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Atlanta Braves find a hero at Tryon Elementary

Atlanta Braves find a “Community Hero” at Tryon Elementary School

On a recent Friday afternoon, Tryon Elementary School principal Meghan LeFevers had to call one of her employees to the office, but it was for a good reason.

LeFevers had worked behind-the-scenes with the Atlanta Braves and others to set up a Zoom call so Renee Smith, the school’s speech language pathologist, could find out that she is one of the Braves’ 2021 Community Heroes.  

The special recognition honors Smith for her efforts to offer a program for students with disabilities to attend after high school.  In 2018, Smith co-founded the Exceptional Foundation of Atlanta before moving to Shelby in November 2019.  Smith says she is pleased to know that the organization she helped start will receive a $5,000 grant from the Atlanta Braves Foundation.

“It is incredible and exciting to know that what we established three years ago is being rewarded,” said Smith.

When Smith stepped into LeFevers’ office, she knew something was up.  Her colleagues do not typically wear Atlanta Braves attire at school, and the principal’s office is not usually decorated like a celebration is about to happen.

“I thought my husband was going to surprise me because he had been asking all of these questions,” said Smith, who has also served as the speech language pathologist for Beam Intermediate, Chavis Middle, and Cherryville High School.  “I had no idea it would be something related to the Atlanta Braves.”  

Smith received a box filled with Braves memorabilia, and she got to meet Braves third baseman Austin Riley via Zoom.  Her virtual interview with personalities from the Bally’s Sports South television network will be used for promotional purposes.

Through its foundation, the Atlanta Braves started the Community Heroes program in 2016 to recognize people who have taken action in their own community to help others.  The Braves and Bally’s Sports South will bring attention to the honorees and host “the day of their dreams” when all attention is on them during a Braves baseball game.

Smith’s dream day comes true on June 15 when she steps onto the field at Truist Park to take the spotlight as a Community Hero winner.  She will watch the Braves, who are hoping for another run at the World Series after making it to the National League championship last year, take on the Boston Red Sox.  So, does she think the Braves will win?

“Absolutely,” said Smith, who reluctantly admitted that tennis – not baseball – is her favorite sport.

While living in the Atlanta area, Smith and two colleagues, Lauren Marks and Susan Keeney, formed the Exceptional Foundation of Atlanta after realizing the need to provide social and recreational resources for adults with disabilities once they graduate from high school or age out of the public school system.  The program offers opportunities for participants to engage with their peers and connect with their community through volunteerism, social gatherings, and learning activities.

“In our work, we want to be a voice for students who need support,” said Smith.  “We want them to smile and feel connected.  We are very appreciative of the recognition from the Atlanta Braves, and this is a great opportunity to focus on the students in the program.”

The Braves will host Smith and her co-founders, along with family and friends, in a suite at the ballpark, recognize them on the field while a video plays on the jumbotron, and provide customized jerseys.  She doesn’t know everything that will be done, but she knows it will be a surreal experience as the Braves bring attention to an organization that is still very dear to her.

Click here to learn more about the Atlanta Braves’ Community Heroes program.