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#SpeakerLife #paintopower #keynotespeaker #education #Childwelfare #OvercomingAdversity #Resiliency #NYTBestseller #threelittlewords #threemorewords

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A Keynote Speaker’s Story

Ashley Rhodes-Courter is the quintessential American success story. Born to a single teen mother, by the age of 3 Ashley was in Florida’s foster care system where she spent almost ten years being shuttled between 14 homes—some quite abusive—before being adopted from a Children’s Home at the age of twelve.

Despite her ordeal, she excelled in school because she believed that, “my education was the one thing nobody could take from me.” Early in her life she felt compelled to advocate for herself and the other children she lived with, particularly in the abusive foster homes.

Her efforts and academic achievements landed her the Eckerd College Trustee Scholarship—the school’s most prestigious full-tuition award. She graduated with honors and ahead of schedule earning a double major in Communications and Theater and a double minor in Political Science and Psychology. Ashley then went on to earn a Master’s Degree in Social Work from the University of Southern California.

During her undergraduate studies, she was one of 20 college students selected for the USA Today All-USA Academic Team and was named one of GLAMOUR Magazine’s Top Ten College Women. Ashley was also chosen as one of the four Golden BR!CK Award winners for outstanding advocacy for community change by the national organization, Do Something. As part of their campaign, she was featured on 25 million bags of Cool Ranch Doritos.  

Her accomplishments advocating for children and families won her the Youth Advocate of the Year for the North American Council on Adoptable Children, the Kids to Kids National Service Award from the Child Welfare League of America, and two Angels in Adoption Awards from the Congressional Coalition on Adoption.

How It All Started…

On June 1, 2003, the New York Times Magazine published her grand prize winning essay about her adoption day. She expanded her essay into a memoir, Three Little Words, which was published by Simon & Schuster in January 2008 and quickly became a New York Times  International bestseller. Her memoir is currently being made into a major motion picture. The book has been adopted by schools and communities as part of One School, One Book; and collegiate First Year Experience initiatives across the country. Ashley’s second book, Three More Words, debuted as a #1 Bestseller.

Ashley’s Achievements

  • New York Times Magazine publishes Three Little Words Essay
  • Youth Advocate of the Year, North American Council on Adoptable Children
  • Kids to Kids National Service Award, Child Welfare League of America
  • Eckerd College Trustee Scholarship
  • USA Today All-USA Academic Team
  • Awarded 1 of 4 Golden Brick Awards for Advocacy by Do Something
  • Top Ten College Women by Glamour Magazine
  • Graduated with Honors, Eckerd College
  • Three Little Words memoir becomes New York Times Bestseller
  • Featured on Good Morning America with Diane Sawyer
  • Ambassador, Levi’s Shape What’s To Come Campaign
  • Masters of Social Work, University of Southern California
  • International Woman of the Year, St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce
  • Named Community Hero from Tampa Bay Lightning NHL team
  • Ran for Florida State Senate at age 26
  • Points of Light Award
  • FCSW Florida Achievement Award

In the Media

Internationally recognized, Ashley has been featured on The Today Show, Good Morning America, Nightline, Nancy Grace, ABC Primetime, Montel Williams, and other national media outlets. She frequently appears in local television and newspaper markets when she travels for her speeches. She hosted a television program called “Explore Adoption” which was produced by the State of Florida to raise the public’s awareness of foster children in need of loving and permanent homes. This segment won an Emmy in 2009.

Current Events

In 2010, Ashley was selected to represent and mentor as part of Levi’s Shape What’s To Come campaign, an online, global community for women that offers opportunities to exchange ideas, collaborate, and provide support to one another. Her work with Levi’s was featured at the TED Women’s Conference in Washington, D.C.

Ashley has spent time in Europe, South Africa, and China studying and advocating.  In her local community, she has served as a volunteer Guardian ad Litem (or CASA) and as a foster parent has cared for more than 25 children. Her eldest son is adopted from foster care. Ashley is tremendously passionate about her non-profit organization, The Foundation for Sustainable Families, which provides direct services to children and families in high-risk and high-conflict situations.

Her speaking career began at the age of fourteen as a child advocate. Since then, Ashley’s story has been shared with countless audiences. She has spoken on Capitol Hill, has been invited to the White House, and has taught at numerous colleges and conferences for businesses, health care professionals, educators, elected officials, judges, social workers, policy makers, teens, and families.

Ashley has turned her pain into power and she has a passion to share her story with those who have experienced adversity. Ashley strives to encourage education, compassion, community involvement, and positive outcomes for individuals, youth, and families.


“The buzz after the luncheon was palpable ~ our guests love Ashley! She is a brilliant speaker who tells a tragic story is a poignant way yet keeps you in stitches. Brilliant! And, on a personal level, I truly enjoyed meeting such a warm and engaging young woman. I so wish she lived closer ~ I’d love to take her to lunch to thank her, celebrate her and get to know her a little better.”


On behalf of all of us here at Pendleton Place, THANK YOU for being such an integral part of a very successful day! We’ve received so many compliments and messages of positive feedback about this morning’s benefit breakfast including high praise for your ability to share such a critical message in an accessible way (with plenty of humor inserted to keep us all smiling!). It was our honor to host you, and your words have already done much for the children and families we serve. If you are ever in our neighborhood in the future, we’d love for you to stop by our campus and check out what we’re up to!



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