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Students with a Public Purpose

Last April, after floodwaters swept through Nashville, a group of Harpeth Hall students walked along the wooded paths in Warner Parks to help with cleanup.

They picked up trash and debris that littered the area after the high water receded. They planted young trees and saplings that will grow on the banks in the years to come helping prevent additional erosion and damage in future floods. They focused on fulfilling a mission of service learning that has long been part of Harpeth Hall’s educational foundation.

In 2001, The Louie M. and Betty M. Phillips Foundation established a community service endowment to support Harpeth Hall student service-learning activities in our community as well as through Winterim.

“You get to see things as a volunteer that you wouldn’t see as part of your job or career,” said Louie Buntin, who served as a Harpeth Hall trustee from 2001-2007. “And with younger kids, it really is important to learn how to be with people who have different experiences than their own. It gives you a better perspective on the world.”

Harpeth Hall’s service-learning initiative has grown significantly in the 20 years since the endowment laid the ground work.

Now under the leadership of alumna Jessie Morris Adams, Ph.D., the Public Purpose program offers meaningful opportunities for service and community building. Through this program, students live out the school’s mission to develop “responsible citizens who have global perspectives and make meaningful contributions to their communities and to the world.”

The opportunities go beyond addressing visible needs of the community. As a school, Harpeth Hall encourages students to think more critically about the root causes of burdens or inequities. With this framing, Public Purpose equips students with the tools to ensure their actions are thoughtful, inclusive, ethical, and effective.

“We want to graduate leaders who understand those complex, systemic issues, as well as the social, economical, and political factors that contribute to their persistence,” Dr. Adams said.

That focus has led to a 10-year partnership with Lwala Community Alliance to support wholeness of life in Lwala, a rural village in

Western Kenya, and to provide learning and service opportunities for Harpeth Hall students. The Harpeth Hall community, led by the student body, raises $8,000 each year to fund the Lwala Maternal/Child Health Initiative, which helps provide prenatal care, safe deliveries, child vaccinations, and nutritional support. Students with a Public Purpose

Public Purpose extends to relationships with local organizations, including The Nashville Food Project, Friends of Warner Park, Nashville Diaper Connection, and more. When lives were upended all over Nashville after the double disasters of the tornado in March 2020 and then the start of the pandemic, Harpeth Hall’s Public Purpose group took action.

During the earliest months of the lockdown, a few Harpeth Hall students learned how to make reusable cloth face masks — and they were ready to get to work when everyone returned to campus in the fall. Students designed a safe, socially-distanced way for mask-makers of all skill levels to engage in the process of cutting, pinning, ironing, and sewing. The students collaborated to make several hundred masks, in both adult and child sizes, and donated them to the YWCA’s Weaver Domestic Violence Shelter.

“I’m proud that our program remained incredibly active and robust during such a challenging and constrained time,” Dr. Adams said of the Public Purpose initiatives during the 2020-2021 school year. “I spoke with so many colleagues at other schools who essentially suspended their service work or programming because they were unable to figure out how to pivot successfully.

“I absolutely credit our success to the fact that we have built a program based on essential questions and understandings, not one that’s dependent on specific partners, activities, or ‘the things we’ve always done.’ If you run traditional community service through a handful of organizations, and those organizations aren’t operating, you don’t have a lot of options. Our students know to ask questions like ‘What is needed, and how can I meet that need?’”

That critical thinking reflects the vision set forth by The Louie M. and Betty M. Phillips Foundation two decades ago. The family’s connection to the school extends from Mr. Buntin’s mother, Betty Oman Buntin ’49, to his sisters, Leigh Buntin Johnson ’75 and Shelby Buntin ’76, and then to his daughters, Betsy Buntin Rossi ’04 and Allison Buntin Snavely ’07, and niece, Argie Johnson Campbell ’06.

Now, the family hopes others will continue to support Harpeth Hall’s Public Purpose initiatives as today’s students strive to navigate the school experience, college, and, someday, a career in a globally interconnected world.

“There are lots of different ways you can give back,” Mr. Buntin said, “and we hope this will help students find something that is meaningful to them.”