Difference Maker: Ashley Seiler helping local kids through mentorship at Big Brothers Big Sisters

Ashley Seiler (Photo by Aaron Eisenhauer)

Ashley Seiler knows all about being a big sister. Growing up in Benton, Missouri, she was the oldest of seven children and always thought it would be cool to have a big sister herself. Her large family played an important role in her life, and while she wasn’t quite sure where she was headed, she knew she wanted to help people.

After graduating from Southeast Missouri State University with a bachelor’s degree in social work, she learned about the mission of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri (BBBSEMO) and joining the not-for-profit organization seemed like a natural next step.

Big Brothers Big Sisters focuses on ongoing partnerships between families, mentors and local organizations that help fuel a young person’s pursuit of a “meaningful, stable and independent life.”

“When I started [with BBBSEMO] in 2003, we had three full-time staff members,” Seiler said. “But as of next week, there are 11 of us getting up every day to care for kids, families and schools.”

The organization has grown significantly over the last 20 years, and Seiler has been a big part of that change. They've worked with the Cape Girardeau Public Schools to find new ways to support youth in the community through group mentoring and an array of new programs and services across the district's nine schools.

Through their ABC Today program, BBBSEMO is creating a positive school culture by celebrating students who are doing well. Each quarter they work with faith and business partnerships in the area to provide opportunities for students that didn’t exist 20 years ago. Organizing those partners, in parallel to the school leaders, has created additional experiences for the students, such as career fairs at the high school, exposure to different career paths and celebrating perfect attendance.

But the best part for Seiler “is getting to know people for who they are, what they hope and dream for themselves. And watching young people grow up.” To Seiler, relationships are what's important.

Seiler has been matched three times as a Big Sister in the program and loves the opportunity to mentor young people one-on-one. But she also enjoys pouring into the BBBSEMO staff members and taking a broader view of the organization’s impact on the community.

As the chief partnership officer, Seiler gets to work alongside other community organizations such as the United Way, PORCH, Rotary Club and the Cape Girardeau Area Chamber of Commerce. It’s been an ongoing support system that Seiler is thankful to be a part of locally.

“I really believe that people cross our paths for a reason,” Seiler said. “You can learn something from everyone. Whether they mentored, taught or coached you, they become part of your support system. The people around you shape who you are.”

As a 12-year-old girl, Seiler had a softball coach who really believed in her and helped shape her life. The conversations they had have lasted a lifetime. She wants to be that person for others. And on the hard days, when she is standing next to a family who is dealing with a traumatic issue, it’s what motivates her to keep moving forward.

While Seiler admits there’s not much downtime outside of work, she does love to hang out with her husband and daughter in Leopold, Missouri, where they live. She knows that to keep going and serving the community, her own mental health needs to be a priority.

“You can’t pour from an empty cup,” said Seiler, who wants to be the best version of herself both at home and work. So, in between community events, school partnerships and making a difference in the families of Cape Girardeau, Seiler finds “opportunities to relax. Here, there and wherever I can.”