We’re looking forward to coming together on October 23 for Changemakers, our annual luncheon celebration of the hardworking people across Nebraska who are helping children bloom. And this year, we’re pleased to welcome keynote speaker Ashley Rhodes-Courter — author, speaker, and child welfare advocate.
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 10 years being shuttled between 14 homes — some quite abusive — before being adopted from a Children’s Home at the age of 12.
Despite her ordeal, she excelled in school because she believed that “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 DoSomething!. As part of their campaign, she was featured on 25 million bags of Cool Ranch Doritos.
In anticipation of the Changemakers luncheon, we asked Ashley some questions about her life, her advocacy, and how we can all make a difference. Here’s what she had to say.
Nebraska Children: What are some small steps we all can take to better advocate for foster youth?
Ashley Rhodes-Courter: It is never difficult to lend a hand to someone in need. There are a multitude of ways a community can better advocate for foster youth. One way is by supporting a local nonprofit that serves foster youth. Families can also choose to foster, adopt, or mentor a youth in care. Programs like CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) are another great way to be a voice for a child. I’m finding that oftentimes the school system and educators also need ample support to provide care for foster and underserved children in their classrooms. Mostly, recognizing the needs in your community and asking questions about how you can help is a wonderful start!
Why do you think getting an education is so vital to unconnected youth?
Education and love of learning was a huge saving grace in my life. When I was at school, I was not in abusive foster homes, and I thrived in the academic environment. But kids don’t have to be book-smart to succeed in school. It’s imperative that kids find a positive outlet for their creativity, energy, and passions. My education was the one thing no one could control or take away from me, and it has been very empowering.
Who are some of the Changemakers in your life?
My story is filled with people who broke the law, did not protect me, or even substantially harmed me; however, I was also fortunate to have a few caring individuals who saw my potential and helped me shine. The smallest act of kindness really can make a tremendous difference in the life of a child. One teacher gave me my first book, another staff member at a children’s home showed me consistency and kindness, and my CASA fought hard behind the scenes in court to be sure my day-to-day needs were being met.
What do you hope Changemakers attendees can take away from your talk?
I hope participants of this event will feel motivated and inspired to reach out into their communities to see how they might be able to change the life of another. There are so many ways to give back, and often people do not have to look far to see others who are struggling. Children in our own backyards are facing child abuse, neglect, poverty, malnourishment, and lack of access to schools or basic human rights. We all have the power to be — and raise — fellow Changemakers!
To hear Ashley speak in person and to learn more about statewide accomplishments from the last year, join us on October 23 at the Embassy Suites – La Vista! You can purchase your ticket today at NCChangemakers.org.