“My story is a messy and complicated one, but one that I feel like it’s my privilege to share to help you go through your own.
I want to start with how The Shine Project started in the first place, and then let you know about the greatest loss of my life. These two things impact a great deal of who I am.
During my senior year of college, I took an internship at an inner city high school in Phoenix, Arizona. I was about to graduate, felt trapped because I wanted a job where I could write, serve other people, and be fulfilled, and realized that didn’t exist for me. My husband and I were dirt poor. We had used our wedding money to by a little, cock roach infested condo, and after his car broke down and mine got stolen at the same time, I was determined to make a new future for us as quickly as possible.
It was during my internship, helping teach a class called AVID (which prepares juniors and seniors in high school to go to college), that my world changed. I met these youth, many of which would be first generation college students, and my eyes were opened to the reality of their daily lives. Many missed school because they didn’t have enough money for bus fair, or because they needed to watch their younger siblings. All of them had this great inner potential, but the lack of resources in this community was daunting.
One day after learning that a student was sleeping on their tile floor because they didn’t have a bed, I knew that it was my responsibility to help these youth be able to afford to go to college to change the trajectory of their lives.
During this time, I had also started a blog. I chose a word for my year, and since I was graduating, and wanting to make something of my time and my life, I chose the word, “Shine.” I knew how terrified I was of failing, of not reaching my dreams, and was very overwhelmed, and I felt like other women throughout the world had to be in the same position as me. I decided to start a blog called, The Shine Project, to create a community for women that could inspire and motivate them to do the hard things in their lives so they could accomplish the things they always dreamed of doing.
My blog grew quickly, and by the time I graduated from college that semester, I was able to be self employed through the advertising money I was generating from my blog. I decided that I would use my online platform to be a voice for the students that I now had a great love for and connection with. I started raising money to help send them to college, and that first year we were able to give out 7 college scholarships. We were thrilled.
I soon realized that my work with the first generation college students was only beginning. I felt strongly that I needed to build a business where we could employ the students, and where the women reading my blog could purchase products from them to support them. It would create a connection where both worlds could collide and benefit one another.
I had never made a piece of jewelry in my life, but thought it would be a great idea to teach the students how to make jewelry that my blog readers could purchase and wear, so that every time they looked at their wrist they would know they were changing somebody’s life. I wanted them to be able to Wear Change. I hired our first student employees, invested $300 in jewelry supplies (which we didn’t have much more to spare), and went to work. We worked out of my tiny condo, and I would drive 2 hours round trip several times a week dropping off and picking up supplies to the students.
6 years later, we have our Headquarters in Phoenix, Arizona, and a brick and mortar store in East Nashville. We’ve given over 80 scholarships, and have seen our students graduate from college and enter the work force. Our products can be found in boutiques around the country, and it’s been so fun for me to be able to see our students get on airplanes for the first time, be promoted within the company, and watch their confidence in themselves grow as they’re given new opportunities to shine.
During the time I was a new business owner, had only been married a couple of years, and was recently graduated from college, we became parents over night. This is the greatest and most difficult part of my story.
We welcomed our two children, who were 4 and 6 at the time, and became an instant family. We had permanent guardianship of our kids, and were together for 4 years. Being their mom was the greatest thing that had ever happened to me. We hadn’t sought out becoming parents, we weren’t foster parents, and weren’t planning on having children for a few more years. Our story is very unique, very different, and very hard.
During that time, we experienced an unexpected and contested adoption. Just as quickly as they came, our kids were taken. I was out of town when the courts sent them back, I couldn’t even make it home to say goodbye. We had been fighting and pouring our entire lives and resources into this private custody battle, and it truly felt like we lost everything. In January of 2017, my husband and I experienced the greatest pain and loss of our lives, as we lost our children.
I have done one podcast about the details of our experience and story that I feel comfortable sharing. You can listen to the full details here: https://www.goodgoodgood.co/sounds-good/ashley
You being here now, means that you are joining me on the next part of
my story. The part that isn’t written yet. It is very important for me to use my pain and my grief, to help you get through yours. Once you are un-wantedly welcomed into the grief and loss club, you are given new lenses. These lenses allow you to see life differently, view relationships differently, and learn that both suffering and joy can co-exist with each other. Once you have these lenses, it’s kind of your responsibility to share what you see through them with others. This is not a club that I ever wanted to be a part of, but now that I’m here, I’m learning how to continue to Stand Up and Shine.
It’s my goal to be your cheerleader to help you do the same.
My husband and I now live in Nashville, TN. Creating a strong community of supportive women who I can serve, help teach, and learn from is what has given me purpose in my pain.
I’m so happy that you’re here, and I can’t wait to get to know you better!