By Jennifer molk
Photography by jana graham
Last Spring, we asked for nominations for your idea of a Simply Amazing Teen. We had the pleasure of sitting down with all of the kind words that were sent in about many, which made us realize that we really do have some pretty impressive young adults in our area.
In the end, our panel chose Ashley Smith a senior at Billings Central Catholic High School as this year’s Simply Amazing Teen.
Ashley was treated to a complimentary senior photo shoot from Jana Graham Photography and sat down along with her family to fill us in on what makes her who she is.
For a teenager who is well-grounded, as her proud parents initially describe their daughter Ashley, she sure has traveled a lot of ground.
The 17-year-old Central High School senior is active in cross country and track, speech and debate, student government and choir.
In 2008, Ashley traveled to Germany for a six-week-job nannying her nephew who lives there.
“She had never flown or experienced airports, flying or customs, yet she made it there and back with no problems,” her dad Chris says. “I am sure she was nervous and a bit scared but her drive to succeed was stronger.”
“Well, I would have to say that my independence comes from the influences around me,” Ashley responds. “I am lucky to have people and opportunities in my life that allow me to become more independent and teach me the importance of caring at the same time. I have a lot of good examples in my life!”
Ashley has always been in the driver’s seat, charting her own course and inspiring her parents, Chris and Lisa; sister Melissa, age 16; and brother Marshall, age 14.
But her journey hasn’t been without its bumps along the way. Before she became cemented in Central’s academic and extracurricular communities, she attended six different schools in the past twelve years.
“Although some of the moves have been difficult for her,” her mother Lisa admits, “she has always seemed to make the best of it. She has learned from her experiences with friends and teachers at each school and makes decisions based on what she has learned in the past. She has also done her best to keep in touch with the friends she has made throughout her school years.
“Moving so far from home and starting a new school in ninth grade would be tough for any teenager,” Lisa goes on. “But Ashley did her best to focus on the positive and take the challenge head on. It has made her a stronger person and confident in her ability to adapt to new surroundings.”
Ashley has taken those challenges in stride. “I think that moving schools so many times and being surrounded by so many new people and places has made it easy for me to adapt to a lot of different situations,” she reflects. “In my mind this is very important because hopefully I will be able to go into the future with an open mind.”
Ashley surely gets those admirable characteristics from her parents. Chris and Lisa Smith have been married for 20 years, ever since meeting in a small resort town in Northern Michigan.
“Though we came from rural and urban backgrounds, our values and goals were the same,” Chris says.
“Raising teenagers today is very challenging,” Lisa says. “I am the first one discussing the difficulties that come with parenting today: choosing the battles, being firm, building values – humility, charity, respect, accountability, work ethic, etc., teaching life lessons, keeping them safe and knowing what to say and what should be left unsaid – and that is just to name a few of my usual daily lamenting with those we are close with.”
All seriousness aside, there is time for humor in the Smith home. Lisa tells of a time she walked into the house with a friend. “Ashley was doing the dishes,” she begins, “Melissa was making banana bread and Marshall was taking out the trash. My friend said, ‘Wow, my kids would never be doing this at my house!’
“Marshall replied (to the friend), ‘Your kids must live under a democracy, WE LIVE UNDER A DICTATORSHIP!’”
Lisa admits her husband likely gave the kids the heads up that mom was almost home and to get their chores done!
Chris and Lisa rely heavily on their faith to guide them to make the right decisions in teaching those lessons, meanwhile tapping the love and support of others, but most of all they trust that Ashley has had all the right elements with which to succeed in life. Ashley volunteers extensively for St. Bernard’s Youth Group; a role her mom says is her first and favorite priority.
“She not only enjoys the activities but also values the discussions that help form her and give her direction at such an important time in her life,” Lisa says. “At Youth Group, she learns not only about her Catholic faith but, more importantly, putting that faith in action.”
“Ashley is always willing to volunteer her time to a worthy cause,” her dad says proudly. “She is always willing to make the time and effort to give of herself.”
In addition to Youth Group, Ashley volunteers as a team leader for St. Vincent Healthcare; delivers meals for Salvation Army through their Community Table program; serves as Lector at St. Patrick Catholic Church; and volunteers within her school.
“Ashley has been blessed with many in her life that not only love and care for her, but also hold her accountable to her values and instill a desire for her to become the best she can be,” Lisa says.
Ashley’s not quite sure where her next journey will take her when she graduates next spring. At this point she’s planning to pursue an undergraduate degree with a double major in Journalism and Communications.
“Hopefully I will have an idea of the path I want to take from that point and then get my Master’s Degree in a more specialized field,” she says. “There are a lot of jobs that I could see myself in, so I will just take the opportunities as they come.”
“In our eyes, it truly ‘takes a village’ and the ability to stay focused on our priorities, learn from our mistakes and move on into the next day doing the best we can,” Lisa says of their success at keeping Ashley on track to being an amazing teen. SFM