According to the United States Census Bureau, there are 40.7 million people with special needs living in America today, roughly 12.7% of our population. “Most people think they take away from society, rather than contributing, which is a negative stigma that needs to be changed,” says Elizabeth Graham Pistole, Nashville’s Volunteer of the Month. Pistole works to create awareness and recognition to the value which special needs individuals bring to our society. “Many individuals with special needs, including my sister, are not allowed to reach their true potential because of the low standards and stigmas surrounding them. I volunteer in order to disprove the negative perspective on disabilities and show society that individuals with special needs have a plethora to contribute.”

Creating Awareness of Those with Special Needs

Pistole’s sister, Natalie Pistole, has Down syndrome and was one of the main reasons she co-founded her non-profit, Dancing Divas and Dudes. “After spending so much time with my sister and her friends, I noticed a need for something different that could be offered to help those with special needs.” Along with her extensive background in competitive dancing, Pistole co-founded Dancing Divas and Dudes in 2015 to help individuals with special needs develop physically, mentally, and emotionally through learning and performing a variety of dance genres. 

Pistole believes one of the strongest methods to erase the bias towards people with special needs is connecting with the local community in a variety of ways. “When we are out in the community dancing and doing our activities, people are getting exposed to the abilities of people with special needs. And, that they are capable, approachable, and are more similar than they are different,” says Pistole. “We have community events almost every month (pre-COVID), such as attending Breakfast with the Mayors in Franklin or a hang-out with Belmont students.” 

Pistole has also volunteered at other organizations helping those with special needs such as the Special Olympics Tennessee, Best Buddies Tennessee, and GiGi’s Playhouse Nashville. “After the first time volunteering it was way more fulfilling than I could have ever expected, and I left feeling joy, gratitude, and purpose,” says Pistole, “and I think that (purpose) can only come from offering others opportunity and helping them reach their potential.’’

After spending 40 hours a week volunteering as her non-profit’s president and also serving other organizations, Pistole sees nothing but benefits from the help she has provided and all she continues to learn in the process. “I continue to learn a lot more from my dancers than I could ever teach them. They teach me gratitude, unconditional love, and how they’ve pushed me to be a better person and be accepting of anyone who I meet.” 

Nashville’s Volunteer of the Month celebrates all volunteers. Some serve periodically while others, like Elizabeth, are dedicating their lives to service. All are equally important to Doing Good, the local nonprofit behind Nashville’s Volunteer of the Month. To nominate someone for this or another recognition, email [email protected] or visit

Doing Good, a 501c3 nonprofit, provides marketing and public relations tools and opportunities to nonprofit and government agencies.

Gunnar Eng

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