Community Partner Spotlight: PENCIL

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Our community non-profit partners are one of the most cherished parts of our League. Over the past few years, our Community impact has focused around two primary focus areas: Literacy and Human Trafficking. The Needs of Nashville committee is focused on finding new non-profit partners to work with so that we can improve our impact and help our local community. This past JLN year, The Needs of Nashville committee explored a volunteer relationship with PENCIL. Their mission is to link community resources to Metro Nashville public schools to help young people achieve academic success and prepare for life.

Thanks to PENCIL Partners, students work in state-of-the-art laboratories alongside teachers and industry professionals. Teachers design lesson plans that cross the traditional boundaries of education – such as linking data points in algebra with students’ Agricultural Science classes. Businesses work to create an engaged and excited student pipeline interested in their industry through internships and job shadowing, and now the Junior League of Nashville is dedicated to supporting and expanding on the phenomenal work PENCIL is doing through this partnership.

The PENCIL Committee is chaired by Meredith Capps. Last year she worked with PENCIL as chair of the Literacy Outcomes Committee, where JLN volunteers worked with several literacy-focused organizations to explore potential partnerships. When JLN accepted PENCIL’s grant application this year, she was the perfect woman to chair this new committee. Here’s what Meredith had to say about our exciting new partnership:

Q: What inspired JLN to work with PENCIL as a community partner? What did the selection process look like? 

Meredith Capps: PENCIL submitted a grant application as part of our Invitation to Collaborate process, which is the annual process for community organizations to seek grant money and volunteers. PENCIL is a desirable JLN partner because it is an established presence in Nashville with an excellent reputation, and their work in Nashville public schools aligns well with our literacy focus. 

Q: What activities are JLN members doing with PENCIL this year?

Capps: PENCIL’s headquarters includes a warehouse, the “PENCIL Box,” filled with donated school supplies, where Nashville public school teachers can “shop” on certain weekday afternoons and Saturdays. Our volunteers provide support there, and in fact, members of the public can volunteer to sign up at work at the Box via Hands on Nashville. We are also supporting evening and weekend programming coordinated by PENCIL’s for Family Resource Centers.   

Q: As the relationship grows and unfolds, what activities do you see JLN doing with PENCIL in the future? 

Capps: Though this year we will be supporting the Family Resource Centers (“FRC”) at the coordinators’ direction, as the relationship grows, it would be great for JLN volunteers to develop future programming in close coordination with the FRC coordinators. This would be something future committees could offer year-to-year. 

Q: What’s your favorite part about working with PENCIL?  

Capps: PENCIL’s staff and leadership are exceptionally professional and responsive.  They have made the partnership process easy, and our volunteers know when they arrive at a meeting or event that they will receive clear direction.

We also wanted to hear from PENCIL themselves. Many thanks to Kelton Bolton, the content writer at PENCIL, for sharing some insights into PENCIL’s mission and the programs they’ve created to better our community.

Q: Your work directly helps students and teachers improve their life and career, what do you see are the biggest needs for Nashville metro teachers to help their students?

Kelton Bolton: Metro Nashville Public School teachers often speak about the need of having enough school supplies for their students. Teachers say their students feel left out or embarrassed if they don’t have supplies. Stocking the LP PENCIL Box allows us to replenish the teachers. Another need is Reading Partners. PENCIL Reading Partners provide support to struggling K8 students using evidence-based strategies to increase literacy proficiency. More Reading Partners will help increase the reading levels of students.

Q: Which programs are the most popular / needed within the Greater Nashville community?

Bolton: The most popular program is the LP PENCIL Box where teachers can come in and “shop” at no cost to them. School-Based Family Resource Centers (FRC) are a great resource for the Greater Nashville community. The FRCs act as a hub for community resources, helping families navigate outside agencies that can assist with social, emotional and physical needs. Through assistance from PENCIL Partners, community agencies and other resources, FRCs can stock emergency food/clothing and develop services tailored to their school population, such as GED and English-language classes, counseling and eye exams. 

Q: How is PENCIL looking to enhance or expand their impact in the Nashville community over the next 5 years?

Bolton: PENCIL is currently engaged in PENCIL 2025, a strategic planning process that will guide the organization’s growth over the next several years. We know that we want to ensure more teachers and students benefit from PENCIL’s resources and expertise; that we can continue to successfully manage more than 700 partnerships that support MNPS schools; and that we can expand our fundraising capacity to sustain future investments in staffing, infrastructure and technology.

Q: What are you hearing from students in Nashville? What is one of your favorite success stories?

Bolton: The 16,000 students participating in the 39 Academies of Nashville grades 9-12 were served by 344 Partnerships with Nashville businesses for a total of $1.7M community investment. An increased 3,950 10th graders experienced industry field trips, and 3,557 11th graders experienced job shadowing. Preparing bright students for an even brighter future is a success.

Q: What has been your biggest fundraiser over the past several years? What made it so successful?

Bolton: The intimacy of PENCIL’s “A Little Night of Music” has made it a beloved community favorite. The signature fundraising event is approaching its 16th-year. A Little Night of Music is a unique collaboration with Creative Artists Agency that builds a bridge between the music industry and support for public education in Nashville. Guests enjoy cocktails, dinner and a silent auction before joining the artists, curated by CAA, on the stage of the world-famous Grand Ole Opry House for a very special concert. In 15 years, this intimate event has raised more than $1.7 million for PENCIL and the work we do for Metro Nashville Public School students.

Q: How can someone get involved with PENCIL on both a financial and a volunteer basis?

Bolton: You can get involved with PENCIL financially by making a personal donation or as a corporate sponsor, which is vital to the success of PENCIL and MNPS. Corporate sponsors directly affect the success of students. You can also donate purchased school supplies to the LP PENCIL Box. 

A person can also volunteer as a PENCIL Reading Partner by mentoring children to increase graduation rates, reading levels and self-esteem. Volunteering at the LP PENCIL Box is a tangible way to assist with receiving, stocking, organizing and distributing donated school supplies. A person can also become a PENCIL Partner to serve in or promote various roles: guest speaker, job shadowing, mock interviews, student internships, etc.

Q: What is the JLN doing this year and moving forward to help your organization?

Bolton: JLN volunteers supported the first annual Teacher Celebration & Community Supply Drive event this summer. JLN members have also volunteered several times in the LP PENCIL Box and supported all four of PENCIL’s Family Resource Centers. Continuing to volunteer is a great way to help move our organization forward.

Q: What do you see as the biggest literacy needs in Nashville over the next two years?

Bolton: The biggest literacy need is having volunteers work one-on-one with struggling elementary readers.  There are +/-20 elementary schools who have requested Reading Partners for their students who need extra support and encouragement in order to be successful at literacy standards.  We know that students who have an adult read with them on a weekly basis are more likely to improve their reading ability and grow their love of reading. 

Q: Anything else you’d like to add or let JLN members know about the important work PENCIL is doing?

Bolton: The teachers can tell you the impact in their own words:

Tom’s of Main Giving for Goodness – PENCIL



We can’t wait to see all the great things this partnership means for the Nashville community. Want to get more involved? Either sign-up to be on the PENCIL Committee next year or participate in our Members in Motion PENCIL projects.

If you would like to work with us on a blog post or are a member with a blog post idea, please email our Publications chair at

Author: Alexa L. Barnett, Publications Committee Member ‘19-’20