Hannah Nell will tell you she is luckier than most. When she came out at the age of 19, she already had two older siblings break that rocky ground for her.
“My parents were pretty understanding,” she said with a laugh.
But the Vanderbilt grad student realizes that many aren’t as lucky as she. As first a volunteer and now a board member for The Launch Pad, she sees the results of rejection, abuse, and neglect in the faces of the homeless young adults seeking shelter.
“The Launch Pad is a volunteer-based initiative to provide street-free sleep to youth between the ages of 18-24, with a focus on being affirming and welcoming to LGBTQ youth,” said Nell.
The organization works with churches and other groups to provide shelter for these homeless young adults. While the shelter is not limited to LGBT people, Nell said the emphasis is made so they know they will be welcomed.
Nell is working on her master’s degree in education and community development and action — a course study so unique and so in keeping with her own ambitions that it brought her to Tennessee from Iowa.
“It really stood out to me,” she said. “When I graduated from undergrad, I had a degree and I didn’t really know what I wanted to do.”
One of the things she did was help students set up gay-straight alliance groups at their schools. The tenor of each group depended on the direction wanted by the students involved.
“If the students wanted it as a safe place, that’s what it was,” said Nell. “If they wanted to use it as a platform for education and advocating, they could do that.”
Working with the young people was “a jumping off point for lots of good opportunities,” she said.
Nell worked as a legislative aide in the Iowa State Senate, calling on her undergraduate degree in agriculture, applied economics and political science.
“Not a great name,” she laughed. “It makes it sound like farming, which I know nothing about.”
The focus of her studies was on development, she said, and the focus of her work will be on making a difference.
“I discovered you can really make a difference in your own neighborhood and it was really powerful,” said Nell.
She intends to keep on making a difference and hopes to remain here in Nashville with her girlfriend Michelle, even after they both graduate from Vanderbilt next year.
“I was a little nervous about coming here,” she said. “I’d never lived in a state where discrimination laws did not apply to LGBTQ before. But it’s nice here.”
She just wants to make it nicer and continues her work at The Launch Pad. She’d like to see the organization get its own facility in the future instead of having to use the space generously offered by area churches. She’d like to see counseling and other services expanded as well. But for now, she and the other Launch Pad volunteers are just getting prepped for Season Four — stocking up supplies of socks, toiletries, linens, pillows, and donations, donations, donations to help the homeless when cold weather comes.