Judge Melissa Blackburn

Growing up in Nashville, I’ve always been familiar with Nashville Rescue Mission. I especially enjoy serving meals during Easter and Thanksgiving. I think that’s because during the holidays, women, and children from the Mission’s other campus are brought over and everyone is served together. So many times I think we forget there are so many homeless women and children in our community.

There are many reasons at the root of homelessness. Many are homeless because they’ve fallen on hard times, losing their job, their home. Others may be homeless because their families can no longer deal with the pressures brought about by their mental illness. Regardless of the Judge_Blackburnwhy, I believe it is incumbent upon us to do whatever we can, as individuals, to make sure those in need are safe, healthy, clothed, and supervised. It is our duty for the good of mankind.

Prior to my election, I focused on employment law, standing up for employees facing discrimination and unfair wage practices. I have also been a strong advocate for children, especially those who have suffered the horror of sexual abuse. I decided to run for judge, specifically Division II General Sessions Court, because in overseeing the Mental Health and Veterans Court, I knew it was my best opportunity to positively impact the lives of fellow Nashvillians. The men and women I see in Mental Health Court are dealing with the issues resulting from their challenges, but also with the stigma that surrounds mental illness. Partnerships with the Mission help the court to address these situations. I’m not afraid of hard work. I knew this court would require it. It would also require someone with compassion for the hurting, homeless, mentally ill, and addicted. As a champion for the underdog, this is an area where I felt strong.

The toll mental illness can take on a family can be overwhelming. I know firsthand because my daughter lost her life as a result of her struggle. Since her passing, my commitment to help others dealing with mental health challenges has guided my work.

I see people who are arrested 50 or more times per year, who are trapped in a cycle of arrest, incarceration, release, and relapse. We, as a caring community, are charged with helping them get off the gerbil wheel. The best way to do that is to use available and existing resources to provide a structure that gives the mentally challenged a more stable environment to overcome their circumstances and have an opportunity to lead a healthy and productive lifestyle.

Nashville Rescue Mission is already providing resources and structure to those in need. In my court, I encounter many who have spent time at the Mission. I’m also happy to recommend the Mission to those in my court, when it makes sense.

It’s important for all of the agencies, state and local providers, and community-supported organizations such as the Mission to work together. In doing so, we make Nashville a better place to live, work, and raise families. Our work gives the people we serve a chance for a better life. That is why we are all committed to this effort. I’m proud to work with Nashville Rescue Mission in partnership for a better community.

A Nashville native, Judge Blackburn is a graduate of David Lipscomb High School, Lipscomb University, and Nashville School of Law. She was elected to serve as Judge of the Division II General Sessions Court in 2014. She and her husband, Nashville Attorney Gary Blackburn, have raised four children in our community.

Planting Seeds of Kindness

Planting Seeds of Kindness

Deborah loves helping people. In fact, it’s one of the reasons she loves working for HCA. “We are in the business of helping people. That’s important to me.”

As an employee of HCA, Deborah participates in their annual community day. “On this day, HCA sends their employees out into the community to give back,” said Deborah. “Over the years, I’ve volunteered at several different nonprofits, but building the Birds and Butterfly Garden was my first project at Nashville Rescue Mission.”

“I had such an amazing time serving during this project, I decided to come back and volunteer on my own time,” shared Deborah. Since then, Deborah2Deborah’s made many trips back to the Mission to help in the garden and manage other work projects on behalf of HCA.

“Working with the staff, other volunteers, and especially the men and women in the Mission’s Life Recovery Program has been a blessing to me,” said Deborah. “I love listening to them share their personal stories of how God has changed their lives. It’s also been encouraging to hear them relate verses of scriptures with each other in the context of gardening.”

Deborah says volunteering in the garden at the Mission provides a haven away from the fast paced, often materialistic world we live in. “I believe our society has gotten far away from nature today. God intended for us to be outside, to experience nature. In fact, it is His creation. I think it’s time for us to put down our phones and other electronic devices and pay attention to the things that matter.”

“There’s something about having the sun shine on your face and dirt on your hands that is therapeutic. It feels good to plant seeds, watch things grow, and be a part of bringing in the harvest.” Deborah admires the way so many of those in the Mission’s Life Recovery Program have made the biblical connection to gardening.

It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow. 1 Corinthians 3:7 NLT

It might seem odd coming from someone who works in technology, but Deborah, a Senior Business Analyst for HCA said, “We are so focused on our electronic devices there is a void in our lives today. We’ve become disconnected from real people. I think that’s why working in the garden has resonated with me. I can’t say I’m a great gardener, but it’s invigorating to be involved in God’s creation.”

“Working with Deborah has been such a blessing to the staff, the students in our programs, and to other volunteers,” said Billy Eldridge, Director of Operations for the Mission. “We’ve learned so much from her. Not only are we impressed with her knowledge of gardening, but the gentle, sincere, and peaceful spirit she displayed while explaining certain aspects of gardening touched everyone on the team.”

“Some days it’s hard to get up early and go work in the garden,” said Deborah. “But when I do, I never regret it. In fact, I’m looking forward to getting my hands dirty.”

Standing in the Gap for the Mentally Ill

Standing in the Gap for the Mentally Ill

On the first Monday in February, Richard, age 69, turned a page. He left Nashville Rescue Mission after a 524-day stay, and headed to Indiana to live with family—meeting many of them for the first time.

Walking out arm-in-arm with his sister, it was obvious Richard felt a joy long missing in his life—the blessing of family.

“About a year ago, Fred Hoffman, a Mission case manager, suggested we make a list of our most challenging cases and focus on what we could do to improve their quality of life,” said Mike Tatar, lead case manager. “We started case management for guests three years ago, so it’s still new for us. And while we provide this service to everyone, there are many who do not want help or are lost in the fog of mental illness and unable to ask for help. Richard was at the top of our list.”

“The day Richard reconnected with his family was only possible because a dedicated group of people made a concerted effort to help someone, many might consider unreachable,” said Mark Templeton, supervisor of Mental Health Cooperative’s (MHC) PATH (Project for Assistance in Transitioning from Homelessness) program. “I’m grateful Nashville Rescue Mission exists. I appreciate the collaboration between our staff and the Mission. It’s because of this relationship, Richard, and others like him, are able to get the help they need to win the battle over mental illness. Our goal is to increase a person’s quality of life. Richard’s quality of life definitely improved and it’s worth celebrating.”

“I was shocked when I got the call from the Mission telling me Richard was there,” said his sister Patti. “We thought he was dead. I hadn’t seen him in 34 years and the last time we spoke was in 1988. I can’t wait to take him home and introduce him to his new great grandchild.”

“The key to helping someone like Richard is in case management and understanding the connection between homelessness, addiction, and mental illness,” said Glenn Cranfield, president and CEO of the Mission. “It’s important we educate the community about these links so we can provide much-needed services without stigma or judgment. By providing MHC with office space and hours at the Mission, our case managers can refer homeless guests experiencing mental health issues to MHC’s PATH program, where they receive comprehensive treatment for their psychosocial and psychiatric needs. This relationship made it possible for Richard to get the help he needed.”

“While Richard battled alcohol early in his life, over time, mental illness debilitated him,” said Rob Frazier, case manager at the Mission. “It took months of Fred saying hello to him before Richard felt comfortable talking with a doctor from MHC.”

After a couple of months on the right medications, Richard recalled names and telephone numbers. A few phone calls later, Richard’s family made plans to take him home.

“What a blessing to see this family reunited after many years apart,” said Frazier, as he watched Richard drive away with his family. “I’m also thankful Fred could see the fruits of his labor before retiring after 25 years of serving the homeless.”


So how does someone like Richard end up homeless and living at Nashville Rescue Mission?

“If someone has an untreated mental illness things can spiral out of control,” said Tatar. “Without nutritious meals, their medication may not work, or because they are homeless and unstable, they struggle with taking it or they can’t afford it. It’s a vicious cycle we see within the homeless community.”

“There are many faces to homelessness, addiction, and mental illness,” said Tatar. “Connecting them with the services they need and developing an individual treatment plan plays a major role in getting them the help they need. But it only works if that person wants help. Unfortunately, not everyone does.”

“How can you go to treatment without the stability of a place to eat and sleep?” asks Cranfield. “A person needs to feel safe and be willing to trust those who are trying to help. The Mission provided Richard with a safe place to sleep and nutritious meals to eat. With patience and persistence, we reached Richard. It took time, but it’s worth it to see this man reconnect with his family after many years.”

May is Mental Health Month. Unfortunately, more than 1/5th of the 610,000 homeless people across the USA suffer from a severe mental illness, according to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. They’re gripped by schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or severe depression—all manageable with the right medication and counseling.

“Left untreated, mental illness can rob people of decades of health and life,” said Cranfield. “These losses are tragic because there is evidence that early intervention can prevent mentally ill people from deteriorating, halting what once seemed like an inevitable decline. And in the eyes of God, every single person matters. Regardless of their situation, circumstance, diagnosis, or addiction. God loves them and that’s what we are all about—showing each person who is hurting, hungry, homeless, or lost, God loves them and no one is too far gone to be beyond His reach. There is hope.”

Your gifts can radically change the life of someone like Richard. And in the process, touch the lives of the families of the mentally ill, the Mission staff, and everyone who hears stories like Richard’s. Because of you, lives are transformed and families are restored.