom

Second Harvest Food Bank

It takes more than half a million dollars a month to operate Second Harvest Food Bank, which provides food, services and education to meet the nutritional needs of all people at risk of hunger. They attack the root causes of hunger through nutrition education. From the backpack program that gives kids food to take home over the weekend to the various other methods of feeding hungry mouths, no other operation covers more ground in East Tennessee. There are 200,000 people going hungry in the region, and Second Harvest has found ways to make any donation of time and money the most efficient it can be. For every $1 donated, three meals are provided. Numerous volunteer opportunities can be found at secondharvestetn.org. – RO


Big Brothers Big Sisters of East Tennessee

This East Tennessee institution has offices in Knoxville as well as in the Tri-Cities. The program served more than 800 children in 2016, and, in a special collaboration with the Save Our Sons initiative put on by the city of Knoxville this summer, enrolled 100 new mentors. But with this program, consistency is key for children who’ve not always had a consistent positive adult presence in their lives; therefore, BBBS requires that volunteers commit for at least one year at a time, meeting with their mentee two to four times a month for a few hours at a time. Most volunteers, however, end up far exceeding that requirement when a special bond is formed between the “Big,” the “Little” and their families.

I grew up in a home where both of my parents were Bigs, and their Littles were like cool older siblings to me. I later served as a Big Brother myself for two years to a really special kid, and I still would be had I not moved away. Whether it’s going to sporting events, the mall or just hanging out at home making a meal or watching TV, the key is having safe, healthy quality time with each other, serving as a positive role model and being a support person for a kid who desperately needs one. I highly recommend this program! To enroll as a Big Brother or a Big Sister, visit tennesseebig.org/volunteer. – LB

Boys and Girls Club of the Tennessee Valley

Owning sites throughout Anderson, Blount, Loudon and Knox Counties, BGCotTV serves youth ages K-12 by offering a variety of after-school programs. The volunteering programs are split into five divisions: youth, family, group, program and administrative. Youth volunteers aged 13-18 have a chance to peer tutor or mentor other kids. Families and groups often help with facilities maintenance like gardening or work at bigger special fundraising events throughout the year. Program volunteers might commit to around an hour a week or more in the actual daily program activities like tutoring or chaperoning group field trips the kids take. Administrative volunteers help with office work and tasks that help keep the BGC running smoothly. With a dedicated staff and several celebrated annual events like the Phillip Fulmer Golf Classic and the Greater Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame Dinner & Induction Ceremony, there is a great tradition at BGC of excellence in community service. – LB

Emerald Youth

Emerald Youth is a Christian-based operation that has served more than 25,000 kids (1,000 last year alone) in neighborhoods like Mechanicsville, Lonsdale and Lincoln Park through various initiatives, including learning programs and sports leagues. Their youth leadership program, JustLead, helps kids find safe spaces in which to play and learn, and some of the older kids in the program even learn how to act as peer mentors for the younger children. Emerald Youth partners with schools, churches and other established groups like the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in order to spread its reach and to connect its clients with the best services to suit their needs. They are in constant need of eager adult volunteers with a passion for helping children through tutoring, coaching or mentoring. Visit emeraldyouth.org/volunteer to get involved. – LB

East Tennessee Children’s Hospital

It’s never fun to be stuck in the hospital over the holidays, but volunteers can help make things more jolly and bright at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital, which has depended on such helpers since the mid-‘60s. It offers opportunities for individuals or even businesses to help the hospital run smoothly. Volunteers can help run the gift shop or arts and craft activities for patients and their siblings, cuddle babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and more.

Most opportunities are for volunteers 18 years old or over, but there is a Volunteen summer program offered to eight teenagers who are at least 15 years old. All volunteers must complete an online application, a criminal background check, a tuberculosis screening and provide proof of updated vaccines. For those who can’t volunteer their time, the hospital accepts items donated for patients and their families, especially during birthdays or at treatment milestones. Gift ideas include essential oil kits, puzzles, toys and movies. – Jordan Achs

The Muse Knoxville

The Muse Knoxville is a nonprofit institution committed to inspiring and empowering generations at the intersection of science and art. We cannot make the impacts we are making in the Knoxville community and beyond without the talent and time of our volunteers. They may sign up in two, four and eight-hour shifts. A regular schedule is available, but is not a requirement for volunteering. There are open positions for volunteer playologists and educators, as well as for the maintenance, special events and visitor services departments. Applications and more information can be found online at themuseknoxville.org/volunteer.


Young-Williams Animal Center

Christmas puppies and kittens are adorable until people realize that they’re in over their heads with regard to upkeep. As a result, animal shelters unfortunately see an influx of unwanted pets this time of year, and volunteers are needed to keep a shelter like Young-Williams running smoothly.

Volunteers can help the staff with a range of activities, from administrative duties to cleaning kennels, walking dogs and socializing with the animals. Volunteer applications are required before any hours can be logged, and all volunteers must be over 16 years old. There also is a $30 fee that covers shirts, nametags, manuals and other equipment you’ll need. The schedule is flexible year-round, but volunteers must log at least eight hours per month for six months to keep in good standing.

Those with room to spare for the holidays can temporarily foster an animal that needs extra attention while waiting for a new forever home. Fostered animals include puppies/kittens/rabbits too young to be spayed or neutered, injured animals or un-weaned puppies/kittens/rabbits with their mothers. Fostering does involve taking animals to the shelter routinely for checkups, which are at no cost to the foster family. Find out more information about volunteering at young-williams.org. – JA


H.A.L.T. (Humans and Animals Learning Together) is a nonprofit program that provides a therapeutic intervention for at-risk adolescents through a series of dog obedience training classes. Dogs are rescued from local animal shelters to participate in the class. With the help of adult volunteers, adolescents teach the dogs basic obedience commands, providing a therapeutic intervention for the student trainers while increasing the adoptability of shelter dogs. The dogs are adopted into suitable homes after the class is complete. Email their volunteer coordinator at volunteer@haltdogs.org for more information.


A division of the Knoxville-Knox County Community Action Committee’s Office on Aging, Knox PAWS matches eligible seniors with adoptable pets. Research indicates that pets improve seniors’ physical, emotional and mental health. The Knox PAWS program works with area animal shelters to match senior pets with senior citizens. The Office on Aging’s Project LIVE staff match income-eligible seniors with adoptable older pets identified by animal center staff. Program participants must be 60 years of age or older, residents of Knox County, income-eligible and live independently in a pet-friendly environment. If participants cannot afford pet food, it is provided through the Feed a Pet Project (a partnership of the UT College of Veterinary Medicine and RSVP). Pets adopted by Knox PAWS participants are given an initial medical exam, vaccinated, given a microchip, are spayed or neutered and are provided with six months of heartworm and flea prevention medication.

The Gentle Barn

In 2015, the Gentle Barn opened its second location in Knoxville. It is their goal to open facilities in every state so that everyone in America can hug a cow, cuddle a turkey, give a pig a tummy rub or look into the eyes of these animals and know for certain that we are all the same and deserving of the same rights, respects and freedoms. Since its inception, the Gentle Barn has been home to hundreds of animals and host to more than 400,000 people. Visit gentlebarn.org for more information.

Humane Society of the Tennessee Valley

The Humane Society of the Tennessee Valley always is looking for great volunteers to help us with our mission. HSTV volunteers can be found working with animals or assisting in our day-to-day operations. There also are opportunities to help off-site, where you can engage with the public to inform them about our organization and educate others about our mission. Visit humanesocietytennessee.com for more information.


Joy of Music School

This musical charity is a nonprofit that helps kids from lower-income families and neighborhoods gain access to free music lessons. Not only that, but it provides the instruments, too. Founded by a prominent local businessman in the late ‘90s, the organization has been fueled mostly by volunteer teachers – upwards of a hundred at one point. The school got its 15 minutes of fame in 2011 when they were told a documentary about one of their volunteers was actually an episode taping of ABC’s hit show “Secret Millionaire.” Entrepreneur Dani Johnson revealed her identity at the end of the taping and gave a $40,000 donation to the school. You may not have that kind of bankroll, but if you know music and you love kids, Joy of Music School could put your talents to good use. – LB


East Tennessee’s own WDVX has volunteer opportunities for fund drives, festival and live performances and general outreach. The station puts on and is a sponsor of many area festivals, concerts and fundraising events. They also hold its own fundraisers. Depending on the event, volunteers may be asked to set up, sell merchandise, help with a silent auction, staff ticket tables, take photographs, clean up and more. Many of these events happen on the weekend. WDVX also needs fleet-footed folks to post flyers about live performances and events at cooperating businesses throughout downtown, the University of Tennessee area and other venues. Live shows at WDVX are volunteer powered – everything from greeting guests to assisting the host to taking tickets is done by volunteers, WDVX’s best ambassadors. Volunteers are needed at least an hour before each show. If you have a special skill you’d like to offer – social media, IT, PR and marketing, data entry or volunteer coordinating, they’d love to hear from you! Email them at volunteers@wdvx.com.


WUOT is the National Public Radio member station in Knoxville. Owned by UT, it airs a mix of news, classical music and jazz, along with programming from NPR, American Public Media and Public Radio International. Volunteers help with all sorts of tasks at WUOT, including help with entering pledges, checking for accuracy, sending thank you letters and gifts and much, much more. The time and energy you contribute are invaluable to the station and you’ll have a great time. Visit wuot.org for more information about how to help.

The Best of the Rest

Helen Ross McNabb Center

Serving East Tennessee since 1948, the Helen Ross McNabb Center is a nonprofit dedicated to providing behavioral health services, which range from addiction, mental health and social services. Although their professional staff services the children, adults and families in need around the area, they also need volunteers to keep everything running smoothly. Volunteers can serve as “safe” adults for children who have experienced trauma or abuse, or they can mentor a teen dealing with substance abuse issues. They also need administrative support, especially at special programs and events throughout the year.

There is a three-month minimum volunteer commitment that does include passing a background check, but the opportunities are endless. One need right now is for a piano or keyboard player who can teach a residential client how to play piano. Those who cannot donate time can donate items for the different departments in each county, including the family crisis center, the Sexual Assault Center of East Tennessee, and the transitional housing program for domestic abuse survivors. They also accept monetary donations on their website, mcnabbcenter.org. – JA

Appalachian Mountain Biking Club

The AMBC is a local branch of the International Mountain Biking Association and the Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association. It’s a nonprofit driven by members’ monetary and time donations towards trail maintenance, providing dozens to hundreds of volunteers annually giving up thousands of man hours to IC King Park, Sharp’s Ridge, Concord Park and much of the 35-mile-plus Urban Wilderness trail system in South Knoxville that runs through Forks of the River and Ijams.

AMBC’s annual Fall Festival – a party at Baker’s Creek Preserve to celebrate its volunteers and to thank them for their work – features clinics, races, giveaways, a silent auction, a free dinner and multiple rock bands, and it grows in size each year. Volunteers tend to trails or do administrative advocacy work like the group’s successful campaign for the $100,000 Bell Built Grant for the Urban Wilderness Gravity Trail.

They’re a scruffy, rowdy and fun-loving bunch with some of the biggest hearts in town. You’re sure to get in shape, make some new friends and help beautify Knoxville, so why not give it a shot? – LB


Kickstand Community Bike Shop accepts any and all types of bikes for both children and adults. Bikes with special value will be evaluated and possibly sold, with the proceeds going directly back into the program to purchase parts, supplies and tools, thus enabling our work to continue. To ensure that all of your donation reaches us and is not lost, they ask that you please drop off your items during our regular business hours. If you cannot make these times, please message them with a time you can donate and we will see if there will be volunteers present. Their contact email is kickstandknoxville@gmail.com.

Centro Hispano

Centro Hispano aspires to be the reference organization for education and social services to improve the quality of life and the successful integration of these multicultural families into the community. Their mission is to promote empowerment and civic participation of the multicultural community through education and social services. There is a large population of Hispanics in the Knoxville area that has numerous needs that often go unseen and unmet. Their main goal is to help our Latino neighbors to improve their quality of life and become better citizens through education and information services. Last year, they served hundreds of individuals and families.

They have an endless list of needs that you can help out with. Be an afterschool mentor, or help them with childcare while mothers are learning English, teach English, practice your Spanish by answering the phone or grading exams. Help them throw parties to keep Centro running. If none of these things speak to you, reach out and they’ll find a good fit. You can call (865) 522-0052 or send an email to info@centrohispanotn.org to find out more.

Keep Knoxville Beautiful

Keep Knoxville Beautiful has been working hard for almost four decades to eradicate litter from our landscape. Every year they conduct an extensive litter assessment to check our progress, and they are proud to say that our efforts are paying off; last year’s assessment was their best on record. For as long as litter continues to be a problem, here’s how you can continue to fight it: Call (865) 521-6957 or send an email to info@keepknoxvillebeautiful.org.

Eskimo Escapades

Eskimo Escapades Foundation, Inc. is a nonprofit that conducts a winter water-ski charity event in downtown Knoxville every January. Each year participants have to raise a minimum amount (which can vary) in order to water ski/tube/ride/foot or even ride a stool on a disc around a half-mile lap on Fort Loudoun Lake at Volunteer Landing in a brand new tournament ski boat. The boats are provided by Sunny Marina. They will have a limited number of wetsuits available provided by Ski/Scuba and ski equipment provided by the Patricia Neal IRC. Each skier is free to bring and use their own equipment, as well. After they ski, they can warm up in a hot tub provided by Aurora Pools, Spas and Billiards.

Registration includes a tow and a short sleeve or long sleeve shirt. You don’t have to get in the water to help out this year. They always can use more help the day of the event. If you are interested in volunteering for Eskimo Escapades, contact us by calling (865) 406-7665 or emailing us at info@eskimoescapades.org.

Random Acts of Flowers

When it comes to making an impact in our communities, they wouldn’t be able to do it without the dedication and devotion of their volunteers. Volunteering at Random Acts of Flowers helps them spread joy and allows people who share our values to nurture a culture of compassion and care.

Their volunteers range in age from elementary students to retirees. Individuals and groups – including schools, church groups, civic groups, businesses and even sports teams – make up the more than 2,000 people who share their time and talent to bring flowers and moments of joy to those in area hospitals, hospices and health care facilities. Learn more at randomactsofflowers.org.

Habitat for Humanity

Habitat for Humanity is an independent, nonprofit, ecumenical Christian housing ministry that partners with people of all beliefs. Knoxville Habitat for Humanity has been an affiliate of Habitat for Humanity International since 1985. Knoxville Habitat for Humanity partners with families in Knox County to help them build a place they can call home. Habitat homeowners help build their own homes alongside volunteers and pay an affordable mortgage. With your support, Habitat homeowners achieve the strength, stability and independence they need to build a better life for themselves and for their families. They offer volunteer opportunities in construction, teaching, administrative, special events and more. Info can be found by calling (865) 523-3539 ext. 108 or emailing tedgar@khfh.com.

Knoxville Pays it Forward

Knoxville Pays it Forward believes that charity starts at home. This group is for Knoxvillians who would like to volunteer to help others in Knoxville and surrounding areas or to post where people or organizations may need help .Know an elderly person who needs some assistance? Know someone hungry? In need of clothing? Want to start a team for charity drives? This is the place to post. Want to do something to help out in the community? Have a church group interested in volunteering? Have furniture to give away to someone who may need it? Clothing? Food? This is the community board on which to post it. More info is at knoxvillepaysitforward.com.

Mission of Hope

Since 1996, the Mission of Hope has ministered to the people of various counties in Kentucky and Tennessee from which 80 percent of the region’s residents no longer have jobs in the coal mining industry. In our first event in 1996, we were able to assist 150 children. Last year because of the generosity of so many people, the Mission of Hope was able to help over 17,000 children and their families with food, clothes, toys and hygiene items.

Many of the people we assist are caught in the pockets of poverty and as a result have lost all hope for their future. With your help, they can help bring new hope to many.

The following positions are needed: phone desk, administrative helpers, truck loaders, hospitality desk, sorting and packaging, pick up drivers, barrel pick up, warehouse workers and various other tasks. If you would like to volunteer to help with any of these tasks, please email us at volunteer@missionofhope.org.

Knox Area Rescue Ministries

After two years of prayer and careful planning, KARM is launching a new framework for its ministry. KARM has been called to offer a solution to this societal problem and provide a fresh and different way to reach the “least of these” in our city. They are looking for people who want to partner with them in being part of the solution. Their new way utilizes teachers, table facilitators and intake coordinators to make an incredible difference in the lives they see at KARM. Those volunteer roles are described briefly below.

Intake coordinators gather information from an individual arriving at KARM for the first time and inputs that data into a system. Teachers will instruct students on life, spiritual and practical skills. Table facilitators will sit with students to listen, love and be there in each class to answer questions and be a support system. Training is provided for all positions. These positions are for individuals ready and willing to make a regular and consistent commitment. If you are interested in this opportunity, please contact KARM’s volunteer services by email at volunteer@karm.org or by phone at (865) 633-7624.

Volunteer Ministry Center

The VMC  is a nonprofit organization that offers specialized services to individuals experiencing homelessness and those within our community who are in crisis. VMC’s programs support its two-fold mission of facilitating permanent supportive housing for those who are homeless and providing services to prevent homelessness. VMC operates four main programs: the VMC Resource Center, the Bush Family Refuge, Minvilla Manor and the VMC Dental Clinic. The goal for all clients is housing. Utilizing case management and the “housing first” approach to ending homelessness, VMC assists individuals into permanent, supportive housing and provides the resources necessary to maintain housing. Once housing is achieved, the case management relationship continues until a level of self-sufficiency is reached, thus ensuring success.

For more information please message us or call Lisa Hutton at (865) 524-3926 ext. 230.

CAC Office of Aging

The CAC Office on Aging provides a wide variety of programs and services that improve the quality of life for older people, including programs that help them remain in their own homes for as long as possible. Programs of the Office on Aging offer a broad spectrum of health and nutrition-related services, consumer and home-safety related services, in-home services, and educational, recreational and volunteer opportunities for seniors.

In addition to providing direct services, the Office on Aging offers information for older people, their family members and professionals who provide services for seniors. The office also does long-range planning to develop new resources and coordinate existing ones to provide the best possible quality of life for seniors in the community, both now and looking toward the future. Among the information resources are “Elder News and Views,” a free newsletter with current news of interest to seniors, and the Senior Service Directory, a comprehensive resource guide to services for Knoxville and Knox County seniors. Email susan.long@knoxseniors.org or call (865) 524-2786 for more info.

The choices can seem overwhelming, but there are thousands of Knoxvillians just like you involved in thousands of projects through hundreds of non-profit volunteer organizations. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, and there are opportunities for every type of person with every type of skill to offer. So get out and work off some of that holiday paunch while helping your community today! We couldn’t get to everyone, but we will be placing this guide online at www.blank.news. If you know of a volunteer option that isn’t on this list, please let us know and we will add it to the site.

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