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Pumping Strong Against Cancer

Tennessee is the Volunteer State, and according to Anna Hill of Nolensville, there is more than just the willingness of citizen-soldiers to step up to thank for it.

Anna and husband Elmer are the founders of Art Helps Cancer, a 501c3 established five years ago after they retired. Both Anna and Elmer grew up in Missouri and relocated to Tennessee in 1999. Elmer went through thyroid cancer, Anna survived breast cancer, and then their daughter Melissa in Arizona conquered the same ordeal as her mother.

“We had just moved to Nolensville from Brentwood when we were hit with my diagnosis in 2013,” Anna said. “We barely knew anyone at that time, but it felt as if the entire town rallied around us. People in Nolensville are so caring and so willing to volunteer a helping hand for any emergency. And I don’t think that attitude is in just Nolensville. I honestly believe the entire state gravitates in that direction.”

Cancer finally decided to back off from the Hill family’s courageous efforts, giving them an opportunity to reflect on everything they’d been through and all the support they’d received from their new friends and neighbors.

“We wanted to find a way to pay forward all that generosity and love,” Elmer said. “We had no plans for doing anything huge, and we certainly had no vision of growing into what we are today. Never!”

Art helps Cancer has a 15-member Board of Directors. “It’s absolutely heartwarming to see how hard they work,” Elmer said. “I don’t even know how many volunteers [there’s that word volunteer again] we have, not to mention the huge network system that’s developed because of everything the organization does.”

Anna is an excellent watercolor artist, which led to artwork being their main fundraiser, Art From the Heart. “We raised $15,000 at our first auction in 2018 and $50,000 with 100 artists, photographers, potters, and fiber artists in 2023,” Elmer said. “Nolensville and the immediate surrounding area is packed with artists, which is why Anna was able to establish the 501c3 Artists’ Guild of Nolensville.”

Most of the people associated with Art Helps Cancer work hard, many times putting in long hours. Why? What do they do that requires so much time and effort? That list is long!

There is a constant, ongoing search for services to make life easier for families impacted directly by cancer. Currently, house cleaning, handyman, and lawn mowing services are provided. 

Art Helps Cancer teams with The Heimerdinger Foundation to provide organic-based meals if requested. In 2023, the Nolensville Food Pantry provided complete boxes of holiday meals. 

“Care caddies” are delivered locally as well as sent out-of-state. They are filled with small, but comforting, items such as lotion, socks, handmade prayer shawls, cards drawn by children, pillowcases hand-decorated with holiday themes, and more.

And, of course, there must be competent individuals and teams to organize every link in the chain of item procurement and distribution, updating lists and contacts, and on and on. Forget something, and chaos follows.

“We walk a fine line in several areas,” Elmer said. “For example, we seldom reach out directly to a potential recipient. Instead, we go through a friend or some other contact. Churches and other organizations help us to find out the specifics of what a family needs. Even with all this effort, I would say we’re not even close to knowing all the cancer families.”

That’s why they’re excited whenever they can meet new people or organizations. “It’s also why we have a booth at places such as the local Buttercup Festival in the spring,” Elmer said. “We’re partnering with three non-profits. One is Angel Heart Farm, where kids with cancer interact with horses.”

Elmer finished by saying, “None of us focuses on getting bigger, but we do focus toward getting better at what we do. That’s what people did for us, and that’s what Art Helps Cancer wants to pay forward. We heal ourselves as we help others to heal.” 

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