An elementary school teacher’s interest in a sixth-grader dealing with the death of her step-father and getting into occasional disagreements with classmates led the way to a “life-changing” program – and the foundation for a better future.
“I was hesitant when I started, a little nervous,” said Ashley White, recalling her initial experience with The Friendship Club. “They were asking all of these questions.”
Those questions were about getting to know Ashley – and learning what the then-sixth-grader needed to succeed. The answer was, in part, The Friendship Club.
“It was amazing to have that group of girls who have some of those same experiences as you,” said Ashley, now a 26-year-old family support counselor for Victor Community Support Services in Grass Valley.
She also benefited from the mentors and the programs through The Friendship Club, from attending summer camps to touring colleges.
“I had a lot of opportunities that I wouldn’t have had,” she said. “The role models, it made a huge impact. They’re always there for you. They challenge you, but in a caring way. I learned so many things.”
From being more comfortable speaking in large groups to learning how to deal with peer pressure, The Friendship Club has helped Ashley succeed – and thrive.
“It really teaches you good boundaries. You gain a sense of self and being a more positive person. You learn to stand up for yourself.”
Her mentor had a huge role, opening her heart – and home – to Ashley.
“She was a very positive role model and we spent a lot of time together,” said Ashley, who would often go over to her mentor’s house for dinner. “She was like family.”
Ashley’s Friendship Club “family” continues today, as she stays in contact with some of her friends from the program. After Ashley graduated from high school – and The Friendship Club – she enrolled at Sierra College in Grass Valley, where she earned associate degrees in Behavioral and Social Sciences and Administration of Justice.
Today, Ashley works with families and children with the goal of “changing the whole family dynamics … so (children) don’t need outside placement.”
She works with about 15 children every week, from 5 to 18 years old. It’s a difficult but rewarding career.
“I love working with the kids,” she said. “There are some days when it takes a toll. You have to be in a good place and need to take care of yourself. But we’re really great at building relationships with families.”
It’s something that she experienced firsthand with The Friendship Club. On occasion, she will refer the children she works with to The Friendship Club.
“I love The Friendship Club. It’s an amazing program,” she said. “I’m so grateful that my teacher referred me. It’s been life-changing.”