Refugee Agricultural Program prepares for growing season

Posted by Lauren Bailey to Agricultural Programs, Uncategorized

On a recent winter Monday in the meeting room of a local church, the farmers in the Refugee Agricultural Program of Middle Tennessee stood under fluorescent light rather than rays of sunshine. But with their training task of the day choosing seeds for planting, the room buzzed with the energy of hope and promise for a new season.

In the cooler months when the gardens offer more brown patches than green, growth continues in the form of preparation, training and relationship building. But beyond learning ways to market and work together—and hearing how the growing seasons differ in Tennessee than their native countries—the trainings help make deeper connections.

Participants build stronger relationships with one another; they learn with neighbors and members of their community and with other communities through selling their food.

“Sometimes farmers come to us with other issues that they are facing in life, such as the complicated nature of obtaining citizenship,” says Lauren Bailey, the Agricultural Programs Director at Center for Refugees and Immigrants of Tennessee. “In these moments, we’re faced with the opportunity to listen and to find ways to connect and advocate with our farmers. As our relationships grow, our understanding of our farmers’ lives grows.”

In March, the trainings move outside to the one-and-a-half acre Market Garden off Haywood Lane.


Each of the 11 farmers in the Refugee Agricultural Program’s Market Garden will have a plot measuring 12 feet by 120 feet (and 24 feet by 120 feet for second-year farmers).

The communal activity of growing food together hopefully helps participants assimilate to life here more naturally.

“Growing food brings us into contact with the earth we all share, with the traditions of agriculture that have kept our species alive, and spirit of abundance that pervades all well-cared for gardens,” says Christina Bentrup of The Nashville Food Project, CRIT’s partner in the Refugee Agricultural Program. “Participants build stronger relationships with each other, with the physical land, with neighbors and members of their community and with other communities through selling their food.”

Indeed, the farmers will be raising crops for their families and communities. But this year, they also will sell to restaurants, and they will offer their produce for purchase at a local farmers’ market. From this foundation of growing with the seasons, farmers can build upon their lives here to thrive even more independently.

“In five to ten years, our hope is that Nashville will be bustling with more community gardens made up of many different nationalities,” Lauren says. “We recognize the need for adapted resources to meet community members where they are and the need for land access. So really, our aim is to provide this for a small number of interested community members in hopes to strengthen this access for future community members.”

RISE at Apollo Middle School: My Perspective as an AmeriCorps Member

Posted by Ellen Larson to Uncategorized

Refugee and Immigrant Students Empowered (RISE) at Apollo Middle School

by Ashley Rice

My students at Apollo Middle School through the after school program are nothing less than remarkable. The first couple of weeks have opened up my mind to the possibilities of how far children can excel and achieve in their lives STARTING now. I have not worked with middle school kids in a while, but these children light my world up each and every day. My students are diverse ranging from nationality to personalities. They are very unique in their own ways. The students are very receptive and respectful to themselves and to the AmeriCorps members. I interact with the students by being down to earth and always attempting to relate to them. I am consistently trying to build a relationship with the students while building trust. We build trust by working together with enhancing projects, and the programming that is structured helps us to learn from each other. Apollo Middle School rocks, and I love my position as an AmeriCorps member!


RISE at Stonebrook: Sacrifices

Posted by Ellen Larson to Uncategorized

Refugee and Immigrant Students Empowered (RISE) at Stonebrook

by Brittany Long, RISE AmeriCorps Member

Last week a few of our Muslim students were absent from the RISE afterschool program because of their traditional holiday Eid- Al-Adha also known as The Feast of Sacrifice.  One of the things we really try to emphasize for RISE at Stonebrook is community and how important it is to work with each other and to understand each other’s stories.  So we decided to talk about the holiday, what it meant to them but decided to highlight the word sacrifice… what does it mean to sacrifice? We brainstormed different ways people we knew and loved had made sacrifices. One example since many of our students are refugees was coming to America. Their family left behind things they were familiar with, their job, their home; they left family and friends so their family could have a better future. We talked about how sometimes moms and dads have to work long hours, sacrificing time at home so that they can provide for the family. We talked about giving things to others who are in need can be a sacrifice.

That day we wrote in our journals a time when WE had to make a sacrifice. I love when things click and you see students start to grasp a concept!

One of my favorite journal entries was from a student who wrote about his little sister. He had a piece of candy, the last piece and was about to eat it when his sister decided she wanted it. Since it was the last piece he was reluctant to share and was determined to save it for himself. However he saw how much she wanted it and decided to make the sacrifice and give her the coveted piece.

This to us may not seem like much…. A piece of candy!?  But something small like this may mean much more to someone else. When you think about the circumstances, coming from a big family, having to share a lot and not having much of your own…. giving up a piece of candy can feel like a big sacrifice.

It was heartwarming, hearing the kids talk about how sometimes you have to give up things for the people you love or to show love to others.

Three Stonebrook students were selected to participate in the Nashville After Zone Alliance Leadership Retreat at Camp Widjiwagon during Fall Break. See photos below:

Sweet Summer & Bitter Gourds

Posted by Lauren Bailey to Agricultural Programs, Uncategorized

I’m Jessica and I’m the intern. I love cross-cultural agricultural development as a sustainable way to engage multiple cultures, needs, and skills for good. After two summers in East Africa I decided that I wanted to get some hands on experience with development in Nashville, my hometown. Thanks to a quick Google search I found CRIT, loved what they were doing, and asked if they would be interested in taking on an intern. I convinced them to say yes, so I’ve been learning and working alongside them ever since. Every day is an opportunity to learn how to use a new tool to grow a new plant in a new way for a new purpose. Beyond that I have developed a new appreciation for the value of food, the value of partnership, and the value of home.


The Value of Food

 Y’all – this gardening stuff is no joke. It is hard. As a college student I have spent many hours in the grocery store thinking, “Wowza, that’s an expensive apple!” Now I look at the greens that the CRIT gardeners are selling and think, “They shouldn’t charge a cent under $100 per leaf.” Growing healthy and sustainable food takes so much time, effort, sweat, dirt, and occasionally blood. And who knows when you could lose it all to a beetle! In a society that often feels separated from agrarian life it is easy to get a false sense of the worth of our food. Going to the garden to pull weeds, prepare soil, seed new plants, twine tomatoes, pull weeds, dig holes, squish bugs, mulch raised beds, pull weeds, and watch the other gardeners do the same and more has helped me to see food as a worthwhile investment in my health and community rather than an incessant expenditure.


The Value of Partnership

Partnership in the development sphere is often easier to talk about than it is to practice, but the CRIT gardens have shown me an incredible image of what partnership should look like. CRIT offers land and training to refugees who have recently moved to Nashville and in turn these people diligently work to grow food that strengthens their family, stimulates the local economy, and benefits Nashville restaurants with sustainable and healthy foods. Even people who can barely speak English are enabled to positively impact their new community with the resources that the community offers. From exotic foods sold to local restaurants to resourceful ideas on how to trellis tomatoes to sharing a laugh about how hot it is in the garden, everyone involved is empowered to learn, share, and grow.


The Value of Home

When I started looking for something to do this summer I had just one qualification: it had to be at home. After spending several summers away it has been so great to spend time with my friends and family. The saying still holds true: there’s no place like home. But finding home is not so simple for a refugee who has been forcibly removed from their home. That’s why these gardens exist. They’re pieces of Burma and Nepal. They’re places where refugees can go out and farm like they did at home, grow bitter gourds and noodle beans like they did at home, speak like they did at home, and build community like they did at home. The CRIT gardens aren’t mere income generators or a means of integrating cultures. The gardens are a place for people to come home.

Global Interests, Local Work: An AmeriCorps Experience

Posted by Tiffany Hodge to AmeriCorps, RISE

By Claire Cooper
Do what you can, with what you have, where you are. – Theodore Roosevelt

When I decided to move back to the United States after living abroad for three years, I was skeptical that my passion for cultural exploration, foreign language, ESL teaching, and diverse empowerment work could be satisfied by employment I’d find in America. While abroad, I’d developed these passions into skills – developing communication, teaching, mentoring, and entrepreneurial skills for a cross-cultural environment – and I didn’t want to allow them to fade.
Thus, I was thrilled to have to opportunity to join the Refugee and Immigrant Student Empowerment afterschool program and the Center for Refugees and Immigrants Tennessee as a 2014-2015 AmeriCorps member. Through this position I’ve been able to continue to teach and mentor students, support empowerments activities, and learn about the vast cultural, linguistic, and socioeconomic diversity of the student body in Metro Nashville Public Schools.

Students in the RISE program range from second-generation immigrants from Mexico to newly resettled Somali and Karen refugees. The needs of the at-risk youth in our program are diverse and unique due to their international backgrounds. Thus, while our program has naturally sought to support them in English language acquisition and academic achievement, we’ve also striven to support development of their cross-cultural adaptability, personal resiliency and self-direction, and physical and emotional health.

Now, my service is coming to a close, and next year I will pursue my international and community development interests through continued studies in a Masters of Public Health in Global Health/Epidemiology at Vanderbilt University.

As I’ve reflect on how my year with AmeriCorps has changed my professional and personal aims, I’ve realized that my concept of what improving the health of the global community looks like has broadened and deepened. For one, I no longer feel that I must work internationally to be of service to high-need, culturally diverse communities. There is much work yet to be done at home. Secondly, I more deeply understand how complex public health concerns are - neither confined by national borders, nor constrained to medical concerns, extending instead to systematic justice issues like education inequality and violence.

Going forward, I will always keep in mind what I’ve learned from my students, AmeriCorps supervisor, and my co-members: that were are a wealth of ways one can meet global needs with what we have, where we are.






Reflections from the RAPP Conference

Posted by Lauren Bailey to Uncategorized

Written by Sarah Risely

CRIT agricultural programming staff had the great opportunity to host and attend the a national RAPP and ISED Solutions conference. This event brought together recipients of the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP), a federal grant program that provides funding to organizations that educate and mentor farmers-to-be, as well as organizations that pilot and report back on farmer training materials.

The conference gathered a large network of organizations running  agricultural programs across the country—both brand new and veterans  formed in the 80’s and 90’s. As a staff member of one of the ‘greener’  organizations, it was both affirming and inspiring to see such long-standing  and successful programs in cities reaching from Oakland, California to  Portland, Maine. The continued existence of these programs shows that t  they are not only sustainable, but programs that are useful for and desired  by refugee communities. Hearing their stories and seeing the work that they  have accomplished with their participants demonstrates how a trial-and-error, persistent, and humble approach to this work truly does pay off in the growth of gardens, programs, and participant success.

Perhaps the most helpful portion of the conference came in the form of program organizers presenting about their individual projects. Although coming from different contexts and using different approaches, each organization emphasized the importance of experiential student-driven learning. The Global Growers Network in Atlanta, Georgia spoke of their ‘scientific approach’ to learning: Identify a problem, develop solutions, test, and reflect. New American Sustainable Agricultural Project in Portland, Maine discussed comparing and contrasting farming practices in participants’ home countries and those in the U.S.—taking the time to discuss the “Why” behind these adaptations. These approaches put the farmers in charge of their education and emphasize self-reflection and farmer-to-farmer instruction—powerful tools for lasting educational experiences.

Although I left the conference thinking about the many challenges ahead, it was a comfort to know that there exists such a wide network of farmers, agencies, organizations, and experts all working towards a similar goal. Farming is a craft, honed over years and passed from generation to generation. Meeting such a driven and skilled group of individuals has shown me that this movement has created its own form of family in which knowledge is passed from one branch to the next. One that I hope will continue to grow and develop in the coming years.

Blackman Road Gardeners- part of Nashville’s refugee farming family .

The Old and New at McMurray Middle School RISE

Posted by Tiffany Hodge to RISE

by Ellen Larson, RISE Site Coordinator

Our RISE students at McMurray Middle School saw January bring students’ favorite enhancements from last semester and also new enhancements. Enhancement follows our academic period and involves members from the community or RISE staff teaching our students new skills, from photography to sports. As a site coordinator, I think what makes our program so great is that students have a genuinely good time and see the RISE afterschool program as a positive part of their day. One day, as I drove home some of our Iraqi students, they explained to me, in broken English, what school was like in Iraq: “There no good. Here, good,” the student said. Many of our students have already had traumatic life stories, and I consider RISE successful because students enjoy coming to RISE.


Reflection of Warmth

Posted by Lauren Bailey to Agricultural Programs, Uncategorized

by Sarah Risely, Assistant Program Director

Reflecting on last season as we prepare for this season!

It is 8 a.m. on a Saturday and you can already smell the sticky August heat—today is going to be another hot one. Like clockwork everyone drives up and parks or strolls in across the field, armed with sunhats to beat the heat and laundry baskets for harvesting. Morning greetings come in English and Burmese, and then everyone gets to work.

We start our day by walking among the rows of roselle, bitter gourd, mustard, and long beans—hunting for (and squishing) pests and making plans for daily projects. Lifting up a row cover, Lu Lu spots tiny green sprouts and shouts out “Look! Oh look they grew!” Ree Lay and Than Tin valiantly yank out Bermuda grass, while Mu Mu cuts mustards and discovers a softball-sized watermelon beneath the leaves—“We will wait until Wednesday to harvest,” she says. In the next plot Ma Ree Yar skillfully sharpens bamboo into trellises and then cuts a bunch of zinnias to bring home to her daughter.


This garden is a special place. The gardeners are a long way from home: refugees from Burma who have arrived at this piece of earth thanks to the Center for Refugees and Immigrants of Tennessee, but more importantly thanks to their own love for growing and a desire to begin again in a new place. The garden is a place for them to come and be with friends and to share with their families and children. Refugees can make a big impact on their own families and communities by bringing fresh produce to the table, while at the same time strengthening their own health and wellbeing. In the often tumultuous and challenging time of resettlement, the garden is a place of consistency and growth.

With the heat we all rest in the shade of the two willow trees on the property. Removing hats and wiping shining brows, the gardeners talk about their day and sort through the fruits from their garden plots. “I am going to make kimchi!” exclaims Ja Sam.  Saying goodbye, they help each other load up and then drive off with baskets of fresh vegetables to take home and share with family and friends.



From a Member’s Eyes: Personal and Professional Empowerment

Posted by Tiffany Hodge to RISE

by Claire Cooper

In my AmeriCorps position with the Center for Refugees and Immigrants Tennessee, I enjoy the opportunity to mentor and tutor students in the Refugee and Immigrant Student Enrichment afterschool program at Apollo Middle School. Our students come from diverse national, ethnic, religious, and linguistic backgrounds. Through my role as an AmeriCorps member, I support our students as they complete language and math related activities, their homework assignments, and a variety of enhancement activities such as art, cooking, sports, and music making.

For me, the most enjoyable moments usually come during our “book club days,” on Tuesdays and Thursdays, when my group of young ladies delve into reading Lois Lowry’s Gathering Blue. To begin with, students were responsible for brainstorming book options for the club and then they had to democratically narrow down the list. This small initial step of providing students more autonomy and an opportunity to direct their learning during RISE – an opportunity that is rare in the larger classrooms of the school-day - has clearly led to an increased and sustained excitement for this part of the day. Though we have been reading the story together for over a month, the students’ interest in the story and their investment in analyzing the book has only increased. The students initiate and sustain active discussions regarding the motivations of the characters and value differences evident in the dystopian world of the book, and they work together to evaluate the text. I’ve also been impressed by the way the students in lower grades strive to persevere reading the text that is above their level – something they may not be reliably exposed to elsewhere.


RISE at Stonebrook: From Celebrating Diversity to Exploring the Great Outdoors

Posted by Tiffany Hodge to RISE

Since the school year started, we have been learning so much together at RISE Stonebrook. The students at Stonebrook are an energetic bunch to say the least, always inquisitive, motivated to learn and to help one another. Together we have been exploring so many new things and have been having a great time doing it!

During our group academic time, students have been mastering their math skills with card games, math Jenga, and word problem games. To grow our vocabulary, students have been playing Scattergories. Just last week, students laughed as they read Diary of a Wimpy Kid together, and reflected on how they can relate in their journals.

During our enhancement time, the students have had the opportunity to explore their talents through a variety of lenses. Students at Stonebrook have captured images of things they love in photography, learned about teamwork, agility and endurance in soccer, learned about stress-relief and relaxation in yoga, and reflected on the meaning of imagery in music videos. Recently in their songwriting workshop, students wrote a song together about celebrating differences. It goes a little something like this, “Let’s have a celebration, let’s have a conversation. whether we’re near or far… Let’s have a celebration, let’s have a conversation, this is the story of who we are! The story never ends….”

Just last weekend we had the opportunity to explore the outdoors on a field trip to Long Hunter State Park hosted with Great Outdoors University! Students were excited to learn about edible plants, the ecosystem, and the life of a park ranger, not to mention enjoying fire-roasted marshmallows in s’mores!


#NAZA #AmeriCorps #VolunteerTn #MNAC




RISE at Apollo: Learning and Working Together!

Posted by Tiffany Hodge to RISE

We have had a great beginning of the year at RISE Apollo. Our classroom is always full of energy, and with that we have already learned many new skills and have had so much fun doing it!

During our group academic time, we have been busy with book club on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The students loved discovering the goofy poetry of Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky. Now we have broken into smaller groups and are busy reading novels. On Mondays and Wednesdays, we hold math competitions. The students love playing relay races, jeopardy, and they learn and improve important math skills at the same time.

During our enhancement time, the students have enjoyed trying out many new skills. This past week, we cooked and ate delicious food from all over the world and learned about the important role food plays in our shared experiences.

Each Monday we start off our week with soccer, something the students are always excited about! This past week we challenged PACE, another NAZA program, to a friendly match on the field. It was tons of fun as the students worked as a team and roused up their RISE spirit!  #NAZA #artembrace #AmeriCorps #VolunteerTn

the leaves began tumbling down

Posted by Lauren Bailey to Uncategorized

It seemed that as soon as the calendar spoke fall into being, the leaves began tumbling down. How quickly my mind raced to the work left to be done in the garden this year.  Each season in the garden is a lesson on timing- from the first plowing of the field to the last cover crop sown.

And yet, even with the long list of work left to be done, I pause to reflect on the wonder of our work.  How just over the course of months, a space can transform into a bountiful, life-giving garden.


While most programs are forced to be managed by grant cycles, the agricultural programs are first and foremost managed by the cycle of seasons. It’s a remarkably visceral way to be rooted in your work- to be bound by what can happen this season and  by what must wait for next season.

As we prepare to close out the gardens for the end of one season, we also begin dreaming and planning  for next season.




Connected to the land, again.

Posted by Lauren Bailey to Uncategorized

Few mornings do I get the opportunity to reflect on the power of space. Yet, today, as I mowed the Blackman Road Garden, my mind was consumed. When I speak about our program’s mission, I often say that our goals are to connect refugees to growing space. There is so much packed into the word ‘space’.


As I’m mowing and pondering more about space, I think of being able to breathe, to relax and to feel comfortable. I think of all this as the sun barely peaks through the clouds and the sunflowers are lit and dancing in the breeze. And thinking of green space offers another set of images, images of the freedom to come and go, to play and to work, to enter into solitude or community.

The conflicts that bring many refugees to the United States are conflicts that tear them from space, space used to farm or to live, to play and to learn. A son of one of our community gardeners told me last week that this was the first time in twenty or thirty years that some people in his community had been connected to the land again.

I watch the bustle of the morning, the birds chattering and the bees and wasps dancing from flower to flower. I listen as someone gasps at the size of the snake gourd now growing up our willow tree, and I know that providing growing space is more than providing a place to grow food. Our gardens are a sense of place that feel powerfully full of potential, hope and connection.

Refugee gardeners take a field trip to TSU

Posted by Lauren Bailey to Uncategorized

Last Friday, the Refuge gardeners and staff drove in a caravan to the TSU farm from the Refuge Garden; there was lots of chatter from the gardeners as we traveled. We were  headed to explore the  legume research of TSU professor, Dr. Blair and graduate student, Devendra.

Many of our gardeners at the Refuge Garden site have been growing beautiful yard long beans this season, and Devendra’s research specifically explored different varieties of this type of bean.

Dr. Blair and Dhan sporting their yard long beans- long enough to be scarfs.


We greeted them at the garden, explored the language of legumes and took a walk to their research plots.


The act of growing food can cross cultural barriers. We find ourselves in the midst of the plants speaking for themselves.

We returned to the garden excited and already thinking and planning for the next growing season.


Thanks to everyone who made this field trip possible: Dr. Blair, Devendra, Catherine Pearson-TFLI and Christina Bentrup- TNFP!


Elder program provides social integration for refugees

Posted by Lauren Bailey to Elders, Employment

By Zoe Yim, Social Media Intern

We left the Nashville Public Library Tuesday, July 22, 2014, but instead of going directly home, I dropped off a few members of the elder program. The intern just became a soccer mom.

Thus, I had to ask Grant Yoder, elder program director, the elder’s choices of transportation in order to come to Hillcrest Methodist.

Here’s what I learned about these immigrant elders. Several walk. Talk about dedication.

In order to foster community interaction, CRIT host field trips through the elder program. Since immigrants have more difficulty interacting outside their own subcultures, these program are a chance to practice English and also experience the dominating in Tennessee.

Elder, director and volunteers stand next to the book sculpture outside of the Nashville Public Library.



















Elder look at the Nashville Banner’s exhibit. The Nashville Banner was a former newspaper that ran in Nashville, Tennessee.




In CRIT’s elder program, we serve refugees or asylees ages 60 and older.  This summer, we have had 10 regular participants. They come to Hillcrest Methodist Monday- Thursday to learn English from 8:00 a.m. to 11 a.m.


Partnering with the Tennessee Foreign Language Institute, a volunteer teaches the program members for four hours.


This program has three major components.

  • ESL classes
  • Citizenship classes
  • Enhancement

- a period during the scheduled program which helps the individual with physical, mental and emotional health.



Two Nepalese immigrants wear the traditional Dhaka Topi(right and left.)

By Zoe Yim, Social Media Intern

Refugee gardeners find new outlets to express home culture

Posted by Lauren Bailey to Agricultural Programs

By Zoe Yim, Social Media Intern

A green chaos before my eyes, last Friday, I felt overwhelmed by what seemed to be a micro-jungle at Wedgewood Gardens. But to some, it appears that this greenery is more like an organized pattern of abundance.


Bitter gourd, also known as bitter melon, is plant popular not only to Burma but also to Japan, Thai and other Asian countries.













“Look tomato!” calls Christina Bentrup, garden coordinator for Nashville Food project.

Eggplant, tomato, squash, red noodle bean, and - the plant that gardeners were most excited about – bitter gourd are ready to pick.

The Nepalese speaking Bhutanese dexterously pick their crops from their designated plots. Carrying plastic and vinyl totes, colorful, lush vegetables go from bush to bag.

It all seems so natural to them. In those moments, when I’m taking pictures of the Nepalese Bhutanese immigrants, I forget that I’m in Nashville, Tennessee. It seems like we could be anywhere – even Nepal.


This gardener proudly shows his red noodle beans.

Badri Adhikari hoes the ground before he transfer a tree to this plot.


Leela Rai picks her tomatoes.


I think it’s symbolic of what we’re trying to do – creating a place that feels like home, says Lauren Bailey, director of agricultural programs.

Many of these gardeners had an agrarian lifestyle before coming to the U.S. Allowing them to build upon the skills that they already have, empowers them.

At the garden off of Blackman Road, refugees from Burma also seem to be at home. This morning, they were looking for pests, making trellises and mulching by layering hay to keep weeds out and moisture in the soil.


One garden wraps twine around bamboo to keep a trellis sturdy.



Gardeners forming the top of trellises.



Cover crops are used to keep the soil moist and put nutrients back into the soil.




A gardener looks for mustard leaves ridden by pests.


By Zoe Yim, Social Media Intern


Stonebrook: a place for summer fun and educational assistance

Posted by Tiffany Hodge to RISE, Uncategorized

July 8, 2014 - Tuesday at Stonebrook

Tiffany Hodge, director of after school programs, welcomes children into Stonebrook.

Ten students came. Well, eleven, if you count the five year-old who came with his brother. Students are elementary and middle schoolers.

“All right, everyone! Get into groups of three, and answer this question, ‘Do you think freedom is free or does it come at a cost?’”

Qena Armstrong writes the introductory question on the board.




This week’s icebreaker is themed with a post-July Fourth tinge. Ms. Qena Armstrong, RISE volunteer, typically facilitates such questions. Armstrong has taught classes for almost one year, since September 2013.

As she finishes the icebreaker and hurries through a quick vocabulary lesson, a guest, Sisavanh Houghton, brings out her canvas.

Sisavanh Houghton is an art professor at MTSU and is helping with the Frist Center’s Exquisite Nashville project.



Exquisite Nashville

Houghton is a part of the Exquisite Nashville project, hosted by the Frist Center.

The creators of the project are interested in the way that different cultures blend. Many immigrant groups find their home and have changed the city to have a surprisingly multicultural feel. The project incorporates the Exquisite Corpse.

Different community partners have a piece of the artwork, but none of them know what the whole looks like. After completion, the exhibition will be March-July 2015.

The children lean forward to look at Houghton’s canvases. She finished these Pollock-like canvases over the weekend. She instructs the children that they will be sketching animal shapes onto the canvases.

July 10, 2014 - Thursday at Stonebrook

Squeegee in hand, the Hip Hues assistant pushes the vert green ink across the screen. Children circled around her, the assistant produces a white t-shirt with a RISE logo.

After her instructions, RISE students form a line as they compete to be first in line to make their very own t-shirt.

Green ink is smoothed into the screen to imprint a logo.



RISE students sport their newly made t-shirts proudly shortly before going to the tennis court.



After making t-shirts, students and Qena Armstrong, the volunteer teacher, congregate to the tennis court playing a short math game.

RISE in the Summer!

Posted by Tiffany Hodge to News, RISE

For the first time, students in the RISE after school program have the opportunity to participate in programming during the summer, thanks to a grant from the Metro Development and Housing Authority (MDHA). On Tuesdays and Thursdays throughout June and July, students at the Stonebrook RISE location participate in a variety of math and reading activities to keep them from the dreaded “summer slide,” in which students forget part of what they have learned over the school year. They have also had the opportunity to participate in several field trips. The students have gone to the Edmondson Pike Library, where they observed a series of entertaining science experiments and then checked out books of their choosing. They also have gone to the Wedgewood Community Garden to learn about eating healthy fruits and vegetables and harvest some of the Nashville Food Project’s tomatoes and okra! This summer, the program has a concentrated focus on health and wellness, so these outings really drive home in an experiential way the importance of eating well.

CRIT is also partnering with the Frist to create works of art around the idea of shared culture, under the title, “Exquisite Nashville.” Our students have already created two art pieces, with two more to go! Our teaching artist is Sisavanh Houghton, who also teaches at MTSU.

Thanks to MDHA, Nashville Food Project, the Frist, Second Harvest, and the Church of the Redeemer for making this all possible!




Spring Showcase - An Enormous Success!

Posted by Tiffany Hodge to News, RISE

At the end of each programming year, Nashville After Zone Alliance (NAZA) holds the Amazing Race and Showcase to bring all the students together who have participated in the NAZA after school programs across Nashville. RISE has 4 sites that participated in this year’s Showcase. They all took part in the Field Day activities at Glencliff High School and showed off their art from their enhancement activities throughout the year. One site, Stonebrook, did a performance - they sang a song that they wrote with the help of an artist from the YMCA’s artEMBRACE. Another site, Haywood, won the Banner contest (see below). Mayor Karl Dean welcomed the students and handed out awards, including to two of our site coordinators, who completed the training module for Nashville’s Youth Coalition.

Thanks to all our site coordinators and volunteers for helping to make this such a great day for our students, and to all the staff of NAZA for planning such a wonderful event!


Stonebrook Students.

Millwood Students

Stonebrook’s Mural

Haywood’s winning Banner.


Koshari: Cooking Egyptian Foods and Writing with our Middle School Students!

Posted by Tiffany Hodge to Uncategorized

Can you picture freshly made pasta drying on a coat hanger? Hanging from a ceiling light fixture?  Well, at the RISE Millwood site we needed to hang the pasta out to dry somewhere, and a student’s clever idea was right on the money.   On March 10th, our students spent the enhancement hour  learning to combine fresh ingredients like tomatoes, onions, and garlic with lentils, rice, and macaroni to make a traditional  Egyptian dish called Koshari; we also learned how to make our own pasta from scratch and discussed what makes a food “raw,” how to eat healthy whole foods, and how to write out a recipe.  Our students were even tasked with consulting their families’ recipes to check the authenticity of our RISE Koshari.

So feel free to come visit us but full disclaimer: you might have to chop up some vegetables.
Special thanks to Laura Wallace and Brook Gillon for working with our RISE Millwood students!

Hanging noodles.

Eating great food!

Writing recipes.


CRIT Benefit at the Basement March 20, 8 p.m.

Posted by Tiffany Hodge to Events, Uncategorized

Join us on Thursday, March 20th at 8 p.m. at the Basement to see Anthony Adams & the Nite Owls, Brittany Kennell, The Beagles, Lewis, and Lauren Adelle perform at On the Stage Nashville. You will hear some of the best voices in town for only $5 AND the proceeds from the event will benefit CRIT! The proceeds will directly support our Ride to Learn campaign, in which we are asking for your donations to help us purchase a van to transport our refugee and immigrant students who lack transportation but are dedicated students in our elders, agricultural, and afterschool programs. Check out Lauren Adelle singing below and we’ll see you on Thursday!

Ready to Change the World, One Book at a Time

Posted by Tiffany Hodge to News, RISE

The year so far with the students at the CRIT-RISE-Haywood program has been a joy, complete with many surprises. It has been my pleasure to see them grow. Each time they shock me with courage and talent that none of us knew existed. We began 2014 with the Hip Hop Enhancement. Many of the students thought they were familiar with this style of dance, but soon found out it was harder than it looked. That didn’t stop any of them.  The students learned a routine and really had fun doing it. Some of them were naturals, others not so much, but the real treat was the dedication it took to learn the routine and to see them rise to the occasion. The next fabulous Enhancement was Songwriting. The students came up with a fantastic, heart-felt song with the aid of Mr. Bobby. Now if only I can get them to sing it at the Spring Showcase.  Oh, and I forgot mention that one of the quieter students has a solo rap. Keep your fingers crossed.

We were able to squeeze in a field trip on the weekend. Some of the students had expressed their desire to go to the downtown library and check out books and movies. This was such a treat for us. The weather was fantastic and the students are all so good.  One student spent the entire visit time trying to convince me to change the number of check outs they could take home with them that day. She may become a lawyer, who knows!

All of the boys plunged into Fashion Design, even though they had already determined that this was not the enhancement for them.  To our surprise, there is that word again, the boys created some pretty neat things to wear. Maybe not to your surprise, the girls were all geared up and ready to make their fashion statements come alive in their very own article of clothing that they designed and created.  This Enhancement really got them going, and they became very detailed oriented and did not want to put the project down.

RISE is not all about having great Enhancements -  it is also about helping our refugee and immigrant population have a support system during these critical years of schooling. The students have come to know that when they step through the doors, they will be expected to expand and not leave the same way they came in. They love to read books, together and alone. It is great to see the community that they have formed. The students feel safe and are free to try new things and not be criticized for making a mistake. I love to hear when they are doing better in school or want to share something that they have done or learned that week or day. We have been working on comprehension and their ability to retell a source text in their own words. They are gaining more confidence in their ability to read information and retell that information. Soon they will begin to understand that it is from this point of mastery that opinions can be formed. I asked one student, “Why did I pick this book?” The student replied back in a sarcastic tone, “Because you want us to change the world.” I wanted to burst out in laughter: I guess they have heard me say it so much, they may be tired of hearing it. But I’m not going to stop. These kids can change the world.



Stonebrook RISE: Working to Achieve Our Dreams!

Posted by Tiffany Hodge to News, RISE

We have been doing lots of exciting activities at Stonebrook this Winter! We had our Fall Showcase in December. RISE students showed their artwork, and performed dance routines and songs they had written for their families and teachers, not to mention they cooked for everyone!

It was great to start a new chapter for RISE in January. This semester we have been very focused on academic activities and games, primarily focusing on basic math and reading skills since so many of the students have been living in the US for a year or less. Here are some of the activities we’ve been doing so far!

At the beginning of the semester, we took a field trip to see the Nashville Predators play hockey downtown.

We created a “Word Wall” where students bring in daily vocabulary words and write the definitions at the front of the classroom.

Our Science teacher just led a class last week where the students planted Snow Pea plants and we are eagerly waiting for them to sprout!

RISE students enjoy a Nashville Predators game! 

Ms. Tiffany accompanies RISE students to a dance clinic.

Mural Painting

For our art enhancements this semester, we have already had Theatre, Hip Hop Dance, Songwriting and are just beginning Mural Painting. In Theatre, the students learned about what it means to be a stage actor and learned lots of fun improv games that take a lot of imagination. In Songwriting, the students worked together to write a song about achieving your dreams. Several students participated in a dance clinic sponsored by Move and Grooves; they loved the chance to do more hip hop!

Many thanks to the Metro Nashville Arts Commission, Moves and Grooves, and the Predators FoundationRISE Enhancements are funded in part by the Metropolitan Nashville Arts Commission.

To Your Stations!

Posted by Tiffany Hodge to News, RISE

Apollo Middle School students have been very busy! Whenever I enter the school, there is fun, all-school activity happening!. My R.I.S.E. students have had a lot of energy and are eager to get together as a group after school.

This semester, we have a new schedule that includes sharing our week between the computer lab and the art room.  In the computer lab we focus on academic computer websites, such as ones that have fun English learning games and others that have fun ways to learn math.  The students really love the pirate game that quizzes them on multiplication tables so their character can run across the boat and make its way to the crow’s nest!

In the art room, we have been doing station rotations.  Each station has a different academic component to it. For example, one station is ‘egg shell math’: there are two pennies inside of an empty egg carton and each egg cup has a number written on it. Shake the egg carton, open it up, and where the pennies land, you multiply. This is a great way for some fun, light-hearted competition while learning multiplication tables! As you can see, multiplication tables are something we focus on! Its important to lock down that basic math foundation because it makes the rest of math a breeze. Besides our math activities, we have science trivia, a small library of books, and a homework station for those with homework.  Next week we are going to focus on literacy more by  incorporating the book library and allowing the students to create their own reading timelines!

“Cuz I’m a Champion!”

Posted by Tiffany Hodge to RISE

One evening in November, we took two sites of RISE students to the Frist Art Center to see two fantastic exhibits. The students were introduced to the paintings of Norman Rockwell. They also had the opportunity to view a diverse array of artwork from 30 African American artists.  The overarching theme of these two exhibits was “What It Means to be an American,” which the docents explored with the students as they walked through the museum.  We all enjoyed the experience, and I was glad to share this meaningful art with the students. But my favorite moment occurred in the car on the way to the museum, as I turned up Katy Perry’s girl anthem, “Roar,” on the radio. Four young girls – three Burmese/Karen and one Egyptian – joined together to sing at the top of their lungs: “Cuz I am a champion, and you’re gonna hear me ROAR!”


Exploring What It Means to Be American

Posted by Lauryn Ross to News, RISE

I can’t believe how quickly this semester is passing. Time really does fly when you’re having fun. We have been very busy getting to know each other and learning lots of new fun things together in RISE. Academically, we have begun spending lots of time reading together and working on reading comprehension using “thought stems.” Students bring in books to read in class daily.

We have been hard at work brainstorming things we would like to learn, including activities that each student can teach to their classmates. Our biggest focus at the moment is the Fall RISE Showcase. Students wrote their own RISE song in groups and then combined them to make one RISE song which we will perform at our showcase. Students are currently in the process of voting on what activities they would like to show their parents and teachers.

We’ve had an abundance of spectacular enhancement activities in our second half of class. The students have engaged in weeklong arts workshops on painting, fashion design, yoga, modern dance, photography and ballet. I think the most memorable experiences so far have been our special days when we go on field trips together. The students took a field trip to Vanderbilt University to see their artwork on display. They created paintings which represented how they felt about immigration and to send a message about how Americans should feel about immigrants and refugees. The students created beautiful artwork with representations of unity between all nations. This project came full circle when the students got to visit Frist Art Museum and have a personal tour to see the work of Norman Rockwell and another exhibit called “30 Americans”, thus getting to see other artist’s ideas of what it means to be American.

One of my favorite days this semester was when we had our International Food Day. Students brought food from their culture to share with the class which was really fun because we have students from 5 different countries. We all got to eat a big family meal together and learn to appreciate foods from all around the world.

I can’t wait to see what the rest of this semester, and this year, has in store!

Most Memorable RISE at Haywood Moment

Posted by Qena Armstrong to News, RISE

“Thailand like a small room, it is dark, there is no air.”

I teach RISE students at Haywood who are all special to me and have come to hold a dear place in my heart. Picking one special moment to highlight from this fall is very difficult. A moment that brought tears to my eyes occurred when we had our enhancement Partner, Southern Word, come and teach all of the kids to write down what life was like for them in Thailand and present it in poetry form. The poems were touching. One student was not able to get as much help from me as he would have liked and complained that his poem would not be good so he was not as confident about reading it. He felt his one sentence would not be enough. Well as it turned out, his one sentence was enough to bring my heart to feel the sadness and despair he experienced in Thailand. It went something like this…”Thailand like a small room, it is dark, there is no air.” The child that wrote this is only in fifth grade. He is very special and I am fortunate to be able to help.  I want to bring light into all the lives of each child that walks through the doors at Haywood RISE. I am honored.

Howdy from RISE at Millwood!

Posted by Jim Conner to News, RISE

RISE students at Millwood explore fashion design with YMCA artEMBRACE’s Kathy Franklin.

Our site is located in the clubhouse at the Millwood Manor apartments.  All of our students are 8th grade Egyptian students, and it’s been a pleasure to reacquaint  myself with this lively group.  Last school year I met these students as a volunteer for the cooking enhancement, so I’m so excited to be back with them as their site coordinator!  We have a core group of RISE veterans and new faces, too!

The students have painted over 30 paintings and created fashion notebooks in the first two weeks of enhancements.  They are certified watercolor experts now.  We have aced homework assignments every day, tackled algebra, vocabulary, identified states and facts, and even had time to play some games outdoors.

We’re going to have a fantastic school year at RISE - Millwood!

Greetings from RISE at Stonebrook

Posted by Lauryn Ross to News, RISE

Left: RISE students at Stonebrook examine their spectroscopes. Right: A former RISE student who is volunteering each and every day with new RISE students now that she is in high school.

We’ve just completed our second week at Stonebrook in the RISE program for the 2013-2014 school year! We have such a diverse group of students at our site this year, and the students are getting along great! It’s exciting to be in a community-based site where the kids have a strong sense of community, as well as preexisting friendships with their fellow students. Students range from age 11 to 14 and come from Nepal, Burma/Thailand, and Iraq. The atmosphere in our class has been very energetic and enthusiastic!

 In our first week of programming the students and volunteers spent lots of time getting to know one another and doing community building and bonding exercises. We have a student teacher, Haley, who comes every week to do science projects with the kids. The first week, the students made spectroscopes which break down light into rainbows. The second week she taught them a lesson about different types of rocks and brought some rare rocks for them to look at. In our first week during our enhancement time, the kids studied hip hop dance and learned a dance routine. This week, I’m working with the kids on prepositions and we have done many reading activities. I’m looking forward to all the fun activities we have in store for this semester!

Greetings from RISE at Apollo Middle School

Posted by Sydney Cannon to News, RISE

RISE students at Apollo Middle School stretch with Will Mattingly, YMCA artEMBRACE’s martial arts instructor.

When the final bell rings at the end of the day at Apollo Middle  School, the halls bustle with students getting to extracurricular  activities, like soccer, volleyball, and cheerleading practice. Some  students decide to stay after school for homework help in the NAZA  programs.  In my R.I.S.E. program, I have students from all different  parts of the world, including Egypt, Mexico, and Nigeria, who come  together and share this experience as a team.  My students meet me in  the cafeteria eager to find out what we are doing for the following two  hours.  For the first hour we eat snack, talk about the school day, and  then begin homework. They support each other during homework help time  and encourage the group to participate in the fun activities that  follow.  After an hour of homework, the students are given the  opportunity to participate in an enrichment activity.  For the first  week, for example, the students participated in martial arts with an  outside instructor, William.  We all loved William’s encouraging  teaching strategies and motivation to stay active! Thanks, William! This week, we are exploring what sparks our interests for career exploration and beginning to understand service learning.

Greetings from RISE at Haywood

Posted by Qena Armstrong to News, RISE

RISE at Haywood site coordinator, Qena Armstrong, works with students during academic time.

Our RISE site is at Haywood Lane Apartments. Most of our students are originally from Burma, and they are Karen. They are all wonderful children! They are so eager and happy to first have a healthy snack and then share about their day; they especially enjoy homework help. Time goes by so fast and when our enhancement partners arrive, time goes by even faster. Last week, we had a four-day drawing workshop. All of the kids drew so many pictures. I imagine we created more than 30 pieces of art. I can’t wait to see them in the end-of-semester showcase.  

This week we have gotten to know each other better through our service learning planning. It is amazing how high they have set the expectations for their project. We look forward to planning and implementing our service project. All but one of our students likes soccer. Can you guess the focus of our service project? More coming soon! I love that they like coming and continue to come. Today another child from the neighborhood joined us in playing soccer. One of our students has already recruited him to join RISE!

I love working with RISE — this is my first year, and I am looking forward to many more exciting days.

Befriend Diversity

Posted by Tiffany Hodge to News, RISE

“A refugee is someone who comes from another country to have a better life.”

Listen in as two students in the Refugee and Immigrant Students Empowered (RISE) program share their dreams for the future. The video was  created and produced by Melba Williams and her fall 2012 short form media class at the Art Institute of Tennessee – Nashville.

RISE Begins a New Year!

Posted by Tiffany Hodge to News, RISE

Will Mattingly, YMCA artEMBRACE’s martial arts instructor, leads RISE students in a martial arts sequence at Apollo Middle School.

On September 9, 2013, R.I.S.E. (Refugee and Immigrant Students Empowered) started a new year of programming. RISE is a wonderful program for middle school students! RISE students have the opportunity to get help with their homework in math, reading, and language skills, and participate in fun enrichment activities such as: fashion design, painting, songwriting, hip-hop dancing, and martial arts. This year, we are working with students from Apollo, McMurray, and Cameron middle schools. The program meets Monday through Thursday, 4-6 p.m.


Lauryn Ross, the teacher for one of RISE’s community-based sites, helps a student read during the first week of programming.

RISE is part of the NAZA (Nashville After Zone Alliance) system. NAZA seeks to engage and empower middle school students to increase their academic scores and stay in school, so that they can graduate with an array of post-high school choices in front of them. NAZA has sites all across the Nashville area, and programs range from the P.A.C.E. career exploration program to Moves and Grooves, a group focused on dance. Regardless of the program, NAZA partners all promote community building, academic improvement, and the development of leadership skills in a fun and safe environment.

If you’re interested in volunteering with us ~

Volunteers at RISE —

•   help English language learners with their homework

•   assist with classroom management

•   lead activities of their choice

•   have fun with awesome middle schoolers!

This is a great opportunity for those thinking about a career in education, especially with English Language Learners. It’s also a good chance for those thinking about working in the non-profit sphere to interact with refugees and/or immigrants. Regardless of the career you have in mind, you’ll love working with our middle schoolers!

Please contact Tiffany Hodge at [email protected] for more information.