Child Welfare Activist, New York Times Bestselling Author, Keynote Speaker
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.
How It All Started…
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. 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.
In the Media
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.
Ashley currently serves as a National Child Welfare Ambassador for the American Humane Association as well as on several national and international boards.
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 almost 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 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 youth and families.
SPEECH TITLES AND DESCRIPTIONS
Four Letter Words & Three More Words: Finding Professional and Personal Balance
Ashley has been a mother to more than 20 foster children while maintaining a career as an international speaker, writer, and non-profit director. Often, people feel as though they must sacrifice or compromise their dreams for either their family or a job. Ashley knows first-hand the delicate balance of navigating complicated family dynamics and successfully negotiating the unique demands in our daily lives. In this funny, riveting and inspirational keynote speech, Ashley encourages audiences to organize, prioritize, and sometimes, just enjoy. Ashley also pulls inspiration and anecdotes from her #1 award-winning memoir, Three More Words.
Partial List of Takeaways:
•Maintaining focus in personal and professional environments filled with multiple, competing distractions
•Creating a plan that brings focus, purpose, and passion to the things that matter most
•Learn the power of saying “no”
•How to rid yourself of toxic relationships
Motivating Change in Three Little Words
(Based on her award-winning International and New York Times Bestselling memoir, Three Little Words) Born in 1985 to a single teen mother Ashley was placed in foster care at the age of 3. Most of her 14 placements were abusive and overcrowded. In one home, 16 people lived in a small trailer where the children were regularly beaten, neglected, verbally assaulted, and starved. Another foster parent became a convicted pedophile. At one point, she was also placed with an alcoholic relative that was shot twice in front of her. After spending almost ten years in the system, Ashley was finally adopted from a group home when she was twelve. Instead of seeing herself as a victim, Ashley has used her experience to find the strength to accomplish incredible things. She became a New York Times Bestselling author by age 22, holds a Master’s Degree in Social Work, ran for Florida State Senate at age 26, created and heads a non-profit organization, and she has been a foster parent to more than 20 children.
In this inspiring keynote, Ashley will show audiences how to overcome their own personal and professional challenges to accomplish more than they ever thought possible. She delivers her story with humor and grace, and attendees will leave energized and ready to take on the world!
Partial List of Takeaways
•Decode several key elements of resilience like: Accountability, optimism and openness, identifying constructive influences, and accepting and giving help
•Becoming a successful life strategist and overcoming fears or “failures”
•Impact positive thinking and introspection by turning set-backs into successes •Give hope, inspiration, and motivation through a personal story of perseverance and determination
•Encourage community engagement
Power of One Person and Making a Difference: How One Person Can Change the Life of Another
It takes only one person to change a life. We all know someone who has been ill, medically fragile, neglected, abused, impoverished, in foster care, or has a special need. As a foster child for almost a decade, Ashley had key teachers, workers, and volunteers that helped get her out of abusive situations and ultimately helped find her a loving adoptive family. Her story is an inspirational living example of what can happen when we give our voice to another. It only takes one person to change the life of another and Ashley’s story serves as a passionate example of triumph and inspiration.
Sometimes, the biggest impact is being made when you’re not even trying! Heroes can be a mentor, nurse, teacher, foster or adoptive parent, CASA, relative, spiritual leader, peer, neighbor, sibling, 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.”
Partial List of Takeaways:
•How to reengage or recruit employees, workers, or volunteers
•Top 10 tips on engaging the local community
•How to successfully raise funds for a non-profit organization or cause
•Turn personal pain or tragedies into a powerful voice for others
•How to help another while maintaining self-care and avoiding debilitating transference
Reframing Your Life and Leadership: 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 to not only find solutions to their dilemma, but also provide a new path to happiness. It is often our adverse experiences that make us that much more capable of success. Ashley Rhodes-Courter grew up in an abusive foster care system but went on to become a New York Times Bestselling author by the age of 22, earn her Master’s Degree in Social Work, run for State Senate at 26, and start a non-profit organization. Reframing Your Life and Leadership helps both individuals and executives become better leaders by empowering them to embrace their life experiences and translate them into meaningful, productive contributions to business and community. In this humorous presentation, Ashley takes audiences through her personal story and highlights key elements of leadership and focus that allowed her to triumph despite initial tragedies.
Partial List of Takeaways:
•Inspire compassion, motivation, self-confidence, and inner strength by exploring how our mistakes provide opportunity for personal growth
•How to maintain a healthy attitude and workplace by seeing the positive side of a negative situation
•Provide tips for self-care and burnout prevention
•Move employees to be more productive at work, home, and in their communities
•How to become the kind of leader others want to follow.
School as Sanctuary
Ashley attributes education as a key cornerstone of her success. In this presentation, 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. Ashley also gives customized presentations to students and youth for schools, colleges, libraries, graduations, and student organizations. “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. Teachers or administrators also called in abuse complaints and tried to protect me—even when they were ignored many times. One anonymous call probably saved my life.”
Partial List of Takeaways:
•Tips for teaching through tough times or connecting with troubled or difficult students
•Explore why some students act the way they do: the impact of coming from a broken home
•How to engage beyond the textbooks