Editor’s Note: Ashley Brown is a co-founder of the Selfless Love Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to to transforming the lives of foster children. As a child of adoption herself, the foundation holds a special place in her heart. Molded by the experiences of her childhood, Brown used her background as a model and spokesperson to develop the non-profit and help to empower children who may not have had the same, positive experience she did. In this interview, Brown discusses her upbringing, her career, and the Selfless Love Foundation’s mission.
This interview was conducted by email.
Sophia News: Tell us a little about your life before the Selfless Love Foundation.
Ashley Brown: I was adopted at birth and was raised in a small southern town in Florida. From an early age, my parents instilled a strong work ethic in me. I was incredibly involved with 4-H, which taught me the importance of hard work and responsibility. Throughout middle school and high school, I balanced school and rodeoing across the country. In college, I started modeling and focused my attention on emceeing events. Days after receiving my Communications Degree from University of Central Florida, I was hired to be the game emcee for the Memphis Grizzlies (NBA team). A year later, I was hired as an announcer for the World Wrestling Entertainment and moved to Los Angeles. I was fortunate to have a successful career in LA and appeared on The Jimmy Kimmel Show, Jay Leno, Maxim Magazine, and a variety of other opportunities. I am forever grateful for the small-town values, work ethic, and “never give up” attitude that I was raised on. I have always viewed life as a resume, and it’s important to have as many unique opportunities to prepare you for your next chapter. Looking back, I see each of these chapters as invaluable learning experiences that allowed me to fine-tune my vision and life mission, leading me to today with Selfless Love Foundation.
SN: What made you realize you wanted to start a non-profit?
AB: As a by-product of adoption, I have always felt like I was given a second chance at life. From a young age, I have had the desire to pay back my blessing of being adopted. Early on in mine and Ed’s relationship, I realized Selfless Love was my opportunity to do just that.
SN: How did you come about developing the Selfless Love Foundation?
AB: It all began while planning our wedding in 2015. My husband and I created Selfless Love Foundation in lieu of wedding gifts. We did not know exactly how Selfless Love would evolve, but due to my personal experience, knew it would benefit foster children. Looking back, it is ironic to think about how the foundation that our marriage was built upon would be the same foundation to build other families.
SN: If you were to describe what the foundation does to someone totally unfamiliar with it, what would you tell them?
AB: Selfless Love Foundation’s (SLF) mission is to transform the lives of current and former foster children. SLF is unique from most nonprofits. Rather than focusing on individual programs, we are structured to truly change the system from the inside out – allowing us to find forever families for children in foster care and being an extension of family by providing tools and resources to guide the youth that age out of foster care to self-sufficiency.
SN: As a child of adoption yourself, what were some major issues you knew you had to address with your foundation?
AB: Being adopted myself, I know there is no greater gift than family. From Selfless Love’s infancy, I knew our mission would be focused on helping more children have families, whether that be through adoption or support after aging out. With that in mind, we set out to streamline the adoption process for children available for adoption (more than 100,000 a year across the US), allowing more children to have a family. We also set out to provide support to those children (more than 20,000 a year across the US) that age out of the system each year by being an extension of our family.
SN: Other than raising awareness, what are a few things your foundation does for the community you represent?
AB: The thing that makes Selfless Love unique from other organizations is our advocacy arm. Selfless Love Foundation is the thought leader for adoptions and transitioning youth in the state of Florida. We advocate for policy changes and processes needed to reduce barriers to foster care adoption. By meeting with heads of state and high-level officials, policymakers, families, and child welfare specialists, we can create and improve policies that promote adoption and permanency to benefit youth and families today, and for generations to come.
SN: Due to the global pandemic, the foundation has hosted a number of virtual events. Ultimately, what do you hope to achieve with these events?
AB: Our signature event, our Annual Gala, is the lifeblood of our organization, supporting roughly 3/4 of our annual budget. Pivoting to a virtual event due to the pandemic in less than two months and exceeding our fundraising goals allowed our team to see that the possibilities were endless with not only virtual fundraising, but also expanding our reach for the youth and families we serve. Looking to the future, we are excited to continue to host virtual events, trainings, mixers, and other online events to benefit our youth.
SN: Roughly how many children and families has the Selfless Love Foundation helped in Florida?
AB: Since SLF launched Adoption-Share’s Family-Match technology in July 2018, 380+ children have been matched with families and 140+ have been adopted. This year, we partnered with Florida Coalition for Children to relaunch One Voice Impact. We are on track to positively impact the outcomes of the 1,000 youth who exit the foster care system each year by supporting them on their journey to self-sufficiency. [stats as of July 2020]
SN: Do you think any new laws should be created to help with the adoption process? Are there any other legal issues that need to be changed? New laws to be written?
AB: At its core, SLF is an advocacy organization focused on transforming adoptions and independent living systems of care. Part of driving needed changes may include changes to existing statute, policies, and procedures, as well as implementing training and advocating for process improvement. The child welfare system is extraordinarily complex and requires multiple strategies and agency collaboration to streamline the adoptions process and improve outcomes for transitioning youth. We are excited to be a part of the conversation, and to include foster youth with personal experience.
SN: What is the most fulfilling aspect of what you do with this organization?
AB: The relationships that I have with the youth and families is hands-down the most fulfilling part for me. You meet a child when they are in foster care and see their biggest dream is to have a family, and then months later to meet their new forever family and see how much they’ve changed. They smile bigger, laugh louder, and the parents just glow with love. With our older youth that’s aged out of foster care, nothing makes me happier than when I’m their last text before heading into an exam and they need words of encouragement or their first text when they want to send picture of their certificates, new car, and even home. My husband and I have chosen not to have our “own” children, because thorough Selfless Love Foundation we can impact even more children.
SN: If someone told you they were considering adopting or fostering a child, what would be the first piece of advice that you would give them?
AB: I would tell them to weigh this decision carefully as these children need adoptive and foster parents who can make a lifetime commitment despite frustration with the system or challenges that may take place during the transition. These vulnerable children need and deserve someone who can give them unconditional love.