“You’ve got to get started to make progress, and once those endorphins kick in, you want to chase that feeling.” – Ashley Fontanetta
Life has a funny way of bringing incredible, inspiring people into your life at just the perfect time. And Ashley Fontanetta is one of those people.
Not too long ago, the lovely Lisa Tufano of Think Like A Boss Lady invited me to a Red Wine Thursdays mixer where I had the pleasure of meeting Ashley. As we chatted, we learned we had much in common and parted promising to set drinks to continue the conversations of the evening.
What Ashley did next solidified her as a someone I want to keep as a life long friend. Rather than choosing to stick with the traditional evening drinks or weekend brunch, Ashley took it upon herself to organize a morning beach clean up with friends. Several of us came out to spend a few hours picking up trash and enjoying the beautiful southern California sun. It has now become a monthly tradition, something I look forward to each time.
As this week’s #WCW Spotlight Crush, Ashley shares why giving back is such an important part of her life.
Me: You originally started your career in the non-profit space, working for the organization CoachArt. What inspired you to work full time in the non-profit space?
Ashley: It clicked early on and I never looked back. In high school, I read an article on a devastating flood in Mozambique. There were not enough aid resources to help the people and animals affected by this disaster, and agencies were scrambling to find help. This problem spoke to me. I knew that I wanted to use my abilities to solve problems and help people; and was pretty sure I could make a career out of it. I studied International Relations and interned with global aid organizations. Soon after college, I began working with CoachArt, which creates a transformative arts and athletics community for families impacted by childhood chronic illness. That’s where I connected with my career path. I worked with CoachArt for 8 incredible years.
Me: What was it about CoachArt that resonated so deeply with you?
Ashley: Being part of the exchange between volunteers and the families we worked with. I’ve always said that I see people at their best when they are volunteering. On the other side, to experience the breakthroughs when children learn something new and the openness of parents letting us all into their home was a lesson in person-to-person connection, without socio-economic boundaries. It’s a beautiful thing and through CoachArt I saw it happen hundreds of times.
Me: Is there an accomplishment you achieved during your time with CoachArt that you are most proud of?
Ashley: Starting up a new office for CoachArt in Oakland will always be a highlight for me. In addition to drawing together an amazing board and staff, I was so inspired by the volunteers and the community that embraced us and helped the organization to thrive in its formative years. Oakland is a place with so many incredible, socially driven people. You can feel the hope and the commitment to make life better for the community.
Me: Recently, you’ve transitioned into a new career, working for Merrill Lynch. How has that transition been for you? Has it opened up new opportunities and creative outlets for you to continue to follow your give back passions?
Ashley: When you work in the nonprofit sector, you’re surrounded by opportunities to give back. Although my role as a financial adviser is still a helping position, I realized I’d have to actively seek out ways to get involved in causes I care about. Merril Lynch is partnered with Bank of America, which offers tons of volunteer opportunities. When I get an email about volunteering, I accept! They’re also really generous with matching gifts and donating to organizations where employees volunteer. Ask your HR about these benefits, many companies have them.
Me: This new career trajectory does not focus on giving back on a daily basis in the same way your previous career did. However, you’ve still found ways to continue to make giving back a priority in your life. What keeps you so motivated to give back, no matter your career choice?
Ashley: I believe that giving back can happen in many forms, no matter what job you’re in or how much time you have. If you have an idea to do something, put it into action! When you accomplish your goal the first time, the momentum to keep doing it will allow it to happen again and again. It’s almost like exercise. You’ve got to get started to make progress, and once those endorphins kick in, you want to chase that feeling.
Me: Where did you come up with the idea to organize beach clean up days with friends?
Ashley: A friend of mine organized a clothing drive, which I saw grow from an individual endeavor to a huge campaign that filled an entire 24’ truck with donated clothes. I was inspired that one person can set the stage for others to get involved and next thing you now, you’ve got an incredible result. The opportunity to clean up the beach was right in front of me and once I found myself talking about it, I chose to do something about it. I put the word out to some friends, collected supplies from Heal The Bay, and it came together. Sometimes, committing to get started is the hardest, but once you begin, the momentum just rolls.
Me: Why is cleaning the beach with Heal the Bay an important cause for you?
Ashley: I was inspired to clean up this beach because the excessive garbage bothered me and seeing the amount of kids playing there – they deserve a clean, safe beach! It was also important for me to take on a huge problem, like polluted beaches, by chipping away at it in small steps. Another big piece of it was to create something that I wanted to participate in, rather than wait for someone else to do it. I would have attended the clean ups if someone else had coordinated them, so I thought since it was on my mind, I should just get it started.
Me: Has charity and giving back been a major theme in your life growing up? Or something that came about as you were faced with choosing a career in life?
Ashley: It was always something I enjoyed. I was involved in some charitable organizations as a kid and connected with the feeling I got from helping others. It was pursuing that feeling that kept me on the path to keep doing what I was doing. Through CoachArt I got to experience that feeling daily and it was my job to create opportunities for others to experience the same. I feel lucky that I was able to do that and that my family supported me in taking a chance on a not-so traditional career path.
Me: What has been the most inspiring part of your give back journey? What has been the biggest surprise along the way?
Ashley: I’m most inspired by the other people I’ve met while working at nonprofits/ volunteering. To see people at all stages of life finding the time to do something good beyond themselves, it gives me a sense of how many caring people we have in our community. It gives me hope that despite the daily news of greed, violence, and corruption, heartfelt humanity is still alive and kicking! There’s actually a lot of it around and if we pay attention to it, we might be reminded that the good can outweigh the bad.
Me: What is the one piece of advice you would want to share with someone who wants to follow in your footsteps of using their own unique talents and life experiences to give back?
Ashley: Connect with a cause you truly love, it resonates most when volunteering is an amplification of doing something that is already important to you. For example, I use music for my own stress relief, so I volunteer with this great local organization, Children’s Music Fund, because they provide music therapy to kids in the hospital. Interview organizations working in the space you identify with and find an opportunity that sounds like fun. Not every organization is a match for every volunteer. Keep it simple and start small, just start