NASHVILLE — Alongside his duties as athletics director at Vanderbilt, David Williams also serves as outgoing chairman of the Nashville Public Education Foundation. At a recent meeting of the Foundation, Williams was taken aback by a disheartening statistic: Eighteen Nashville-area elementary schools are considered “library-limited.” That means 18 local schools are unable to provide necessary books to their students.
That led Williams to ask a simple question: What it would take to fund the books for a local elementary school? The answer, it turned out, was $35,000.
“I said, do you mean $35,000 a month? They said, no, $35,000 will solve one school’s problem,” Williams recalled. “So I told them, ‘Now it’s 17 schools, because we’ll take care of one.'”
Williams’ conversation led to Vanderbilt Athletics committing to funding books for nearby Buena Vista Elementary, located five miles northwest of the university’s campus. But the Commodores’ pledge has since sparked a partnership with Buena Vista that extends far beyond books. In the coming weeks, Vanderbilt student-athletes and staffers will participate in several volunteer opportunities for the first time at Buena Vista, a unique chance for the Commodores to make an impact in the Nashville community.
“We have about 350 student-athletes and 125 people that work in this department, and we’re all on board with this,” Williams said. “I wanted to find a place where we can make a difference.”
As the Commodores became better acquainted with Buena Vista Elementary, Williams soon realized the situation was direr than he’d learned. Along with downtown and North Nashville, Buena Vista serves two homeless shelters near the area. The school’s administration estimates 70-80 families of its 280-student population experience homelessness.
Vanderbilt’s partnership with Buena Vista begins in earnest this weekend. The Commodores plan to host a donation drive for household items during all three days of Vanderbilt’s home baseball series against Ole Miss. Fans can donate essentials such as toilet paper, paper towels, laundry detergent and other cleaning supplies at Hawkins Field. Vanderbilt student-athletes and staffers will then pass those items to students and families at Buena Vista.
The Commodores hope to plan more events with Buena Vista in the future. Vanderbilt student-athletes and staffers will volunteer as reading buddies, lunch buddies and P.E. class helpers with students. On April 24, Vanderbilt will host third- and fourth-graders from Buena Vista for a Field Day sponsored by Vandy’s Student Athlete Academic Center. Commodore volunteers will then return to Buena Vista to assist with the school’s own Field Day on May 18.
Service projects have become a common theme on West End. Last May, Vanderbilt teamed with Soles4Souls to send a group of student-athletes and staffers on a service trip to Jamaica. The athletic department hosted a flood relief drive for Hurricane Harvey victims in Houston last September. Those examples, among others, are why giving back has become a staple of Williams’ tenure as Vanderbilt’s athletics director.
But an opportunity to impact education in the Nashville community is particularly special to the Commodores.
“We are thrilled that student-athletes and staff at Vanderbilt will have the opportunity to interact with the children at Buena Vista,” said Alison Wenzel, Vanderbilt’s assistant athletic director for student-athlete development. “Our student-athletes and staff will not only be able to serve as role models to the kids, but also have the opportunity to cultivate self-awareness about the importance of giving back to the Nashville community and serving others.”
Williams said our responsibility at Vanderbilt, first and foremost, is education. That’s why he hopes the partnership with Buena Vista sparks a lasting relationship between the Commodores and public schools in Nashville.
“For a department of student-athletes and staff, it’s our hope that our involvement, wherever it is and however it is, will help make a difference,” Williams said.
Vanderbilt baseball’s household donation drive runs Friday, Saturday and Sunday during the Commodores’ SEC series vs. Ole Miss. Vanderbilt staff will accept donations at both entrances of Hawkins Field during the series. To learn more about opportunities to get involved with Metro Nashville Public Schools, click here.
Zac Ellis is the Writer and Digital Media Editor for Vanderbilt Athletics.