Neighbors helping neighbors should be the local Smyrna motto.

When two dear members of the Rutherford County community—Angi Ross Lambert and Carla Dillard—lost their lives to domestic violence, a group of friends from their former high school decided to do something about it.

One of these friends was Jason Tolleson, a local business owner recently recognized for volunteerism at the North Rutherford Family YMCA. While Carla was the sister of a close friend, Jason was especially connected with Angi. "She was the high school cheerleader that loved everyone, and she always had a smile on her face," he said.

Another close friend, Amanda Surgener, felt the calling to do something.

Amanda consoling Angi's mother, Charlotte
Amanda consoling Angi's mother, Charlotte

Amanda, Jason and a few others wanted to take an active stand in their community against domestic violence to honor Angi and Carla. They went into the North Rutherford Family YMCA and talked to the staff. Amanda fought hard for the race, pushing through obstacles and overcoming rejections. According to District Development Director Elaine Hanks, Amanda—who is a long-standing board member at the Y—"never lost sight of the impact our YMCA has for the community and knew that [a memorial race] would bring healing." With Amanda and Jason's dedication to bettering their community, the Lambert Dillard Memorial 5K race was born.

Now a Smyrna tradition every October, the Lambert Dillard Memorial 5K is a time for the community to come together and raise awareness around domestic violence. For Jason, the race is an encouragement to people that they can break cycles of abuse.

"People that are living with or have lived with abuse get to come out and see that others understand those situations, and will help them wear that smile again one day," he said. "We can help them break that cycle and support them through the process."

Friends share a congratulatory hug after finishing the race
Friends share a congratulatory hug after finishing the race

The race feels almost like a reunion, where classmates exemplify the exuberant spirits of Carla and Angi by wearing those same bright smiles Jason remembers from high school. "Angi cherished and valued her friendships. Anyone who takes the time to attend the race will be leaving with some new friends or will have reignited past friendships. Angi would love that we are keeping her spirit alive in this way."

In addition to the competitive 5K course, families join together for games, a firetruck and smoke house, a kids fun run, a photo booth, and even a bouncy house (slide included!). The race is held at Sharp Springs Park, and neighbors come out in force to show solidarity for the cause.

"When you see your own local community come out so strongly in support, it's so uplifting to those who need it the most," Jason said. "And, just maybe, it's enough to empower someone to no longer be a victim. That's my hope!"