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Here for all Kids

It’s a little after 4:00 p.m. Most of the kids in the Staunton-Augusta Family YMCA’s Afterschool Adventure Club program are free to go outside and play. Three students stay behind. An intervention is needed.

The offense?

Name calling.

Ashley Cole pulls up a seat at a table designed for little kids. The Staunton-Augusta Family YMCA youth and family director tries her best to stifle a laugh. This situation calls for seriousness, but the kids’ humor in this moment is making that difficult.

Not only are the names the kids are calling one another not truly offensive, they are simply funny words to hear. Calling each other names like broccoli or baked potato only make sense in a kid’s world.

With her laugh successfully suppressed, Ashley gets serious for a moment. With great tact, care and empathy, she explains why name calling isn’t an acceptable use of words. Next, she works on reconciling relationships between the offended parties. She doesn’t want it to spill over to the playground.

Watching Ashley engage kids is like watching an artist paint.

When she’s with kids, Ashley is in her element.

“If there’s a day where I don’t get to be around the kids, I get a little bummed about it,” Ashley said. “It can be really stressful and tense, but I know the kids enjoy me, and I really enjoy them.”

CHANGE OF PLANS

The most memorable feature of the school building was unfortunately the leaking roof, just one of the factors contributing to low morale.

The school was in Boston’s inner city, not too far from Simmons College (now Simmons University). For the life of her, Ashley can’t remember the name of the school, only the impact it had on her.

Ashley would go once a week. It was just something she had to do to complete her college community service hours. She didn’t know that she’d fall in love with the students there, so much so that Ashley told her academic advisor she needed to switch majors.

Good-bye psychobiology. Hello teaching.

“The reason I went to Simmons College is because it was the only school in America that had psychobiology as an undergraduate major,” Ashley said. “I went to do research. I went to go be a pyschobiologist. My dad had Alzheimer’s. I was going to go study psychobiology. That’s why I went. I worked at a daycare in high school. I’ve always loved working with kids, but I didn’t go to college to do that.”

But her love for kids and her hatred of biology labs quickly caused her to rethink her career.

TRANSITIONS

Growing up in a rural part of Kentucky – Russell Springs had less than 2,500 people in a recent census – Ashley was happiest when her schedule was the fullest. She was involved in choir, school leadership, church activities and anything else that helped her offset boredom and make a difference.

Although she was about two hours from the closest YMCA, the YMCA of Greater Louisville used to come to her area and run a YMCA leadership program. Unbeknownst to Ashley at the time, it would be a foreshadowing of her future.

After graduating from Simmons, Ashley eventually took a job in the education department of Mary Baldwin College (now Mary Baldwin University).

“Through that is how I learned all about Virginia,” Ashley said. “Before that, I didn’t even know how to say Staunton. But I love Staunton. I spent so much time in it that I fell in love with it.”

Eventually, Ashley crossed paths with Staunton-Augusta Family YMCA executive director Josh Cole through the RAW Learning homeschool co-op. Though they share the same last name, they are not related.

Impressed with her ability to engage students in learning situations, Josh reached out to Ashley about running the local chapter of Y-USA’s Summer Learning Loss Prevention Program.

“Ashley really led our efforts in the first year of Summer Learning Loss Prevention and worked very closely with Staunton City Schools and Y-USA to make sure that we offered a quality program,” Josh said. “She’s continued to advance quality programs ever since.”

Ashley’s official title transitioned from achievement gap director to director of youth and family. She oversees Summer Learning Loss Prevention, Afterschool Adventure Club, Summer Day Camp and a myriad of homeschool programs that she’s added during her tenure at the YMCA.

“Ashley has the ability to run these programs with a number of different partner and collaborative agencies,” Josh said. “She can keep it all together. She is driven to do more.”

GROWING

Leon “LJ” Johnson is always at the YMCA. Despite being in college, he always makes time to play a pick-up basketball game or two. He takes a bunch of late night shifts in the YMCA’s Wellness Center, and right after school he’s part of Ashley’s Afterschool Adventure Club staff.

He witnesses Ashley interacting with the kids every day.

“Ashley is very fun to work with,” LJ said. “She brings a lot of positivity every day, and she’s like the perfect example of an authoritative parent. She shows high amounts of affection while keeping boundaries set up.”

In three years of working at the YMCA, Ashley is most proud of her work with developing staff. Whether it was hiring Nicole Kozikowski as summer camp director or helping to mold together a great team that creates a consistent culture for Afterschool Adventure Club kids, it’s where Ashley has seen the most growth in herself.

“The way I’ve grown the most is my ability to lead staff,” Ashley said. “I really wasn’t good at that before. I would just do everything myself. I do feel like I’ve made a team in Afterschool. That’s probably what I’m proudest of. We’ve created a team. We work well together, and we communicate well. I feel really good about the staff we have in Afterschool.”

ADJUSTING

A school bus still runs through the Staunton-Augusta Family YMCA parking lot, but it is no longer transporting kids. It’s filled with food, and Ashley meets the bus there twice a week to help deliver food to Staunton City School families.

The buses that used to bring kids to Afterschool Adventure Club have stopped coming. The piece of paper taped to the Afterschool building entrance used to contain information for parents about the week’s activities.

Since March 13th, the sign has simply read “closed.” And now it’s been taking down completely.

As the youth and family director, Ashley has been forced to find other ways to connect with kids.

Ashley began creating activities for families accessible through the YMCA’s social media pages.

“My mind went to, ‘how do I interact with kids?’” Ashley said. “That was the only route I knew on how to access kids. I have other ideas, too. It’s been exciting, because we get to think about new things and new ways to do stuff. I’m having to build new skills.”

 

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