2013 marks the 9th year for Ellie’s Run for Africa, a 5K run in Nashville that has, to date, raised more than $410,000 and helped thousands of African children go to school. The run started from the passion of a 10 year old, Ellie Ambrose. And, while that is impressive, we wanted to talk to Ellie’s mom, Barbara Ambrose, to see how this run came about and how she supported her daughter’s dream to become a reality.
What brought you to Nashville and how has it changed since you arrived?
I moved here 23 years ago to marry my sweet husband, John Ambrose, who grew up in Nashville. Nashville has changed a lot. In 1990 I worked for Carden and Cherry Advertising and got to help with the advertising research and kick off campaign for the Cool Springs Mall. That entire part of town has developed since then. Our family helped plant Midtown Fellowship Church in 2000, which met at the old Rocketown in the downtown area for several years. That building is no longer there because it was in the footprint of our incredible new convention center. More recently, as I have bought and rehabbed houses in Historic West Nashville off of Charlotte Avenue, I’m seeing so many changes in this area, too–it’s becoming one of the next hip neighborhoods. Nashvillians have great energy and creativity and make this a fun, dynamic city.
How did Ellie’s Run come about?
Our daughter Ellie, who was 10 years old at the time, heard missionary Larry Warren speak about the famine and sickness in Africa. She was very moved by a video he showed, in particular by a mother who cried explaining how she had no money to help the starving child in her arms. She came home from church and said we had to do something to help. At first she just wanted us to donate the money for the roller backpack she had been asking for instead of buying it. Then within hours, she decided that would not make a big enough difference. She kept thinking and dreaming. We encouraged her ask God for ideas… Well, that might have been our mistake!Quickly, she decided she wanted to have a fundraising run, similar to those she had participated in before, but because not all her friends liked to run, she also wanted to have fun blowup games there, too, so those friends would have something to do. This was early November. We told her that it was a nice idea and thought it would go away. We were not too eager to take on a big project, and sadly we were not as troubled as Ellie was by the human suffering. Ellie however was far more persistent than that! She continued to ask us about it. Finally in December I told her that If she still felt like God was calling her to do this after the holidays, that we would figure it out in January.
The first Sunday in January on the way to church she reminded me that the holidays were over and she still wanted to do the run. At this point we knew we were either going down in history as the world’s worst parents or we had to help her. From there God began to pull in the right people to help see this dream of a 10-year old girl happen! First Kate Etue, a local book editor having recently completed a book on African issues, offered to be the event chair. Our church really got behind her and provided lots of man power. When I look back at those videos, I am amazed at the number of people who were helping the day of the first race who I didn’t know at the time.
Why as a busy mom of four would you choose to help Ellie start Ellie’s Run for Africa?
When we started we really thought it was a one time event. We had no idea how it would grow. But mostly I just wanted Ellie to know if she ever was inspired by a dream that she could act on it. So often we, or our children, want to help someone or make a difference or have a crazy business idea but we don’t act on it. I wanted her to experience the feeling seeing a dream to filiation in hopes that she would make that a life pattern.
How did you find time to help your daughter create this amazing nonprofit?!
I was working for our church, which certainly provided a lot of flexibility and support for the vision. But, there has always been an incredible team of volunteers who really make Ellie’s Run for Africa work. On the home front John is a great dad, which freed me up to help Ellie. Those are all the pretty, but real answers. The other side of the coin is that at times laundry sat in the living room for days, and occasionally a child was forgotten at a practice, but we all survived and have loved our involvement in this great cause.
What are your secrets to staying connected to your family and finding time for yourself?
We have always tried to make family dinner a core of our schedule; this is an important basic for us. I have also learned a lot from my teenagers about how to communicate with them and try to respect those lessons. I have failed miserably too many times to remember, but I always get back into the game and try again. I think that is the secret for our family, much grace and resilience.
Like all moms, I have to be purposeful to take care of myself. No one else is going to plan my personal time, Usually I have to choose to let something go undone in order to have “me time” but when I do, I am thankful I did.
I hear you never sweat the small stuff. How did you get to this place, as too many of us fret over the details.
First, that is simply the way God wired me. I can’t take credit. I am a generalist and a delegator. I probably drive people who are very exact crazy. Second, I had great parents who raised me the eighth of nine children and they certainly did not sweat the small stuff. Third, John and I have survived several bumps in the road like breast cancer, aging parents, loss of parents–life stressors which quickly put things in perspective. With each bump, God has cared for us and taught us important life lessons we could not learn any other way. Without them we would not be the people we are, which helps me look at the bigger purpose.
What advice have you received that you rely on time and time again?
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. Acknowledge God in all your ways, he will make your path straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6. The other advice I rely on continuously came from my dad. This advice was not usually in words but more in the way he lived his life. He was one of the hardest working and persistent individuals I have ever known. Often I think “if Dad could overcome his humble beginnings and create the family and business success he did, then surely I can, too.”
Do you have a favorite date night restaurant?
Anywhere that doesn’t involve me cooking, doing dishes, or instructing children on table manners! We did recently enjoy a great dinner at Margot in Five Points where our people watching included spotting Nashville star Connie Britton!
With summer on the way, is there a Nashville event that you are most looking forward to?
Well, of course I think we should all kick off our summer by going downtown Saturday, May 18th and running Ellie’s Run for Africa and catching some breakfast at the Hard Rock Cafe afterwards. We also love Movies in the Park which is moving to Sevier Park, a fun location. Going to Nashville Sounds Games is always a big hit with the Ambrose family. And last but not least, the new thing I want to do this summer is ride the “Moving Table Mobiles” that drive around downtown. They look hilarious!
Can you share your 3 favorite things, besides God, family or friends?
- Being on the lake during the summer
Thank you, Barbara! And thank you, Ashley Hylbert, for the beautiful photographs!