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Southwest Airlines Community

Change for Change: Helping Nashville’s Homelessness Outreach Efforts


It was April, 2009 when Nashville Mayor Karl Dean first learned about Denver’s Road Home (DRH), the city’s ten-year plan to end homelessness.   Dean and 120 Nashville Business and Community Leaders were delegates on the annual Leadership Study Mission, a trip to another city to study common issues and learn best practices to apply to Middle Tennessee.

During the DRH agenda session, we learned about Housing First, a best-practice model that offers permanent housing coupled with intense case management to the most vulnerable homeless individuals in our community.  We also learned about the funding arm of Denver’s Road Home, including the special Donation Meter Program.   Launched in 2007, the Donation Meter Program was designed to increase community awareness about Denver’s Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness. It has also acted as an effort to redirect the roughly $4 million a year that is given to panhandlers—most of whom are not homeless—into efforts that provide meals, job training, substance abuse counseling, housing, and other programs for those in need.  Denver currently has 86 Donation Meters around downtown and at Denver International Airport that generate $70,000 in sponsorships and $30,000 in coins every year.

After hearing just how much money these 86 Donation Meters (located in Downtown Denver and at Denver International Airport) bring in each year, it didn’t take long for Mayor Dean to charge The Key Alliance, the nonprofit fundraising arm of the Nashville Metropolitan Homelessness Commission, with implementing a similar program in Nashville.    Leadership Study Mission in action: Study an issue facing both communities, learn ideas on how another city is “doing it right” and bringing that idea back to our city. 

Back in Nashville, the “behind the scenes” work to bring the Adopt A Meter program to Nashville began.   Collaboration is always key to making any program like this succeed.   After months of discussions and planning, Nashville Public Works agreed to donate 30 meters to be refurbished for the program, corporate sponsors were asked to “adopt” a meter, and Mayor Dean shared his vision to incorporate an added element of art to the meters.  In addition to raising awareness and money for homeless outreach efforts, the Nashville meters would be a public art display for Nashvillians and Visitors alike to enjoy.

After learning about the success of Denver’s Donation Meter Program and Mayor Dean’s vision to bring a similar program to Nashville, it was obvious that adopting a meter was the right thing to do for Southwest Airlines.  After all, we are a Company of People dedicated to doing the right thing.  And, we LUV to have FUN.   Not only was this community partnership a great way to support homeless outreach efforts in Nashville, it was a FUN way to get our local Employees involved in this project. 

In February of this year, a “design off” contest was launched.  Employees were invited to submit their best design that would adorn the Southwest Airlines Adopt A Meter.  After the submissions were received, the Employees were asked to vote for the winning design.   The voting was tabulated and Nashville Ramp Agent, Ken Smith, was the artist selected to embark on this project.  Over the next few months, Ken spent countless hours of his own time (120 to be exact) designing, researching the right products, making trips to stores for materials, learning the technique of welding, painting, and installing the meter.   He truly went “above and beyond” the call of duty to ensure we had a spectacular piece of art, “Southwest Style”, to embellish our meter.   As you see in the photos, Ken incorporated a little music theme into his design (we are, after all, Music City).

Now that you have the background, here is how this story ends.  Almost 18 months from learning about this model from Denver, the unveiling of the first (just so happens to be the Southwest Airlines sponsored) Adopt A  Meter happened earlier this week.  Ken joined Key Alliance Executive Director Clifton Harris, Councilman Erik Cole, and Mayor Dean at a press event that introduced the meters to the Nashville Community.  It was certainly an exciting day for all!

Thank you to Mayor Dean, Councilman Cole, and The Key Alliance Team for everything they are doing to help the Nashville Homeless Community.   And to Ken, a BIG thank you for sharing your Southwest Spirit, talent, and most of all, your time,  to make the Southwest meter so special.

The next time your travels take you to Nashville, be on the lookout for these meters around downtown.   AND, if you want to donate a little change to the Southwest meter, you can find it located in front of Bridgestone Arena at the corner of Broadway and 5th Avenue.   Your change will help change the lives of the estimated 4,000 Nashvillians who struggle with homelessness.  To learn more about The Key Alliance visit


1 Comment
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This is a great idea, but many of the homeless LIKE being homeless! Between driving for a living for over a decade and working in bars, I've met alot of homeless folks. Many have psychological issues, but some of them are homeless by choice. How do you fix THAT?