Three Little Words
Born in 1985 to a single teen mother, Ashley was in the foster care system by the age of 3. Most of her placements were abusive and overcrowded. In one home, 16 people lived in a trailer and the children were regularly beaten, neglected, verbally assaulted, and food was withheld. Another foster parent became a convicted pedophile. She was also placed with an alcoholic relative that was shot twice in front of her.
After spending almost ten years in foster care, living in 14 different homes, Ashley was finally adopted from a Children’s Home when she was twelve. Ashley is now inspired to use her story to better the lives of others. She doesn’t see herself as a victim but instead, understands the importance of praising those that step up to help others, turning pain into power, and encouraging others to create change for themselves and others. It only takes one person to change the life of another and her story serves as a passionate example of triumph and inspiration.
Reframing Your Life: What’s Good About Bad Experiences
Instead of letting my past experiences cripple me, I was able to put a positive spin on my experiences." A negative force can give someone a rallying point and lead them not only find solutions to their dilemma but provide a new path to happiness. Productivity, contentment, and success are just a mindset away. Finding opportunities for growth and learning are keys to enhancing professional and personal lives and relationships.
Keys to My Kingdom: School as Sanctuary; Teachers as Mentors
Ashley attributes education as the cornerstone of her success. "I was lucky enough to have teachers who took a special interest in me—an uncertain foster child—and nurtured me in the classroom where I felt safe. They made me feel special, talented, and encouraged me to continue to excel academically. They also called in abuse complaints and tried to protect me—even when they were ignored many times. One anonymous one probably saved my life." In this lecture, Ashley talks about the importance of recognizing strengths, engaging students and youth, and reminds us that school may be the only sanctuary some children have. Ashley gives us a unique glimpse into the lives of children that may have abusive or troubled home lives, and discusses how that can translate in the classroom.
Making a Difference: How One Individual Can Change The Life of Another
It takes only one person to change a life. We all know someone who has been neglected, abused, impoverished, ill, in foster care, is medically fragile, or has a special need. Heroes can be a foster parent, teacher, nurse, mentor, CASA, relative, pastor, peer, neighbor, counselor, community member, business owner, or friend. “Several people reached out to me and can be credited not only for my success, but my survival–and one was an unpaid volunteer.” Sometimes, the biggest impact is being made when you’re not even trying!
Ashley Rhodes-Courter is the quintessential American success story. Born in 1985 to a single teen mother, by the age of 3 she was in Florida’s foster care system where she spent almost ten years being shuttled between 14 homes—some quite abusive—before being adopted from a Children’s Home at the age of twelve.
Despite her ordeal, she excelled in school because she believed that, “my education was the one thing nobody could take from me.” Early in her life she felt compelled to advocate for herself and the other children she lived with, particularly in the abusive foster homes.
Her efforts and academic achievements landed her Eckerd College’s Trustee Scholarship—the school’s most prestigious full-tuition award. She graduated with honors and ahead of schedule earning a double major in Communications and Theater and a double minor in Political Science and Psychology. Ashley then went on to earn a Master’s Degree in Social Work from the University of Southern California.
During her undergraduate studies, she was one of 20 college students selected for the USA Today All-USA Academic Team and was named one of GLAMOUR Magazine’s Top Ten College Women. She was also selected as one of the four Golden BR!CK Award winners for outstanding advocacy for community change by Do Something. As part of their campaign, she was featured on 25 million bags of Cool Ranch Doritos. She was the Youth Advocate of the Year for the North American Council on Adoptable Children, has received the Kids to Kids National Service Award from the Child Welfare League of America, and was the recipient of two Angels in Adoption Awards from the Congressional Coalition on Adoption.
On June 1, 2003, the New York Times Magazine published her grand prize winning essay about her adoption day. She expanded her essay into a memoir, Three Little Words, which was published by Simon & Schuster in January 2008 and quickly became a New York Times bestseller, then an International bestseller. Her memoir is currently being made into a major motion picture. The book has been adopted by schools and communities as part of One School, One Book initiatives across the country. Ashley’s second book, Three More Words, is being published in 2015.
Internationally recognized, Ashley has been featured on The Today Show, Good Morning America, Nightline, Nancy Grace, ABC Primetime, Montel Williams, and other national media outlets. She frequently appears in local television and newspaper markets when she travels for her speeches. She hosted a television program called Explore Adoption which was produced by the State of Florida to raise the public’s awareness of foster children in need of loving and permanent homes. This segment won an Emmy in 2009.
In 2010, Ashley was selected to represent and mentor as part of Levi’s Shape What’s To Come campaign, an online, global community for women that offers opportunities to exchange ideas, collaborate, and provide support to one another. Her work with Levi’s was featured at the TED Women’s Conference in Washington, D.C.
Recognizing that child welfare issues are universal, Ashley spent time in Europe, South Africa, and China studying child welfare and social policies. In her community, she serves on the board of the Pasco/Pinellas Heart Gallery, PEHMS (Personal Enrichment Mental Health Services), and consults with many local and international agencies and groups that work in the mental health, human rights, education, and child welfare fields. She has also been a volunteer Guardian ad Litem (or CASA) and is a licensed and active foster parent, having cared for over 20 children.
Since the age of 14, Ashley has advocated for the half-million children still in foster care in America by giving speeches throughout the U.S. and abroad. She has spoken on Capitol Hill, has been invited to the White House, and has taught at numerous colleges and conferences for elected officials, judges, social workers, policy makers, and families.
In April 2012 the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce selected Ashley as the International Woman of the Year at their Iconic Women’s event.
At the age of 26, Ashley ran for the Florida State Senate — a race the media dubbed the “David and Goliath of races.” Ashley also founded her own non-profit organization, The Foundation for Sustainable Families, which provides services, education, organic food gardens, and outreach for communities, foster and adoptive families, mothers, and youth.
Ashley has turned her pain into power and she has a passion to share her story with those who have experienced adversity. Ashley strives to encourage education, compassion, community involvement, and positive outcomes for individuals, youth, and families.