Hi! I’m Ashley. I’m 14-years-old, and I live in Phoenix, Arizona. I am CEO and Founder of my own 501(c)3, Sargeant’s Army. My mom always told me that life was full of pivots and that is so true for my non-profit, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
In 2018 when I was 11 my cat Sargeant died unexpectantly from cancer. We rescued him when he was 5 years old and only had him in our lives for 6 years. He was the most amazing cat and I knew that I wanted to do something to honor him. My mom is a costume designer and seamstress and always had a lot of excess fabric scraps after making costumes. They were too small for her to sew with and ended up getting thrown away. I wanted to do something to keep the fabric scraps from ending up in the landfills so I decided to sew cat toys out of them and donate them to animal shelters. I started Sargeant’s Army in October 2018 and have made and donated over 800 cat toys and blankets since then.
When the COVID-19 pandemic started in March 2020 I knew that I wanted to put my sewing skills to use in a different way. I decided to pause my cat toy sewing and switch to making PPEs to donate to essential workers and health care professionals. Since my dance studio had to close and put a shortened dance schedule on zoom, I had a lot more free time to put toward my volunteer work. I was able to sew and donate over 500 masks by July to give to hospitals and essential workers in Arizona and across the country, sending masks coast to coast from California to New York and even Hawaii.
I am the current Royal International Miss Arizona Preteen and one of my favorite parts of being a pageant girl is the sisterhood and how we all help each other’s volunteer programs. One of my sister queens told me in July that the youth experiencing homelessness in Arizona were in desperate need of PPEs, so I decided to sew and donate to the organization that she volunteered with. This summer was one of the hottest on record in Arizona, and it really started me thinking about how hard it would be to be homeless. I decided that I wanted to do more than just sew PPEs to help the homeless. I was fortunate that Sargeant’s Army was granted 501(c)3 status by the federal government in May so I started applying to grants and started fundraising to raise money to provide Hope Bags filled with hygiene items, sanitizer, and a PPE to the homeless community. I have been very successful with my fundraising efforts and have raised over $13,000 at this point. So far, I have handed out over 2,400 Hope Bags consisting of over 17,000 items to 11 different organizations that help the homeless community. I have also provided Hope Bags to 7 different counties. My goal is to provide Hope Bags to all 15 counties in Arizona by June of 2021. And by December 2021 my goal is that I will have provided over 10,000 Hope Bags that year.
In addition to running Sargeant’s Army, I also read anti-bullying children’s books to Kindergarten through 2nd-grade students through my platform #friendsstandup. I was bullied when I was 8 in an afterschool activity and it really affected my confidence for years. None of my friends knew what to do because they were friends with both myself and the bully. In 2019, I decided that I wanted to read anti-bullying and kindness books in the hopes that I could help younger kids know what to do if they are bullied or witness bullying. After one of my readings I decided that I wanted to share my story. I wrote and illustrated Gino and the Monster Bully when I was 12 years old.
Now, I take my book in addition to other anti-bullying books into my readings. I still haven’t been able to do a book tour with Gino since it was published during COVID-19, but the silver lining is that I was able to extend my school readings via zoom to 4 different classrooms in another state. This summer, I started adding books on diversity to my reading list. I also started writing my second book that will be geared towards children age 4-8 and is all about loving yourself and accepting everyone’s differences. I can’t wait to finish illustrating it so that it can be published.
If you want to follow my journey with Sargeant’s Army or donate to Hope Bags you can follow on:
Facebook: Sargeant’s Army
If you would like to schedule a reading for your classroom or organization, please DM on: Instagram: @friendsstandup