As Nashville continues to grow and diversify, locals are sparking conversations about making it more of an inclusive, welcoming place. Today, we take a look at three organizations that are leading forces in this conversation, thanks to their commitment to involving Nashvillians of all abilities into different aspects of the community. Achilles International — Nashville offers the opportunity for athletes with disabilities to lead healthy, active lifestyles and achieve their wellness goals. Fashion is for Every Body and its founder Alicia Searcy are welcoming those who are typically excluded from fashion to participate in runway shows and photo shoots. Plus, she is working within the local design community to broaden perspectives of designers, helping them make their designs more inclusive. SweetAbility Bakery, inspired by owner Chelle Baldwin’s oldest daughter, is a growing business that will employ those who have special needs and face the struggle of getting and keeping a job — and being safe in the workplace. Learn more about these local organizations!
3 Organizations Making Nashville More Inclusive
“I always had a desire to run the Country Music Marathon,” Theresa Khayyam tells us. “I found myself blind in 2010, and I thought, How am I going to do this?” Theresa tells the story of how she became Achilles International — Nashville‘s first runner. Achilles International is a non-profit organization that pairs non-disabled athletes with athletes with disabilities, including visual impairments and physical disabilities, and together, they run, walk and roll (wheelchairs, handcycles and walkers).
“Someone put me in touch with Sarah Hart, who started Achilles Nashville, and she asked me if I’d like to be the first athlete. I was an athlete looking for an organization, and she was an organization looking for an athlete,” Theresa continues.
Achilles International was founded in 1983, and the Nashville chapter was founded in 2012. The local chapter has grown tremendously since that time, and their athletes have completed numerous races, including the Country Music, Boston and New York City marathons. “It is for all abilities and ages. We have folks who can barely walk a mile, and athletes, such as Stephanie Zundel, who make it seem pretty painless,” Co-Executive Director and guide Amy Harris tells us.
“I feel honored and privileged that these ladies took time to run with me — I had never run before — and help me realize my dream. I had no idea what the hell I was getting into,” Theresa shares. For the past five years, Theresa has joined Achilles at McCabe Park Community Center each Wednesday for the weekly runs, and she has completed a handful of half and full marathons. “I am 53, and I will run until my body tells me I can’t. I am not trying to win the race, I just want to finish the race — I don’t want to be last, either.”
While Achilles promotes personal achievement, healthy living and active lifestyles, they also provide a sense of community. “Everybody gets along as a family and supports each other. We hear over and over again that the guides get more out of it than they give,” Amy says, looking to the 20 guides who showed up for the Bison Boogie 5K to support Lipscomb’s IDEAL program earlier this month. According to Theresa, the guides show up in numbers and give themselves selflessly. “I am paired with different guides every week, so I get to know different people. We have conversations, and before we know it, the 3-5 mile run is done.”
How to get involved: Achilles meets on Wednesday nights at McCabe Park Community Center from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. — daylight allowing — and participates in running events throughout the year. On Saturday, October 20, Achilles Nashville will host their annual Hope & Possibility 5-Miler and 1-Miler. Athletes of all abilities are welcome. Learn more here.
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Fashion can be the source of many men’s and women’s body insecurities and low self-esteem. Alicia Searcy is hoping to change that by challenging the stereotypes and changing lives through the transformative power of fashion. Alongside Krystle Romas, owner of Pura Vida Vintage, Alicia launched Fashion is for Every Body with the intention of using fashion “to promote body-positivity and self-esteem, while seeking inclusion for adults of all ages, sizes and physical abilities within the fashion industry.”
Born with cerebral palsy, Alicia is wheelchair- or walker-dependent. “Because I have cerebral palsy and am in a wheelchair, and I looked like a complete mess, people didn’t see me as a person,” Alicia says of her awakening to fashion. “I used fashion as a tool for approachability, and that grew into a love of fashion.” Alicia’s personal style is unique — art punk, part Bowie, part Nashville and part badass.
The inaugural Fashion is for Every Body runway show took place on September 10, 2016, and featured models of various ages, shapes, sizes and abilities wearing designs from local designers and vintage boutiques. “I was sitting at Fashion Week three years ago, and I had this thought that I could do this. David Bowie passed away and that was the signal that I should not wait to do things,” Alicia says of what motivated her to take the jump. “I could not have predicted how profoundly this has impacted people. It changed how they see themselves and changed how designers are viewing the way they make clothes.”
Alicia has story after story of people who have self-actualized by seeing themselves on runways or in photo shoots. “They see that people are looking at them as if they are just as important as anyone else.”
By partnering with makers in the local community, Alicia has expanded her reach. “The amount of support — from photographers, designers, experts in production — has been overwhelming and humbling.” She credits the designers for approaching their designs with a broader perspective. “We live in an inclusive world,” Alicia says. “A big part of what I have seen is this community coming together with heart.”
Through fashion shows, photo shoots and conversations, Alicia encourages everyone to use fashion as a language to celebrate who you are, regardless of shape, size or ability. “We should not see fashion as something elitist or exclusive, but inclusive. We all have to wear clothes, and we all deserve to feel good and shine as who we are.
It has been stated that 90% of all people with developmental disabilities will experience sexual assault in their lifetimes. Chelle Baldwin was alerted to this statistic when her oldest daughter, who was diagnosed with autism and apraxia of speech at age 3, showed signs of intellectual disability. “They told me the struggles to be aware of moving forward, once she reaches adulthood, are getting a job and keeping a job — and the sexual abuse rate. After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I knew she would need a safe place to work,” Chelle tells us.
The solution: a bakery with opportunities for people who are differently abled to work. “Rose, my daughter, likes to help me bake. She can mix and measure and roll out the dough,” Chelle explains. “There are parts of baking that people with varying degrees of ability can do successfully. I think it is going to be a nice transition for people who haven’t worked before and don’t have the ‘skills’ other people are looking for.”
Chelle is a massage therapist with a passion for baking and a B.F.A. and long history in art. She is turning that passion into a business to employ people with disabilities. Currently, she is working out of her home kitchen with the goal of expanding to a commercial kitchen. “Right now, it is just me, and Rose helps when she is not in school. We are still in the infancy stages. Within the next year or so, we can secure a commercial space and move forward with hiring people.” Chelle doesn’t intend to have a traditional retail bakery but plans to offer wholesale baked goods for restaurants, stores and businesses.
Currently, cookies, cupcakes, cake pops and more are available to order, and Chelle’s talent will knock your socks off. She can custom create any item just about anything your heart desires. See examples of her work here.
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