WEST COLUMBIA, SC -- For Airport High junior Ashleigh Smith, creating the nonprofit Ready to Love organization to support foster families was a natural thing to do. After all, two of her siblings were adopted from foster care.
“We adopted my younger brother and sister, Ethan and CC, into our family,” said Smith, 17. “Seeing the impact our family has had on their development inspired me to be an advocate for foster children.”
Her advocacy is front and center in her role as the current Miss Lexington Teen 2019. She will participate in the Miss South Carolina Teen pageant June 24-28 at The Township in Columbia.
In the meantime, Smith -- who is ranked No. 1 in Airport’s junior class -- is juggling a full schedule. At Airport, Smith is a senator in Student Government, concert master of the school’s chamber orchestra, and a member of the Beta Club, Spanish Club, National Honor Society and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. She also is involved in Lexington Two’s dual enrollment program, which allows high school students to earn college credit. Smith, who attended Springdale Elementary and Fulmer Middle, lives in Cayce with her parents, five sisters, three brothers and six dogs.
We recently asked Smith about her pageant life, her plans after high school and the people who have influenced her the most.
Q: How did you first get into pageants?
Smith: I began pageants when I was 7 years old. I asked my mom to put me in some, because my friends at dance were doing pageants, and it looked really fun. I’m glad she allowed me to do pageants, because they have influenced me in a large way. I used to be a little shy, but pageants helped me figure out how to make friends, and it helped me become more outspoken. Because of the interview portion of pageants, I have never been afraid of public speaking. Pageants also have given me the opportunity to be heavily involved in my community. I have raised over 10,000 juice boxes for foster kids, I have volunteered many times at Harvest Hope Food Bank, Nancy K. Perry Shelter, and Ronald McDonald House, among other organizations. … Pageants are the outlet that got me involved in my community, and it has given me opportunities to promote my platform, Ready to Love.
Q: How does Ready to Love help foster families?
Smith: There are 4,500 kids in South Carolina who are in foster care, and they need families. With my platform, I raise money so that I can provide aid to foster families who want to take in these kids. Oftentimes, foster parents have to pay for furniture, clothing, shoes, etc., and it can be financially hard for them. This is one of the reasons that many families don’t want to become foster parents. I want to continue to raise money so that everyone has an opportunity to be a foster family.
Q: How do you prepare for a pageant?
Smith: Preparing for pageants takes a lot more practice than people think. If the pageant involves talent, I work really hard in the dance studio to perfect it. If there is an interview, I refresh my memory on current events, and I read up on new research and information that can aid me in answering questions. I also talk to myself in the mirror to make sure I’m not talking too fast, and that my expressions match the inflection in my voice. I love working out to prepare for fitness portions of the competition. At the upcoming Miss South Carolina Teen, evening gown, onstage questions, an interview, talent, and fitness are all portions of competition, and they each have their preparation techniques. Miss South Carolina Teen offers a lot of opportunities for scholarships, which is one of the main benefits of this pageant. To be eligible to win different scholarships, I have to write different essays, make books of all my community service activities and appearances, and get recommendations. There are different requirements for different scholarships, but I apply for as many as I can so I can relieve some of the burden of college tuition.
Q: Have you won previous titles?
Smith: I am honored to be Miss Lexington Teen. Some of the other titles that I’ve held include National Junior Miss Motorcross Speedway 2014, National USA Ambassador Preteen 2014, and South Carolina’s Outstanding Teen 2016.
Q: Has there been a teacher who's been particularly influential or inspiring during your school years?
Smith: My time at Airport has been influenced by many people, but Mr. Daniel Bailey is one teacher who has inspired me the most. He is the student advisor at Airport, and he would bend over backwards to help people, even if he didn’t know them. He cares and loves each student here at Airport, and I’m grateful for all that he does.
Q: Do you have a role model?
Smith: The person who has continued to motivate me through my pageant experiences, who is also my role model, is my mom, Debbie Smith. She is such an awesome woman. My mom manages having nine kids, six dogs and a full-time job. She takes all of us to our different activities, and she cooks really well! She is an awesome mom, and I’m grateful God has placed her in my life.
Q: What are your plans after high school graduation?
Smith: After graduation, I plan to attend Clemson University as a nursing major. After that, I plan on possibly attending a physician assistant school, and eventually working at a children’s hospital as a pediatric physician assistant.
If you would like to know more about Ready to Love, email email@example.com and like her Facebook page @Readytolove.