Often times, it’s those who need help in our own city who are the hardest to spot. We focus on big problems on a national or even international level, and we begin to overlook the people who need us right in our own backyard.
Project Connect Nashville has set out to change that. Located in Madison, just 20 minutes outside of the heart of Nashville, Project Connect has been quietly serving the Madison community for four years. Their decision to serve this Nashville suburb was a deliberate one, especially after experiencing how quickly the area is growing – and the poverty rate along with it.
“Madison is a resource desert, located in a high area of poverty,” says Michelle Murdock, Project Connect’s volunteer and development director. “Recent statistics have Madison at a 50 percent poverty rate, and that percentage is growing as families continue to be pushed out of the city center. The need we are addressing is stability through education and relationship so that our homeless and at-risk friends can find jobs and housing, and then sustain them.”
Project Connect does this through a multitude of community-focused and volunteer-led initiatives that focus on serving the whole person physically, emotionally and spiritually. They prepare and eat meals with people experiencing homelessness, teach classes for the community in everything from finance to fine arts, and build relationships with their community through open hearts and honest communication. In everything, Project Connect’s main goal is to see people achieve holistic healing and reach their full potential outside the limitations of poverty. It’s such a core tenant of their ideology that the organization named their cornerstone initiative out of it.
“GOSO stands for “Get out, Stay out (of poverty), and it’s a year-long program that requires attendance at our key classes,” Murdock says. “We recognize that the alleviation of poverty is a long process and can take years so we seek to keep the relationship going with them long-term to help in the process. The key classes we offer are faith and finances, work life, the story of God and asset-building classes. This year we are adding trauma classes, art therapy and expansive computer classes.”
Classes under the GOSO programming have been especially helpful to people like Casundra, a Madison resident who began the program in 2016 after Project Connect came knocking on her door at the apartment complex where she lives. Casundra excelled in her coursework and was able to get a job soon after graduating from the program. Just a few months later, she was doing so well that Project Connect decided to hire her for their own team as the office assistant.
“She continues to excel and learn new skills,” Murdock says. “This Sunday evening she’ll be taking [a course in] Microsoft Word to further her skills. … She is an asset to us because she has been where many of the men and women have been. We are so glad to have her on our team!”
Casundra’s story of success is just one of many; 100 percent of Project Connect Nashville’s recent GOSO graduates obtained well-paying jobs less than a week after completing the program. It’s through these jobs and the relationships built at Project Connect that individuals are beginning to transform their lives. And that’s perhaps the most unique element of the organization. Every program is designed to empower community members to reach their full potential despite circumstantial obstacles that may stand in their way. And in every action, their approach is to rebuild lives through authentic relationships.
“Because we have brokenness too,” Murdock says in reference to why the mission of Project Connect Nashville is so important to her. “We get it. Our staff and our board has dealt with issues such as addiction, loneliness, abuse and being disconnected from society in many ways. We found a path to healing by finding genuine connection. Our friends that enter our doors find that too. We actually get to see lives transformed – including our own.”
Want to get involved? Project Connect Nashville is always looking for volunteers to prepare meals for those experiencing homelessness, attend classes or events, or even just get to know their community. Contact Michelle Murdock at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.