About a year ago, The Contributor magazine was out of money. The Board of Directors disbanded, the doors were all but sure to close. What was going to happen next? Everything was up in the air until Cathy Jennings decided to revive The Contributor in newspaper format.
The first thing she had to do was put together a team to help her make her dream a reality. She reached out to former volunteers and other members of the community — many of whom were ready willing and eager to help her achieve her goal.
There is still much work to be done such as getting and maintaining financial footing and continuing to build relationships and partnerships within the community.
Cathy is doing quite well in this regard. Consider some examples:
Becoming a part of the Continuum of Care (COC), a collection of organizations that serve those experiencing homelessness and poverty.
Becoming a member of the Nashville Chamber of Commerce.
The Contributor is also now recognized by the Tennessee Department of Labor as a part of the workforce.
Not bad for her first year on the job as our Executive Director! Cathy says she’d, “like to see people experiencing homelessness and poverty view the paper as a way to connect with other agencies to start their journey to a better life.”
Director of Vending and our Co-founder Tom Wills says he “wants The Contributor to be seen as part of the solution to poverty and homelessness and not just another way of panhandling.” Also he would like to, “restore the trust between customers and vendors that has been so badly damaged.“
As for the Editorial Team, Linda Bailey and Amanda Haggard work hard putting the paper together and it shows. Linda says she wants the paper to be something we as vendors can be proud to sell, and a product worth buying for our customers. She considers it a privilege that so many vendors trust her with their stories, and she really listens to us. She would like to see the paper become a “staple” of Nashville in long-term — as would I. For her, coming back to The Contributor has brought about the healing of sorts and provided her a creative outlet.
Amanda Haggard says her mission is to make people believe in The Contributor again.
She says she wants the content of the paper to reflect issues that are unique to vendors and to tell the stories that are often untold and overlooked in mainstream media.
They also welcome input from the community. Feel free to contact them at email@example.com.
I also talked to several long-time Contributor volunteers who spoke about their experiences over the last year. Joe and Michael were quick to point out that it was a “different vibe” going from the magazine back to the paper, which they said was due to Tom Wills returning as the Director of Vending, and moving back into the original office at the Downtown Presbyterian Church — or as we vendors call it, “home.”
To show you how eager these two were to help out, when Joe contacted Michael last year and said, “we’re a paper again!” Michael (who had left for a time during the magazine, and was out of town with his secular employment) said, “I’ll see you in a week!”
I also talked with Ann and Andy, two more of our faithful volunteers. In addition to volunteering in the office, Ann is also a board member, but she says her role is pretty much the same.
“We are here because we want to be here,” she said. She went on to say that she does what she does because she loves the vendors and gives much of the credit to Executive Director Cathy Jennings for, “coming in and doing what she did. It is phenomenal, and her enthusiasm is contagious!”
Andy says that all the volunteers here see the need to help this segment of the community. He credits the paper with giving him an opportunity to get to know a new part of society. What he found out was that many are in a difficult situation not because they did anything wrong — a common misconception — but for a lot of different reasons. As for how the paper is different, he says, “all the volunteers are equally involved in its success, and they actually strive to listen to the vendors.”
Volunteer Shayna mentioned that going from the magazine back to the paper and moving back to DPC has made a difference in morale. She also notes the price decrease to vendors from 75 cents to 50 cents is also significant. She’s glad that they went back to grassroots, back to what the paper was meant to be, and feels it should stay the way it is now, and is happy to be a part of it.
Contributor Media Manager Hannah Herner moved to Nashville two years ago and The Contributor was is the first paper she wrote for. Like Shayna, she is glad that things have come full circle.
Hannah likes that vendor opinions are given a high priority with the paper and hopes more Nashvillians and tourists come to understand the value of the paper and how it works. One goal of Hannah’s is to add more multi media and online elements to the paper to reach an even bigger audience.
It is my sincere hope that through the interviews with many of our volunteers you can see that The Contributor is not just a street newspaper thrown together willy-nilly catcher. It takes careful thought and planning to do it consistently as they do. Our vendors and other writers take pride in sharing our unique stories with you, giving you a glimpse of things you might not see or understand otherwise.
So, if you’ve never bought a paper why not give it a try? I guarantee you won’t be disappointed!
Maybe it’s been a while since you bought a paper — come on back we can’t wait to see you!
And if you’re someone who supports us regularly please know you are loved and appreciated!
But, if I could ask 1 more favor from you:
Buy the paper
Take the paper
Read the paper
Share the paper with others and show them just how amazing it truly is!