Building a Better Community

IMAGE: Parthenon in IMAGE: Centennial Park, Nashville, Tennessee. Copyright 2010 Michael Hicks

IMAGE: Parthenon in IMAGE: Centennial Park, Nashville, Tennessee. Copyright 2010 Michael Hicks

I am lucky enough to be one of the rare native inhabitants raised in a community of geographic transplants. I've seen Nashville, Tennessee grow in ways that each year excites and astounds me. The diversity in this town is palpable: in addition to our fabulous music scene (which any local knows doesn’t consist just of country music—we have every style of music from blue grass to a world-class symphony), we also have all the major American sports, diversity in politics (one of the few blue areas in a predominantly red state), a vibrant and eclectic visual and performing arts scene, religious diversity (in the heart of the Bible Belt, no less), outdoor adventure within a few miles of the city's heart, and a food scene that gets better with each passing year. Because we have so many universities in this town we've even earned the nickname "Athens of the South," sporting our very own replica of the Athenian Parthenon. But the one thing I am most proud of is Tennessee's status as the "Volunteer State," which according to Wikipedia, is "a nickname earned during the War of 1812 because of the prominent role played by volunteer soldiers from Tennessee, especially during the Battle of New Orleans."

If you watched the news at all in the early days of May of 2010, you may have heard the endless, tragic and heart-breaking news in relation to BP's oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that occurred days before. However, on May 1-2 of that year, Nashville and its surrounding areas suffered an epic flood that got little national coverage but which led to lost homes, lost lives, lost belongings and so much more. Through all the loss that victims of the flooding endured, remembering local volunteers' efforts during that time brings chills of admiration to this day. According to a case study from, "The community rallied following the natural disaster and volunteered in cleanups, rebuilding and helping their neighbors. Nashville residents doubled their service and contributed approximately 150,000 hours of volunteering in efforts to rebuild the community." I can speak from first-hand experience: watching and participating in the call to action from neighbors and strangers was one of the most beautiful things I've ever experienced. There is no doubt: this town is full of heart. It's full of people who want to make their community, and in turn, the world, a much better place. And they do it with gusto.

Sadly though, The Bureau for Labor Statistics report, Volunteering in the United States 2013, states that "The volunteer rate in 2013 was the lowest it has been since... 2002." At a time when budgets for non-profits are getting cut every time we turn around, I hope you'll agree that this is a good time to reflect on ways to serve the needs of a community at its worst and envision the ways that it can be served at its best. While monetary needs are typically the heart of even the most efficient and successful non-profits, there are so many equally helpful ways to build community that don’t involve money. And volunteering doesn't need to go through a non-profit. One of the best examples of kindness that I recall is a neighbor to my grandfather who came by regularly to visit and check in on him in his last years. In a town where my grandfather had no surviving family nearby and with weather that could keep him snowed in for days, if not weeks, that kind neighbor comforted all of us who cared for him from afar. Simple acts of kindness can go a long way. Service to community doesn't need to be extravagant or newsworthy. It's a creative act no matter the size of the effort.

Studio Haus is proud to have a history of providing marketing for those who have a clear message and a good cause but anemic budgets. Like many marketing and design companies, pro bono projects are often where designers can create some of our best work. In all honesty, it provides me great joy to contribute a talent to an organization in need of it, and not surprisingly, this in turn serves my business and my spirit. Rabindranath Tagore sums it up nicely: "I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.”

When it gets right down to it, Studio Haus aspires for every client to be of service to the community in some way. While "free" graphic design services aren't always feasible, if there's service to community in a way that brings more joy to the world, then I'm in. It's what I love to do!

Do you have plans to serve those in need? Share your story and let the inspiration ripple outward.