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 the Children's Home in Tampa. 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. When she reported the abuse that she experienced and witnessed to her public school teachers, they protected her and called in the authorities. Soon after, a Guardian ad Litem/CASA took her case and helped her exit foster care and become available for permanent adoption.
The stability of a caring family allowed Ashley the opportunity to develop more than survival skills and further her academic skills. Thriving in the public school system, Ashley took as many advanced courses as she could and even started taking college classes while still in high school.
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 is currently enrolled in the Masters of Social Work Program with the distance learning division of the University of Southern California. She will graduate in December 2012 with a concentration in Children and Families.
In 2007 she was one of 20 college students selected for the USA Today All-USA Academic Team. That year, she also was 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 appeared in the June 2007 issue of Glamour Magazine, being nationally named as one of the Top Ten College Women. She was the Youth Advocate of the Year for the North American Council on Adoptable Children, and has received the Kids to Kids National Service Award from the Child Welfare League of America. In 2011, 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.
Ashley currently serves as a National Child Welfare Ambassador for the American Humane Association as well as on several national and international boards including, Amici de Bambini, OrphanAid Africa, Ghana; Children Without a Voice USA; and Family Focus Adoption, USA. Recognizing that child welfare issues are universal, Ashley spent time in Europe, South Africa, and China studying child welfare and social policies. Locally, she serves on the board of the Pasco/Pinellas Heart Gallery, PEHMS (Personal Enrichment Mental Health Services), and consults with many local agencies and groups that work in the mental health, human rights, education, and child welfare fields.
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 national bestseller. The book is currently optioned for a major motion picture. It has been adopted by schools and communities as part of One School, One Book initiatives across the country. From 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. She has spoken on Capitol Hill, has been invited to the White House twice, and has taught at numerous colleges and conferences for elected officials, judges, social workers, policy makers, and families.
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 April 2012 the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce selected Ashley as the International Woman of the Year at their Iconic Women of St. Petersburg event.
In 2010, Ashley married Erick Smith, of St. Petersburg, who also graduated from Eckerd College with a degree in American Studies and minor in Environmental Science. Both have served as Guardians ad Litem in the Pinellas juvenile court. They are also foster parents and for almost two years, have fostered 10 children under the age of five. Ashley and Erick are expecting their first biological child, due Election week, November 2012.