By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media
BRIDGETON â€“ Ashlee Todd said being a single mother and experiencing those delicate years without her supportive grandmother were never things she planned on.
But after the father of her first child was murdered while she was five months pregnant and her grandmother died unexpectedly all within a month of each other, Todd found herself alone. Now a mental health specialist with a master’s degree in her hometown and president of the Bridgeton Board of Education, Todd said those dark days shifted her life and managed to bounce back anew.
“Trauma truly changes people,” Todd told Front Runner New Jersey.com. “A mentor once told me ‘You haven’t lived until you’ve gone through something significant.’ I now know what that means. Trauma has a way of shifting ones perception of life.”
“Being a single mother was never in my plans. Death took the two people that were closest to me and I then had to adapt to living without my two best friends. Trauma shifted my goals in life. Originally, I set out to be a journalist and was for a brief time.
Change of Plans
“Even with having the opportunity to interview my teenage crush R&B singer Trey Songz and my ‘Shero’ Michelle Obama, my fascination with their lives just was not fulfilling enough for me and eventually I lost my passion for chasing stories. Following the deaths of my loved ones I went into a deep depression. I was in a very dark place and I can remember thinking to myself ‘I pray no one ever experiences the loneliness and pain of depression as I am.’ From there my goal was and still is to help others,” she added.
Todd is now a therapist at Total Family Solutions in Bridgeton. She earned her master’s degree in clinical and mental health counseling from Wilmington University and currently a licensed counselor with the State of New Jersey. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the HBCU Delaware State University at graduating from Bridgeton High School.
“I consider myself to be homegrown. I love my city,” Todd said. “I migrated outside of South Jersey during my college years to attend Delaware State University. I decided on Delaware State because I was attracted to the rich culture of the HBCU and fascinated by the opportunity to be a part of its diverse student population at the time.
“I am honored to have graduated from such a fine institution for higher learning. I am a big advocate for and fan of historically black colleges and universities,” she added.
Therapist In the Making
Before becoming a therapist, Todd worked as a site director at Gateway Community Action Partnership, which was founded by Bridgeton Mayor Albert Kelly.
“I loved the work I did with Gateway but I wanted to pursue more clinical positions,” Todd said. “Total Family Solutions providing individual therapy, family sessions, group therapy, and in-home therapy. I also work for the Cumberland County Guidance Center providing service for those who have severe mental health issues and are involved with the criminal justice system. I have grown a pure passion for re-entry work. I absolutely love working for both agencies.”
Students and New Generation of Leaders Are Reasons for Re-Election Run
While Todd is up for re-election to the Bridgeton School Board this year, she said she does not see herself as a career politician.
“I’ve been a member of Bridgeton Public School Board for the past three years,” Todd said. “My first year I was elected by my community, in my second year my fellow board members voted for me to serve as vice president, and now in my third year I have had the opportunity to serve as the president.
“It’s been an incredible journey, a humbling and life changing experience. I am currently up for re-election. I am praying in this upcoming November election I am blessed to be re-elected to serve another term. Though it is clichÃ©, I sought a seat on the school board to make a difference.
Todd said she knows there is a negative impression of Bridgeton coming from outsiders but said the city is where “excellence resides.”
“I became a member of the BOE to help move our district forward and to help in shedding light on the greatness of our students,” Todd said. “For me it’s not about the politics, I’m not a career politician. Iâ€™m a parent, Iâ€™m a neighbor, Iâ€™m a friend, Iâ€™m a colleague, Iâ€™m a mentor. I stand on the platform to put students first.
“Iâ€™m also an advocate for a new generation of leaders. I commend and admire our community leaders. But those serving have done so for decades with minimal results in modern day. I believe there is a need and room for a new generation of leaders. As time evolves seats at the table should be made available for rising leaders,” she continued.
Humbled to be a Role Model
Despite her positions of authority and trust with the school board and Total Family Solutions, Todd said she never labeled herself as a role model.
“I just woke up one day and my community began to tell me I was,” said Todd, who is a mother to Andreana (Drea), 7, and Terry (T.J.), 3. “I can remember one day my younger cousin coming to me saying ‘Yo, my friends were at school talking about how dope you are.’ That’s when I learned that even if you never intend to be an inspiration, someone is watching the way you move and immolating that.
“I take my position as a role model as serious as I take my position as being a mother. I aim to treat every child as though they are my own, planting seeds in them by leading by example. Iâ€™ve also been told that I have been a role model to my peers. For that, I am humbled. Nobody gets a manual for life. Each of us are out here doing the best we can with what weâ€™ve been taught. If I can share my truth and others can be positively impacted from my evolving history, I am honored to take the charge.”
Todd touched on various other subjects during her interview with Front Runner New Jersey.com.
FRNJ: What advice would you give them about what to do to prepare for the future?
Ashlee Todd: To anyone in preparation for their future I say 1.) Do your research. Donâ€™t rely on what you learn in a classroom or have been taught out of a workbook. Actively seek the answers you need to ensure your success. 2.) Learn your history. If you donâ€™t know where you come from youâ€™ll never know who you are. Know your culture. Dig into the lives of your ancestors and your ancestorsâ€™ ancestors to discover your truth. 3.) Take control of your finances. Economy rules the world. Stay ahead of the game by being financially literate. Make sure your credit score aligns with the lifestyle you want to live. 4.) Actively practice self-reflection and self-care. Nobody can take care of you better than you. 5.) Be kind to others because itâ€™s the right thing to do and positive social interactions can enlarge your network and net worth.
FRNJ: What has been your biggest joy working as a therapist? Biggest challenge?
Ashlee Todd: My biggest joy as a therapist is seeing an individual or family grow through the stages of change. I always tell people Iâ€™m not a ‘fixer’ or a ‘healer.’ Iâ€™m just here to motivate, encourage and provide some tools for success along the way. When I am able to successfully discharge someone from therapy and they have a sense of self-worth and hope for days to come, that brings me joy. My biggest challenge has always and will always be having a child or teenager admitted to crisis for suicidal ideation with a plan and intent. Itâ€™s heartbreaking to see a hopeless child. Each and every time I just want to take their pain away. If I could wave a magic wand and have them look 10-20 years into their future to show them troubles donâ€™t last always I would. Unfortunately, all I can do is sit with them in their pain and hope that something I say strikes a nerve to show them there is a better tomorrow.
FRNJ: Any personal inspirations?
Ashlee Todd: As common as it may sound, my grandmother is my biggest inspiration. She had a god-fearing spirit, a sweet soul, and a kind heart. She was the kind of woman I strive to be every day. She was also fierce, direct, and incredibly smart. Many people donâ€™t know this because heâ€™s one of my best friends now, but growing up I was scared of my grandfather. He was stern and played no games. But my grandmother had the power to draw him to submission even when he didnâ€™t know he was under her spell. It amazes me each and every time. Thatâ€™s the type of energy she had. When I get into a bind I always find myself asking ‘What would my Grandma do?’ I miss her.
FRNJ: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Ashlee Todd: In five years I see myself as an entrepreneur running a mental health enterprise in South Jersey. I am in the process of creating my business model and within the next 1-2 years my goal is to introduce it to the world.
FRNJ: Anything else youâ€™d like to add?
Ashlee Todd: I also run a community based group called Stronger Mothers to address women related issues and promote success and excellence among our youth. Our goal is to develop female leaders to guide our community with passion, purpose, perseverance and strength. Like on us Facebook @StrengthInMoms. We hold support groups, events and activities for women and girls. Anyone who would like to volunteer or make a donation can contact me at Todd.firstname.lastname@example.org
Also, remember to rock the vote this upcoming Nov. 5. And re-elect Ashlee Todd for Bridgeton Public School Board.
Photos courtesy of Ashlee Todd
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