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Nicole Valentine Vaughn

She’s Heart of Donelson-Hermitage Influencing Women award recipient

Tell me a little about yourself. Where did you grow up? Where do you live now? Married? Children? Family?

“Before Nashville became the it city, I was a school-aged child living in the Paragon Mills neighborhood of Nashville. I was so excited to tell my friends that I was from Chicago, home of the Bulls. I was born there as both of my parents are from there, but I only spent four years in the Windy City until my family moved to Nashville just in time for me to start school at Paragon Mills Elementary School. Fast-forward 13 years to May 2000, and I graduated from Glencliff High School in Antioch. I knew I wanted to go to a small Christian college, because church was my second home as my father was a pastor in north Nashville. I received a partial scholarship to Trevecca University, where I met three friends in which we all still hang and reside in Nashville. I actually married one of their brothers. That’s why I moved back to Nashville after teaching in New York City. I don’t have children, but we aspire to foster one day. And now in my late 30s, I love to tell people, ‘I’m a unicorn, a native of Nashville.’” 

Do you live in Donelson? If so, how long? Why Donelson?

“No, maybe one day, fingers crossed. For now, I work in Donelson and spend a lot of time volunteering here. My husband and I currently live in LaVergne.” 

I know you’ve just been honored with the Hermitage-Donelson Chamber Influencing Woman award for “Heart of Donelson-Hermitage Award.” What are your thoughts on this recognition?

“I’m honored; it’s a blessing to be thought of in that way. I was actually surprised. I’ve worked in Donelson for four years. I’ve met a lot of amazing humans, but I still consider myself a newbie. It’s weird. Even though I’m a native of Nashville, being in Donelson is like discovering a new city to me. I love to give back and serve, and if I can encourage anyone to do that, I will. One of my favorite volunteer opportunities is serving on the board of Hip Donelson and volunteering at the farmer’s market for the past three summers.”

I know you are a Metro Nashville Schools Community Achieves site manager at Two Rivers Middle School. Can you explain what you do there?

“My role is to engage people in the community to help remove barriers to learning that some of our students may have, and I’m able to do that in a number of ways like assisting families with food, connecting families to resources in the community and finding volunteers to read with our students. If there’s a need in our school, I’m going to spread the word and do my best to find a community partner to help fill in the gaps.”

You have been in education for 15 years. What led you to this profession?

“Sunday school and babysitting led me there. I knew early on that I wanted to be a teacher as I was always watching someone’s child, and I started teaching Sunday school at the age of 9 at a church in East Nashville. I had a creative mind, and I would makeup unique but fun games for kids to play.”

What are some of the programs you have implemented at your school? Why are these important to you and your school?

“The Young Entrepreneurs Program where Two Rivers students have sold their items at the Hip Donelson Farmer’s Market and McGavock High School’s annual holiday fundraiser. 

“The Community Pantry filled with items from underwear, snacks, meat, uniforms, to school supplies for any family that has a child in a school in the McGavock Cluster. 

“Reading Partners Program where an adult volunteer from the community reads with a student once a week for 30 minutes. I love this program because our middle school students look forward to seeing their reading buddy – even our eighth graders. The program is for struggling readers, as well as the students who just need a little motivation to read more.”

Tell me about your work with Hip Donelson Farmer’s Market. 

“I currently sit on the board of Hip Donelson with a team of amazing board members. I am blessed to also call them friends. During the market season of Friday evenings from May through October, we spend a lot of time together as the Hip Donelson Farmer’s Market is volunteer led. My first summer with the market was 2017. I was introduced to the late Frank Trew earlier that year, and I had to see what the fuss about a market was all about.”

You co-founded Hip Eats. What is this? 

“Hip Eats is a program that provides food assistance to families of MNPS students in the McGavock cluster during extended breaks. My friends, Maria, Kevin, Julie and Frank Trew came together to make Hip Eats a reality. We have partnered with Nectar: Urban Cantina, Phat Bites and Donelson Café to provide monthly meal vouchers during summer months and extended breaks to each family that is registered with Hip Eats. Families also received food boxes and fresh produce. During the market seasons, families have access to Hip Eats market coins. We want our market to be available for all families.”

So, you like the Predators? Why so?

“I vividly remember the energy and excitement in the arena in 2002 when I went to my first game. I have been a fan ever since. Then in 2015, I started giving blood to receive free tickets to the Preds games. I also love that the Predators Foundation gives back to the community in various ways.”

Have you been to Honduras for mission work? What stands out about this work? 

“Three years ago, a family from Honduras moved to Donelson. I walked into the school office when the mom was registering her two children at Two Rivers. As soon as I heard the mom’s accent, I asked her in Spanish if she was Garifuna? With a surprise look on her face and the faces of the newest students to our Two Rivers village, the mom replied, ‘You are the first person in Nashville to ever know that.’ To my surprise, the family was from the same village where my friends and I volunteer yearly. The Garifuna community is a group of people in the Caribbean area, descended from a mix of Amerindian and African people, with many in Central America and the United States.”

What are your hobbies? 

“I enjoy playing tennis, watching hockey, kayaking, traveling, visiting new restaurants and meeting new people.” 

Do you have any pets? If so, please introduce us. 

“I want to be a fur mama one day, but I need to slow down my life a little.” 

If you are a book person, what’s the last read or movie person, last movie? 

“I have more than 200 books in my home library, but lately I have been listening to books on tape or podcasts. My latest read was “The Color of Compromise” by Jemar Tisby. It was such a good read. I love a good Netflix movie, as well. Did I mention I miss visiting Blockbuster?” 

What do you do in your spare time? 

“Spare time, what is that? I love volunteering.” 

What’s your favorite place to just chill? 

“I love New York City. After teaching in Nashville in 2005-2007, I moved to NYC to teach in Bronx, New York for eight years. I moved back to Nashville in 2015 because my best friend’s brother thought it would be nice to ask me out on a date after 15 years of knowing me. Guys these days.”

You like to kayak? Why? 

“I fell out of a canoe in 2011 in upstate New York while trying to save a teenager whose kayak tipped over. Ever since then, I was nervous to kayak or canoe again, but in 2017 my friend, Whitney Slovick, invited me to kayak down the Harpeth River with her. Since then, I overcame my fear, and now my husband and I love to kayak the Harpeth and Percy Priest lakes.

What’s your favorite dinner? 

“Zulema’s tamales – I wish I wasn’t on Keto right now.” 

If you could spend one evening with someone, here or passed, who would it be and why? What would you ask them? 

“Martin Luther King Jr. – what advice would you give our country now?” 

If you could see in five years, where are you? 

“Working for the mayor’s office or governor’s office in community engagement.” 

What’s something about you that would surprise us? 

“I have an 11-year-old brother. He lives in Illinois, and I don’t know him that well, but I want to get to know him more.”

Editor’s Note: Some answers were edited. 

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