Talking Shop with Ashley Beggs, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters in Cape Girardeau

Monday, October 12, 2009
Ashley Beggs is director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Cape Girardeau. (Fred Lynch)

Ashley Beggs spent most of her childhood at the family farm and the Thomas W. Kelly softball field in Benton, Mo. The oldest of six children, Beggs has always valued family time. Her "extended" family is much bigger today, as she oversees Big Brothers Big Sisters in Cape Girardeau as its new executive director. Business reporter Brian Blackwell recently learned how she became the head person at the organization that serves children and their families and more about her personal life.

Q: What has prepared you for the director's role?

A: My experience working in different capacities throughout Big Brothers Big Sisters has prepared me well. I have worked in virtually every program-related position within the agency: school-based programming, match support and program director. I have had the experience of being in direct service, working with children, families and volunteers, which gives me a great foundation. I've also learned so much from our agency's CEO, Becky James-Hatter, who is an incredible leader. I see this next step as a natural progression for me in my professional and personal development. I am so excited to start this new journey.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish? What are some of your goals?

A: I want to continue to grow our services to youth and to be effective in our strategies for addressing key issues in the community, especially with families and children. My hope is that we will continue to develop interventions and work with our volunteers to be even more impactful on the lives of the children in our community. Growing partnerships with other agencies and colleagues is a part of this as well. I want our agency to be among the top BBBS performers and one that has a result of long-term, high-quality matches. We have great staffs that are committed to being high achievers, especially in our service delivery.

Q: How worthwhile is Big Brothers Big Sisters?

A: I am not sure if I can put it into words, but I will do my best. I tell people all the time that we take for granted what a simple friendship can do for someone. As adults, most of us probably have someone we can call when we have a bad day, someone who will listen and just be there as our friend, no matter what happens. Children need this too, and that is what Big Brothers Big Sisters does for children. We provide them with someone who will be there no matter what mistakes they make, and will help them up from that fall to say, "Yes, you made a mistake, and we are going to get through it together." The power of Big Brothers Big Sisters and this unconditional friendship is amazing and what continues to bring me to work every day.

Q: What does the new location at 1028 N. Kingshighway do for your organization?

A: Our new location has already proven to be effective for a variety of activities that we were previously simply not able to do. We now have parent and volunteer trainings regularly. We were able to provide school supplies to 75 of our families in July at our offices as well. We also now have more office space that will allow our staff to have more focus and conduct difficult conversations in a more private manner. In addition, our location is more visible to the community.

Q: What are the most pressing issues facing youngsters today?

A: Where do you begin? Children are faced with so many issues, but some of the most challenging for them is having the support they need to be successful. Many children struggle with academics and have behavioral problems that exacerbate the situation. The transitions from elementary to middle school and eventually to the junior high and high school can be rough for students. They try to find their place in each transition and when you pair this with drugs, alcohol and bullying they become vulnerable to any issue that may be a risk to them. Children need as many caring adults in their life as possible to protect them from these outside forces.

Q: What are ways people can help out at your organization?

A: When I talk to friends about Big Brothers Big Sisters, I think that their automatic thought is that I am going to ask them to volunteer. I do that occasionally, but there are also many other ways that people can help. Some people don't have the time to be a volunteer, but they have the ability to donate and can contribute to matching one of the 250 children that we have on our waiting list. We also have opportunities for people to help in our fundraising events. Our next event will be December 5th and is our signature event, Bowl for Kids Sake. Bowlers raise money, and for two hours we celebrate them with pizza, sodas and a T-shirt. We also always need volunteers to help us in our office as well, answering the phones or running copies for us. We have a very small staff, so having the extra hands to do things for us is very helpful.

Q: What does the future look like for Big Brothers Big Sisters in this area?

A: The impact that we are making on children will continue to propel BBBS' growth. We are hopeful that we are going to be able to serve more children and work toward serving them better and better. Our match retention, the number of children who stay in a friendship for at least a year, is among the highest in the nation. I believe there will only be a growing need for BBBS services for children and families. As our society has changed over the years, we don't know what the future will hold, but we know that the children are the future and we have to ensure their success and equip them with the tools that they will need later down the road.

Q: What hobbies do you enjoy and why?

A: I absolutely love yard sales. It sounds like a really crazy hobby, but I am a bargain shopper and it's amazing what you can find! On Saturday mornings my sister Megan, my niece Reese and I get up early and go on the search for the best find of the day. We have bought some really crazy and unique stuff at these sales, but mostly it is just about us just being together and having fun. A couple of years ago, we decided that we would do something with our hobby. Our family started adopting a family at Christmas time so instead of getting each other presents we, find something at garage sales to trade in a White Elephant gift exchange and collect the money that we would have spent on that present to go toward a family who just needs a little boost.

Q: What is the most interesting vacation you've been on and why?

A: I would not be able to pick just one. My entire family takes a trip every year together, so they are all interesting in my book. When I was young, my grandparents would take all of their children on a family vacation. As they became older and had families, they stopped going. After my grandfather died about 5 years ago, my grandmother decided that we would resume these vacations every year. We made t-shirts that say "Grandpa's Bunch" on them and wear them to each vacation. We have been on a cruise, to the Outer Banks, Gatlinburg and Branson together. People can't believe that so many of us go together, but we all have a great time and look forward to our next destination.

Q: If you could go back in time or go forward to the future, what year/era would it be and why?

A: I believe that I would have to say that I would go back to the 1960s. In our society there was so much change during that time, both political and societal. Our country made great strides in this era. The Civil Rights Act became law, great leaders emerged, Americans walked on the moon and there was a launch by our government to help those in the most need in our country with programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Headstart. I would have been excited to live during this part of our history and experience the change.

Q: If you could eat with any three people for one meal, who would it be and why?

A: Three people I would love to have lunch with would be my grandfather, Michelle Obama and Oprah. My grandfather, because I would give about anything to have one more conversation with him. He was an extremely intelligent man and I would love to hear his advice from his experiences as a businessman. Next, Michelle Obama because I think that she is so very fascinating and a genuine person. Lastly, Oprah because she is the absolute product of the American Dream. She was born into poverty and has worked to be quite possibly one of the most influential woman of our time.

Q: Who has influenced you the most in your life and why?

A: I will have to say that I have been so fortunate to have the opportunity to grow up surrounded by a supportive family and role models. My mother has definitely been influential. She is an extraordinarily strong and motivated person. The older that I become, the more I see what kind of sacrifices that she made for me and my sisters. Both of my grandmothers have also been instrumental in my life. They are both very strong women who have encouraged and promoted my educational and career aspirations. Both believe in the strength of family, which has carried over to be a very important part of my life. They have all shared the value of being kind to your neighbor, being grateful for what you have been given in this life and lending a helping hand to those who may not be as fortunate, which is why I believe I chose the profession of social work.

Q: What is something most people don't know about you?

A: I like to go hunting. My boyfriend, Kyle, is a big hunter and when we first started dating, I had never shot a rifle or shotgun in my life. He taught me that you can find an unbelievable amount of beauty and mystery in nature. Getting up before dawn and seeing the earth come alive is an amazing experience.

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