Ashleigh, when I decided to do another set of interviews this fall, you were the first person we got scheduled. So, first of all, thank you for doing this! Second, tell us a little bit about yourself.
I was born in Missoula and raised in Helena. After high school I spread my wings for a few years and traveled, took a few college classes, just trying to find my place in the world. 2003 brought me back to Montana and I’ve never left. I finished my bachelor’s degree in business management online through MSU-Billings while working full-time at Belgrade Urgent Care. After earning my degree, I went on the job hunt for something to bring me back to Helena. My momma lives here, and I wanted to be closer. I stumbled across an Accounts Payable position with West Mont and have never left! I’ve grown my career in the last six and half years with this company and am excited to now lead a team of wonderful people and serve our clients by providing them their best life possible.
One more exciting life event… I got engaged on July 27th to my soulmate and we are planning a September 21, 2019 wedding! We have a yellow lab puppy, Bristol, and are looking forward to jumping both feet in to the rest of our lives together.
I met you through your work as Executive Director of West Mont, an organization I truly admire. I would love for you to tell us about the important work you are doing there.
Have you ever dreamed of working for a company where you went home every evening and knew that you made a difference in someone’s life? I get to do that EVERYDAY!
I could brag about West Mont all day, every day… wait, I kind of already do that! West Mont is such an amazing non-profit. We serve on average 100 adults with disabilities a day! Our services include everything from residential group homes, work sites, supported living services for clients that do not reside with us, and a large supported employment program where we find jobs, teach skills, and mentor clients. Our clients are our number one priority and we strive to provide them with a life they deserve. We are very active in the community, making every effort we can to integrate our clients with the public. We strive to educate the community on how to be comfortable around a person with a disability.
One of the things I noticed immediately is how West Mont models to the rest of us how inclusion can and should happen for those with disabilities. What are some tangible things we can do in our communities to ensure everyone has a seat at the table?
Inclusion – such a strong word that we hear frequently around here. I have to say that my mantra is to treat someone the way that you would want to be treated. Our clients with disabilities are just like you and me. We all have things we love to do, hate to do, and want to do. We make every effort at West Mont to treat our clients with respect. We listen to them, talk to them, and include them in everyday activities. Our staff are truly friends and family to our clients. We strive to make sure that each one of them, no matter their abilities, can live the life they want to live.
Did you know that nearly 20% of our population are people with disabilities? As a community we should educate ourselves on what inclusion truly means. We should make every effort to not treat anyone with a disability different. Do not raise your voice when you speak with them, treat them as if they are children, or avoid them because they are “different”.
My advice is simple… sit down, have a conversation, share some laughs (you’ll never forget that smile), and truly engage yourself with that person. Both of your lives will be enriched because of it.
What makes you excited to get up in the morning?
How can I answer with just one thing? Immediately my mind went to coffee, then my darling puppy, and then finally settling on possibilities.
I work in an environment that oozes (great word, right?) with possibilities. We live in an area where our community is engaged and the creativity and power that brings forth is amazing. Equally as gratifying for me is that I get the opportunity to develop great staff into leaders. It’s not that I know very much, it’s just that sometimes I have the sense to get out of the way and give people the resources they need to make some magic. It’s my job to nurture an effective, productive culture, ask a lot of questions, become their biggest cheerleader, drop the hammer if needed, and to always be honest and transparent. I have a purpose… to make the dance floor just as big as I can to allow people as much space as they need to GET IT DONE!
How do you recharge after a particularly stressful week?
I’m a Montana girl so there’s nothing better than to take off on a dirt road with my fiancé and pup to release the stress of a long week. The fresh air brings forth a sense of relaxation that cannot be achieved any other way. It allows me to breath, reflect, and let go.
What’s a book we all need to read?
YOU must check out This Will Only Hurt a Little by Busy Philipps. I finished it in two days with the intention of it being a slower read for me. She’s like the best friend I’ve never had! You can sense her strength, wit, love, and passion through her words and such amazing, powerful stories. I almost didn’t buy it because I’m not usually a celebrity author fan, but so glad I did!
Do you have a favorite quote? Or even a pep talk you give to yourself on days when you feel like you’re dragging?
“Be the woman who fixes another woman’s crown without telling the world it was crooked.” How beautiful is that quote?! Life can be so challenging and difficult, not every day is filled with sunshine and happiness. We have all been there and there is nothing better than having someone who will hold your hand through the rough times.
What’s the last movie or TV show you saw that really made an impression on you?
One movie that comes to mind is I Can Only Imagine. Not only do I absolutely love the song but the story line behind it… amazing! I laughed, I cried, I prayed, and I truly felt love. While it was a heartbreaking film there were many times of grace, faith, and forgiveness. A feel good movie that left me feeling grateful.
Talk to us about friendship. What role do friends play in your life?
Fierce lady friendships… they get me through my days. They are such an important part of my life. I find that being surrounded by amazing women I am more open, laugh more about life, and find my support and strength to be myself. My girls fight for and encourage each other, but more importantly, it’s the unconditional love that you feel because you know there isn’t a thing they wouldn’t do to help you. I’ve got the best friends around!
What are some qualities you see in the women you admire? What kind of woman do you hope to be?
Integrity. Honesty. Kindness. Compassion. Strength.
I hope to be a woman comfortable in my own skin, not afraid of being my true self. I want to treat myself as I treat everyone else. I want to be the daughter that my mom can be proud of. I want to be a compassionate, authentic, empathetic leader who focuses on bettering the lives of all those around me in one way or another. I want to be the woman who spreads a little sparkle everywhere she goes!
What’s one piece of advice you’d give your 20 year old self?
Don’t dream your life; live your dreams. Never give up on your dreams and the power to accomplish them comes from within yourself. You are capable of anything that you put your mind towards. Don’t listen to whether others think it’s attainable. Prove to them it is.
We always say there is no right or wrong way to be a woman in this state. That’s the beauty of it! What do you love most about Montana and living here?
Small town atmosphere. God’s Country. The 4 seasons (although winter is getting a bit longer every year). Floating the Missouri. Outdoor concerts. There truly is nothing better than a Montana woman!
What’s something you’re in the process of learning?
I am currently working through a lesson – being present. We tend to worry more about what’s about to happen or dwell on something that’s already occurred. While I think it’s important to focus on the future, I’m learning to be careful not to let it hinder my present. Moments turn into memories and we need to enjoy every moment that we have. Being able to take time to reflect, prioritize next moves, and still spend most of the day in the present is beyond valuable, it’s life changing.
For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
My family and friends. Without them I would be lost. Cliché I know, but very much the truth. They are behind me every step of the way as I navigate through this crazy thing we call life.
My previous failures and mistakes. Every failed relationship or missed job opportunity has brought me to where I am today. I’ve learned lessons to move forward, improve my life, and love myself just a little bit more.
West Mont. I have gained so many life lessons, quality friendships, confidence, and appreciation for the Helena community in the 6.5 years that I’ve been here. Never in my life have I felt as complete as I do right now, knowing that I can make a difference in someone’s life just by loving and accepting them as they are.