Growing up without a family is an all-too-familiar scenario for Ashley Rhodes-Courter. The 25-year-old spent 10 years shuffled in and out of 14 different foster homes, many of which were abusive. Finally, she was adopted by a loving family.
In 2009, Ashley was one of TakePart's '5 Under 25: Young Women Changing the World.' Not only did she overcome the difficulties of growing up in foster care, she became a best-selling author and youth advocate.
TakePart recently caught up with Ashley, and she filled us in on her exciting new ventures.
Teaming up with Levi's on the Shape What's To Come campaign, Ashley is one of 10 ambassadors serving as a mentor and role model for young women wanting to make a difference in their communities and abroad.
The Shape What's To Come website "is this great place for young women to go and learn how to get involved in their communities and share work they themselves are doing," Ashley says.
She has also become a guardian ad litem for kids in foster care (a guardian ad litem is an adult who represents the interests of minors). Through the National Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), Ashley advocates for the safety and well-being of children who have been removed from their homes due to parental abuse and neglect.
Next month, Ashley and her husband, a fellow guardian ad litem, will become licensed foster parents. Ashley hopes to provide care for infants, toddlers and kids of elementary school age.
She says, "I feel like I can't turn my back on these kids. To see a little one who is homeless, I can't ignore that."
"So I might not get as much sleep, or we'll go out to eat less and won't have that young single couple lifestyle, but if it's going to help save a child's life, I'm in."
Ashley is also considering adoption one day. "I've just seen the way my parents saved me," she says.
While in foster care, Ashley went to nine different schools and was placed in households that had problems with drugs, alcohol, violence and pedophilia.
One home she lived in was a two-bedroom trailer with 16 different children. All of the children, including her, were beaten and often starved.
Nearly 25 percent of her foster parents were, or became, convicted felons.
Ashley feels lucky to have been adopted by her amazing parents and wants foster kids to know that people are out there who care about them and want to provide them with a loving home.
Ashley's dedication to foster kids is also apparent through her advocacy efforts.
"I act kind of like a vehicle for communication among all of the groups who are trying to find progressive ways to find permanency for children more quickly," she says.
Another issue Ashley tries to put front and center for policymakers is "the business of foster care."
Federal funds, she says "can only be used for this notion of stranger care. The funds aren't free to use for rehabilitative services for biological parents so they can get on their feet and take care of their own kids."
One reason Ashley stayed in foster care so long is that her biological mother was a young woman still in foster care. She was neither ready, nor educated on how to raise a child.
Ashley says of the foster care system, "There definitely are some gaps, and I want to help rectify those gaps. I want to help with policies that don't allow kids to fall through the cracks, and also be able to be the one to provide clothes, food, shelter and permanency for a little one while I can."
Through Shape What's To Come, Ashley's hope is to give young women the mentorship and tools to pursue their passions and help others in foster care.