Stephanie Willis


Stephanie Willis, Director of Public Relations

Stephanie was the child who would cry for hours if her parents accidentally drove through a pothole of bathing butterflies, the girl whose heart ached for stepped-on anthills and jarred fireflies, the nature lover who would rather play in her yard with the neighborhood dogs than go to Showbiz Pizza. Growing up in the rural Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina, Stephanie was surrounded by wildlife, plenty of time for creativity, and dogs for days.

In her early twenties, Stephanie met her first child, Chihuahua, Presley, just before moving to Nashville, Tennessee. Stephanie had landed a great opportunity in the country music industry and after a few short years of development, her lifetime dream of making music professionally was finally coming true. In an ironic twist of fate, she realized that she needed something more.

To the shock of her friends, family and fans, Stephanie walked away from her full-time music career and went back to school to finish her Public Relations degree. It was her first ethics class that made her aware of puppy mills. With unfamiliar time on her hands and a strong need to make a difference, she began volunteering for various animal shelters, walking dogs and assisting their creative departments. After hearing about Agape Animal Rescue, Stephanie reached out and hasn’t looked back.

Stephanie began making adoption and promotional videos for Agape that proved to be very successful. With an infectious energy and an unlimited supply of ideas, she quickly became an important contributor to Agape’s creative team.

Recently appointed Agape’s first Director of Public Relations, Willis notes “Being a part of Agape Animal Rescue is as natural as breathing to me.”

Stephanie is a Belmont University student and co-owner of production company, Willisoundz, with her husband, award-winning studio guitarist, John Willis. Stephanie and John have three Chihuahuas, Presley, Rock and Jazz. “Though my dogs are spoiled beyond belief, they do more for me than I could ever do for them. Agape makes this kind of love possible for dogs and humans all across Middle Tennessee,” says Willis.

April Hollingsworth, Photographer

As a child April would ride her bike, basket filled with “medical supplies,” around her small town looking for animals needing help. She would return home with lost dogs and injured birds constantly! It was no surprise that as soon as soon as she was old enough, she got a job at a vet clinic where her love and appreciation for animals – and the people who helped them – grew into a passion. While working at the vet during her freshmen year of college, a small stray dog that had been hit by a car was brought in with a broken leg. When the vet offered to fix the leg and find the stray dog a home, April became the dog’s caretaker and after only a few weeks of care and work, April helped the shy little terrier become a playful, cuddly and trusting dog. She named the dog Annie, and adopted her. April knew from that point on that she would always choose to adopt her dogs.

Upon moving to Nashville after college and starting Harmony Designs Photography, April’s favorite subjects to photograph ended up being the dogs! She even used her own dog, Emma (also a rescue that she found by her college apartment), as a model and spokesdog for the business. While working with Agape Director Tanya Willis to photograph both her personal dogs and her wedding, April learned more about the work Tanya was doing with Agape and wanted to help. She began photographing Agape events and then offered to photograph the dogs that were up for adoption to help them find homes faster. This has grown into a collaboration of two yearly fundraisers for Agape – Luv My Dog Day and Country Chic Canines – photographing the annual Glitter & Glam fundraiser, and a monthly photo shot of the adoptable dogs in the Agape program.

April loves sharing her home with her rescue dogs Emma, Indy, and Pixel and her rescued cat Oreo.

Helen Miles, Volunteer Coordinator

Growing up on a small family farm and always seeming to find stray or injured critters, Helen always felt like the line “but he followed me home” was a constant part of her vocabulary. Desire to help less fortunate displaced animals came naturally from watching her father and his compassion for caring for several strays over the course of years. “As far back as I can remember there has always been loved pets in my life including cats, dogs, ferrets, fish, birds, rabbits, and even turkeys. Life would seem pretty boring without animals around.”

While living in Arizona, she had a desire to help animals in some way and signed up to volunteer at the county shelter and she realized that she had truly found her passion in life. During this time volunteering she saw a tiny “old man of a dog” in a cage that was likely at risk since he was black and labeled as 12 years old. A quick phone call to her husband and explaining her concerns led to adopting their first senior, Rex, the Pomeranian, opening their eyes to the joy of adopting seniors and a realization that fosters for such dogs could save lives. Avid volunteering led to becoming a member of a small team, Second Chance Dogs, which worked directly with the shelter to get second evaluations for dogs at imminent risk for euthanization due to issues such as fear, aggression, and poor health; as well as being a member of the board of directors of Panacea Animal Wellness Sanctuary.

After relocating to the Nashville, Tennessee area, she was fortunate enough to be referred to a member of Agape who needed volunteers for an event, and an instant connection was made. Helen and her family opened their home to fostering dogs for Agape, specializing in the hardest behavior cases such as puppy mill dogs or seniors, as well as volunteering at events throughout the year. “There is never a dull moment in our house with three Pomeranians (all rescues) and an Aussie-Golden mix.”

Helen welcomed the idea of being the Volunteer Coordinator, understanding that great volunteers are the backbone of any successful rescue.

Pam Carroll, Operations Manager

As far back as she can remember Pam was fond of dogs. She grew up with dogs, horses, and other various farm animals in a rural town in southern Indiana. But her love for them grew when a little malitpoo named Snowflake came into her life. After moving from apartment life to a subdivision, Pam and Snowflake met Penelope, also a malitpoo. Penelope was just a puppy when Pam noticed that neighbors were not caring for her as they should. Penelope was developing skin issues. After a short time, Pam could not just stand by and let Penelope suffer.

It was then that Penelope became Pam’s and Snowflake’s first “rescue.” Always at her side, they offer her unconditional love and devotion. It was also at this time when Pam decided to help other dogs. Through a friend, Pam learned of Agape Animal Rescue and the great things they were doing to save dogs. Fortunately, she was not only able to help Agape as a foster mom and volunteer, she became their Treasurer. Today, Pam’s life continues to be filled not only with the love of her own two dogs but with the love of all her foster dogs, each one teaching her a new important life lesson.

Pam has over 25 years of business experience. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree from Virginia Commonwealth University and is a CPA in both states of Tennessee and Virginia.

Lara Flatau, Attorney

Lara Flatau grew up in a bustling and busy family. From early on, Lara wanted to add a dog to the family, but what with travel and everyone’s hectic schedules, the time just never seemed right. However, when Lara began attending college at Vanderbilt University, she accepted an opportunity to volunteer with the Nashville Humane Society. Her work there solidified her love for animals and really drove her desire to add a dog to the family. After graduation, she moved back home to Houston, Texas and welcomed her first dog, a Beagle named Bailey, into the family. Dogs have been a part of her life ever since.

Though she works as a lawyer, Lara has always kept an eye out for opportunities to help animals. When a coworker described Agape Animal Rescue and their mission, she was immediately interested in reaching out to offer her own expertise. When asked why Agape stood out to her, she said they are “a great organization that really takes the time to find great forever homes for dogs. I can’t think of an organization that I’d want to help more”. As a lawyer, she looks forward to helping Agape expand in the hopes of reaching even more dogs that are in need of help. “This opportunity for growth and ability to be a part of a positive change is really exciting.”

Lara currently works at the law firm of Harwell, Howard, Hyne, Gabbert & Manner, also known as H3GM, which fully supports her work with Agape. She and her husband are enjoying life in Nashville. They have a five-year-old German Short-haired Pointer named Riley who is a happy member of the family.

Lucie Rice, Designer

Lucie is an award winning illustrator and designer who has been doing graphic design work for Agape since meeting the rescue’s Tanya Willis and Gayle Kerr in 2009. A lifelong animal lover, Lucie began her artistic endeavors drawing endless pictures and paintings of the beloved family dog. Now, many moons later, she is still incorporating animals into her commercial artwork whenever she can. Clients include Purina, the Grand Ole Opry, Penguin Books, Simon and Schuster and the New York Times. She is a graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design. You can see more of her work by visiting her portfolio site, She also operates a side business called “Muttshots” where she creates modern and playful pet portraits:

Lucie lives with her husband and two dogs in Nashville. Lola, her “little brown dog” was adopted through an animal rescue in 2005, and found her forever home after two other families had given her up. Although she was left with some fear of abandonment issues, she remains one of the happiest, sweetest dogs on the planet. Hank is a recent addition to the family. In February of 2012, Agape brought a boxer puppy (formerly known as Crimson) into the program. As soon as Lucie saw that face on the website, she could not resist. “Handsome” Hank is a very loving and funny pup, and has added a tremendous amount of love and laughs to the household.

Lucie Rice Illustration and Design

Carlos Ruiz, Web Master

Carlos moved to Nashville from Santa Fe, New Mexico in 2000 with his wife, two cats and two dogs to explore the Nashville music scene. A graduate of the Berklee College of Music, he has worked as a studio drummer and has performed around town with various bands and solo artists.

In addition to music, Carlos also spent several years working as a print designer and has a graduate degree in Media Communication from Middle Tennessee State University. After getting interested in interactive communication, he transitioned his design career from print to web and spent a year working for himself as a contractor. It was at this time that Carlos met Tanya Willis and was hired by Agape Animal Rescue — his first client!

Now five years later, he continues working with the organization, which he says is “a model for what a nonprofit should be.”

“They are so good at what they do when it comes to fundraising, creativity and realizing their mission statement,” said Carlos. “It’s one of the most well-organized, well-run organizations I’ve worked with.”

His dogs, Pepper – a German Shepherd mix – and Blakey – a Labrador Retriever mix – were both found as strays. Unfortunately, Blakey recently passed away at the age of 14, a loss which he continues to mourn since the dog had been with him for so long.

“Pepper was found on a chile farm in rural New Mexico,” said Carlos. “Blakey was found near a camp site in Colorado by some friends of ours. They knew we were thinking about adopting a dog, so they brought Blakey straight to us. He was only a few weeks old and was found all alone.”

In addition to his work for Agape, Carlos currently works for Vanderbilt University managing web communications for one of the schools.

Agape would like to extend a sincere “thank you” for all the work Carlos has done to help find forever homes for the Agape dogs.

Raye Dene Berry, Web Administrator

Raye Dene first recognized her gift of connection to animals as a child growing up in Corpus Christi, Texas. Raye Dene proved to be an authentic Texas cowgirl at the tender age of 10 as she rode bareback on her horse, Diablo. The name, Diablo, means “devil,” and if not for Raye Dene’s prodigious understanding that he was not evil, but scared, he probably would have left a hellish legacy. This green broke half mustang-half pinto was wild, and even ran Raye Dene’s tiny frame under a tree and knocked her off.

In true gritty Texas fashion, she hopped back on Diablo, and with no saddle between them, you could say that they rode off into the sunset. Although Raye Dene’s relationship with Diablo stands out, he was not the only non-human member of the Berry family. Raye Dene had three horses, two dogs, two cats, a bird and a duck. If that is not remarkable enough in itself, they didn’t even live on a farm!

This Dr. Doolittle type childhood gave Raye Dene a sensitivity and passion for all living creatures. Her experience with Diablo created a belief that all animals deserve a chance to be loved and understood. This conviction led her to Agape in 2010. She started as a foster and fill-in photographer, but now administers the website and serves as an adoption facilitator. With her Shih tzu, Barclay and former Agape Alum, Ginger, the poodle, Raye Dene has committed her life to finding forever families for Agape’s homeless friends.