YOUR Community Partners: 2021 Nonprofit Heroes

Oct 12, 2021 at 12:30 pm by RMGadmin

By Shelly Robertson Birdsong

We celebrate the people doing good in our community in every issue of YOUR Williamson. But in this issue, every year, we ask for nominations of nonprofit heroes from those who know best who is out there doing more, giving more, paying it forward more. Someone who exemplifies what it means to have a servant heart and someone who, most of the time, stays in the background, diligently and humbly doing what needs to be done when it needs to be done and for whom it needs to be done. 

They don’t ask for thanks, and sadly, more often than not, they probably don’t receive the thanks and praise deserved. But, then again, that’s just fine with them because their heart is fulfilled just by the doing. These are the true heroes in our community, working and volunteering at local charities and teaching us all about giving back. 

We are also blessed as a business to work with clients who are giving back to their community. As a business that always wants to contribute however we can with our business services, we are grateful that so many partners and people we do business with feel the same. 

To that end, as part of our YOUR Williamson Ten Year Anniversary Celebration – we wanted to honor our clients, who in a very real sense, have made it possible for us to donate over
$1 million in advertising and promotion to local nonprofits here in Williamson County, over the last decade. Without advertising dollars, we would not be in business! And if we weren’t in business to publish a magazine for and about Williamson County, then we couldn’t give back! 

A Distinctively Williamson Business knows that success is most often derived from contributing and reaping the rewards. Therefore, we salute our Distinctively Williamson Businesses in this issue and will continue to honor them in issues to come. In addition, the charities which they support will also be highlighted in numerous ways over the next several months to ensure that their stories are told and their causes promoted wherever we can. 

On behalf of all of us here at YOUR Williamson and Robertson Media Group, we salute our 2021 Nonprofit Heroes and our Distinctively Williamson Businesses!

Torrey Barnhill

Torrey has lived in Franklin for almost twenty-four years. She says she has “always felt pulled to be in a ‘helping’ role or profession – volunteering in my children’s classrooms and activities, fundraising for school events, fostering puppies, and supporting nonprofits.” Torrey started her nonprofit journey by volunteering for l’ Ete du Vin, the Nashville Wine Auction, raising money for cancer-related charities. She served as their event director for almost five years. She has a sister with leukemia, and “in some small way this was a means to help others walking this journey,” she says.  She is currently still involved with many charities, one of which is Friends of Franklin Parks. Torrey describes this organization as a young organization that has accomplished an incredible amount in a decade. “The resources that we support are open to the public; they contribute to our health and wellness and quality of life and provide opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise exist,” she says. 

Giving back is important to Torrey because she feels like you should leave a place better than you found it. “This can mean volunteering, mentoring, sharing awareness, but it’s all for the greater good of our special community,” she explains. Through being involved with philanthropies, Torrey has learned that every small action can have a big reaction, and that small acts of kindness can make a difference – something she witnesses with her amazing volunteers every day. 

She spreads the word about other charities by participating in community events and talking to people. When she hears what they are passionate about, she can point them to an organization that fits what they are looking for. For example, one of her mentors, Judy Hayes, recently told her, “Our vision only limits us.”  This was very impactful to Torrey because she says “volunteers and nonprofit leaders work tirelessly to bring the vision to life, and we can look back and see what has already been accomplished.”

Ellen Boyer

Ellen and her husband Bo moved to Williamson County in 2013. They founded The Brett Boyer Foundation in 2017 after losing their first-born daughter, Sadie Brett, to congenital heart disease. At first, this nonprofit started as a part-time endeavor but has turned into more than full-time as they honor her life by spreading CHD awareness, fund CHD research, support families going through hospital stays, and celebrate the Down syndrome community. 

This organization is important to Ellen because as she says: “Having a child with medical needs changed my life. Her having Down syndrome exposed me to a wonderful world of joy and love, to a community I am forever proud to be a part of and shout their worth. Brett’s heart defect opened my eyes to how common this diagnosis is and how severely underfunded the research is.”  Through the creation of The Brett Boyer Foundation, they have supported Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, High Hopes for Kids, Gigi’s Playhouse, and Best Buddies. Ellen gives back to pass along the gifts God has given us. “For the mom and dad receiving a diagnosis, as we did just five short years ago, it means the world to know someone sees you and is fighting for you and your child to have a bright future,” she says. Ellen has found so much healing in giving back in Brett’s name. To continue her legacy, she encourages anyone grieving to find a way to be the person you needed at the time of your tragedy. 

Ellen was so honored to be nominated. She was reminded that there is so much work to be done, but to not lose sight of our community’s good and willing people. She also wants our readers to know: “The support we have felt from Williamson County has been remarkable. What a beautiful place of generous volunteers! Bo and I are so proud to live here.”

Dana Marshall

Dana has lived in the Williamson County area since 2006, and she is a faculty member at the School of Medicine at Meharry Medical College, does cancer and microbiology research, and runs the medical student research program. In her free time, she volunteers with SaddleUp! as their horse leader in lessons.  Dana explains that SaddleUp! is important to her because: “The power of the horse in touching human souls (including mine), is amazing. Some of the moments I have seen between the riders and the horses are forever embedded in my heart.” She feels extremely comfortable in her role within this organization. She has learned in her many years of volunteer work to land where you can make your maximum benefit and where you are most comfortable. That is how you can get longevity out of your volunteering. Dana primarily focuses on SaddleUp! because that is where her passion is, but she does get involved with other organizations on occasion. “It would hurt my heart to think that a rider couldn’t ride because there suddenly was a volunteer cancellation,” she says. Which is why she sometimes volunteers with other nonprofits. 

Giving back is important to Dana because as she says: “There is so much to be done and so many people who can benefit from the caring of, and for, others. Not only does it benefit the person or animal or land that you are supporting, but in doing that, the benefit circles back to us and makes us better as well.” Her advice for others who want to volunteer is to find a place where you can contribute a little of your time to a philanthropic organization. Find a place or make a place where you can use it to help others. Dana was very honored when we told her she was nominated as a nonprofit hero. She explained, “I am not a person who does well with publicity, but It did touch my heart when Anna Robertson Ham contacted me.”

Kelly Mayes

Kelly Mayes was born and raised in Williamson County. She attended Vanderbilt University and moved to San Francisco shortly after graduation, but she moved back to Franklin in 2014. Kelly currently serves as a board chair for the Adventure Science Center and has been active for six years. Kelly explained, “The Adventure Science Center holds a really special place in my heart. As a child, the Science Center played an important role in opening me up to the different areas of STEM careers and possibilities. I was a kid who LOVED math and science, and so I appreciated the hands-on opportunity to explore those areas in real life. Since becoming involved, they have done a lot to expand and adapt to the changes that have been happening in the world.” 

Kelly feels that giving back is important because, “We live in an incredible community here in Williamson County, but it’s a living thing that relies on everyone supporting it. Giving back is just one way to strengthen our community. I am so grateful for the resources, mentors and people around me who helped open my eyes to possibilities when I was a kid. So, as an adult, I feel obligated to pass that torch down to the future leaders of our community.” Through being involved with community philanthropy, Kelly has learned : “that I have more to give than I ever realized.” She wishes she could get involved with more organizations, but her plate is full at the moment with being the Board Chair of the Adventure Science Center and helping with BGA’s Entrepreneurial Leadership committee. She spreads the word about philanthropies by connecting people in the community with events hosted by the center and BGA. Kelly was shocked and extremely humbled to be nominated as a 2021 Nonprofit Hero. 

Matthew Powell

Matthew is a lifetime resident of Williamson County. He is currently serving as the Director of Autism Career Training (ACT). ACT has been open for a little over a year but has been four years in the making. Like many organizations, opening their doors during a pandemic has thrown many hardships their way, but they are excited and eager for the future. Matthew explained that: “This organization is very close to my heart and what I have always wanted to do. I have noticed this need for many years serving as a high school special education teacher.” He observed the need for a program to help bridge the gap between a high school environment and the workplace for a young adult with autism.

Giving back is essential to Matthew, and he wants to return the favor to the community that has made a huge impact on his life. He first got involved with special education during high school through the Special Olympics, and he believes: “that this shaped the man I am today. I fell in love with helping students and young adults achieve to their highest potential.” He has learned through his work at ACT to accept everyone for who they are. Matthew would love to expand ACT’s reach and reduce the program’s cost to make their services more accessible to the young adults who would benefit from their program. 

Matthew would like to encourage all our readers to get involved. No matter what it is or what your passion is- get involved. “I always love to have business partners and volunteers at ACT. We are having our first fundraiser on February 26th at the Factory of Franklin and would love to have you!” he says.  Please contact him at “I would also like to recognize our amazing staff at ACT and the time and energy that they spend every day for our trainees and our organization,” he concludes.

Posthumous Recognition: Justice Cornelia Clark

Justice Cornelia A. (“Connie”) Clark passed away this last month. She was born in Franklin, a true local hero, where her family has lived for ten generations. In her professional life, she had the longest tenure of the Justices currently serving on the Tennessee Supreme Court, appointed to the Court in 2005. She was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court from 2010-2012. Justice Clark was devoted to her Christian faith, her family, community, and the rule of law. In her childhood, she was taught to live by the words of Micah 6:8 “To act justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God,” and she did so throughout her life. 

As an attorney, she represented many cities, police departments and several school boards, served as Franklin’s city attorney and was one of the first women partners in a large Nashville law firm. She was appointed in 1989 to the circuit court for the state’s 21st Judicial District (Williamson, Hickman, Lewis, and Perry counties). She was the first woman to serve the 21st Judicial District, and she was the first woman in Tennessee to serve rural counties. She served  in the Tennessee Supreme Court as director of the administrative office of the courts, and championed improvements to the court system throughout the state. In 2005, she was appointed to the Tennessee Supreme Court, and she was re-elected in 2006 and 2014. When Justice Clark was appointed Chief Justice for a two-year term in 2010, she became the second woman in state history to hold this position. Throughout her legal career, she was known as a trailblazer and successful advocate for women in the legal profession. During her tenure on the Court, she was involved in the Access to Justice initiative and pioneering the successful Faith and Justice Alliance, which brought attorneys into community faith-based organizations.

She has been a state and national leader and teacher, chairing the Tennessee Judicial Council and serving as the inaugural chair of the Judicial Evaluation Commission. She frequently spoke to civic and leadership groups about the importance of the rule of law and of an independent, accountable judiciary in protecting the constitutional rights accorded to all persons and groups. She was well known for ensuring that justice was accessible to others of all backgrounds, genders, races, and economic standing.

During her lifetime, she served on the boards of twenty-five nonprofit and civic organizations, and she worked with nearly seventy-five organizations, commissions, advisory groups, and task forces. She was a devoted member of Franklin First United Methodist Church.