VIDEO: Tampa Bay Lightning Community Hero

The Tampa Bay Lightning honored Ashley Rhodes Courter as the 16th Lightning Community Hero of the 2012-13 season. Rhodes Courter, who received a $50,000 donation from the Lightning Foundation and the Lightning Community Heroes program, will donate the money to the Heart Gallery of Pinellas and Pasco, and Eckerd Youth Alternatives.

Maroon Edition book author challenges new MSU students to seize opportunities

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STARKVILLE, Miss.—International best-selling author Ashley Rhodes-Courter encouraged Mississippi State students attending Fall Convocation to step out of their comfort zones and translate what they learn in the classroom into powerful and productive actions. Students can show themselves and others what they are truly made of in the process, she said.

Rhodes-Courter was the keynote speaker Tuesday [Aug. 16] as an estimated 3,700 first-year freshmen and 1,800 transfer students gathered for MSU’s third Fall Convocation in Humphrey Coliseum.

The author of the university’s 2016 Maroon Edition common reading experience selection, “Three Little Words: A Memoir,” Rhodes-Courter shared those words of encouragement and other lessons she learned from her experience in overcoming troublesome early years in foster care.

“You have such a unique opportunity here to experience things that you never experienced before. There are so many amazing adventures waiting for you,” Rhodes-Courter said.

Born in 1985 to a single teen mother, Rhodes-Courter entered the Florida foster care system at age 3 and spent nearly 10 years in a series of foster homes—some of which were quite abusive—before being adopted at the age of 12.

Despite the difficulties she faced, she excelled in school and, at an early age, became an advocate for children like herself who sometimes fell through the cracks in the foster care system.

“When I would go to school, it was like my sanctuary. My education was something that I was going to have for the rest of my life. It was something that nobody could control, nobody could take away, nobody could beat out of me,” she said.

In addition to exploring their academic abilities, students should take the opportunity to find their passion, Rhodes-Courter emphasized.

“School is so much more than just academics. School is a place to grow socially, emotionally, physically,” she said. “Some of you are going to take great strides in athletics, in the classroom or in the community. Just establishing relationships with your peers, mentors and professors will make a profound impact on you for the rest of your life.”

Now a 30-year-old foster, adoptive and biological mother herself, Rhodes-Courter is a social worker who runs her own mental health agency that helps children in foster care. She became a New York Times best-selling author by the age of 22.

“There are going to be situations in your life that seem so scary and so intimidating, and you’re going to feel like you are ill-equipped or you don’t know what to do. Sometimes, you just have to make that jump and go for it, and learn as you go,” she said.

Rhodes-Courter said she never could have imagined the life she leads today. She expressed thankfulness for the dedicated individuals who have helped her along the way, as well as the chances she had to shine in the classroom and give back to her peers and volunteer.

“My entire life I was told I would never go to college. My adoptive parents were told they would never find a foster child who was college-bound or who would be able to live up to their lifestyle or expectations. I took it upon myself to prove everybody in my life wrong,” Rhodes-Courter told her audience.

“Now, I hope that my life experience serves as an example for all of the amazing things that each of you can accomplish.”

Prior to Rhodes-Courter’s address, MSU President Mark E. Keenum, Provost and Executive Vice President Judy Bonner, Robert Holland Faculty Senate President Cody Coyne, along with Student Association President Roxanne L. “Roxie” Raven, officially welcomed the university’s new students to the Bulldog family.

Raven also led the students as they recited the University Honor Code in unison, and each student received a Fall Convocation coin to commemorate the special occasion.

Keenum, who holds three degrees from Mississippi State, encouraged students to take advantage of the university’s resources designed to help them grow and reach their full potential.

“We’re here to help you be successful. We want you to succeed,” Keenum emphasized. “We’ve got wonderful faculty—world-class leaders in their field who are going to be teaching you and sharing knowledge and information to help prepare you for your life. They’re here to support you.”

Bonner echoed these sentiments and told students they will have opportunities to become involved in learning activities outside of the classroom to supplement and reinforce concepts and skills from their studies.

Study abroad, undergraduate research, service learning, student leadership, internships and co-oping all are ways for students to augment the learning that takes place in the classroom, she said.

“We are so excited to be here to commemorate with you the beginning of your academic career at Mississippi State,” Bonner told the largest incoming class in the 138-year-old land-grant university’s history. “Your journey to completing a degree will include much more than just attending class. You will grow intellectually, gain life skills and become a leader in your profession.”

“I hope you will leave this convocation inspired knowing that you will be successful at Mississippi State and in life,” Bonner said.

At the ceremony’s conclusion, MSU’s State Singers—directed by Associate Professor of Music and Choral Activities Director Gary Packwood—led the new students in the singing of the alma mater, “Maroon and White.”

MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at

WUNC: Life After Foster Care

APR 27, 2016

More than 400,000 children in the United States are living in foster care. The statistics about what happens to these children later in life are startling: only about 50 percent finish high school, less than 10 percent go on to higher education. Ashley Rhodes-Courter is an exception to this statistic, but she has devoted her life’s work to speaking out on behalf of her many former foster care siblings who continue to struggle.

Host Frank Stasio talks with Rhodes-Courter, author of “Three Little Words” (Simon Pulse/2008) and “Three More Words,”(Atheneum/2015) about her 10 years in foster care and her work as social worker and advocate. She will be speaking at fundraising events for the Children’s Home Society on Thursday, April 28 in Greensboro, Thursday, May 5 in Raleigh, and Thursday, May 12 in Charlotte.

Ashley Rhodes-Courter Speaks at Cazenovia College

Event Date(s):
Monday, March 21, 2016 – 7:00pm
McDonald Lecture Hall, Eckel Hall
Ashley Rhodes-Courter Lecture
Cazenovia College hosts Ashley Rhodes-Courter on Monday, March 21, at 7:00 p.m. in the McDonald Lecture Hall on the Cazenovia College campus.

Rhodes-Courter is a nationally-known speaker on the child welfare system. She has taken her painful experience of growing up in foster care and turned it into a positive teaching tool for human services professionals as well as the layperson.

This event is free and open to the public. A book signing will follow Rhodes-Courter’s presentation.

Sponsored by the Human Services Program, Project REACH, the Center for Teaching and Learning, and the Division of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Cazenovia College.

MSU’s 2016 Maroon Edition book focuses on finding, embracing the power of one’s voice

STARKVILLE, Miss.— The inspirational story of a woman overcoming her troublesome early years in foster care is Mississippi State’s 2016 Maroon Edition book selection.

Published in 2008 by Simon and Schuster, international bestselling author Ashley Rhodes-Courter’s “Three Little Words: A Memoir” grew out of her award-winning essay that was published in 2003 by New York Times Magazine.

Born in 1985 to a single teen mother, Rhodes-Courter chronicles her experience of entering the Florida foster care system at age 3 and spending nearly 10 years in a series of foster homes—some of which were quite abusive—before being adopted at the age of 12.

Despite the difficulties she faced, she excelled in school and, at an early age, became an advocate for children like herself who sometimes fell through the cracks in the foster care system.

Now a foster, adoptive and biological mother herself, Rhodes-Courter resides in St. Petersburg, Florida, where she graduated with honors from Eckerd College. After completing a double-major in communications and theatre with a double-minor in political science and psychology, she went on to earn a master’s degree in social work from the University of Southern California.

Rhodes-Courter’s New York Times bestselling memoir is being made into a movie. The book’s award-winning sequel, “Three More Words,” was published last year by Simon and Schuster. For more, see


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Foster Focus Magazine: Babies Don’t Belong Under the Christmas Tree: An Open Letter from an Adult Adoptee

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In what they described as “one of the most magical experiences,” a Texas family posted a video on social media of their three daughters seeing their new baby brother for the first time. Captions accompanying the viral announcement included: “Sisters find newly-adopted baby brother under the tree,” “Parents hide new son under the Christmas tree for daughters,” and “Sisters’ adoption surprise!”

The children and family seem thrilled, but as an adult adoptee, adoptive mother, and social worker, I cringed and wished this family had been given better counsel. Not wanting to be hasty or “overly sensitive,” I asked professional peers and child advocates for their opinion. Most agreed that this video sends a variety of disturbing message to those not familiar with the intricacies of adoption. It was also the general consensus that surprising family members with a human being is not advised under any circumstance.

Buying Babies

Even if adoption had been discussed in the family prior, it was made clear that the older children in the family were told nothing about this baby, and they had no idea they were about to welcome a child into their lives. The adoptive mother writes, “We met them at the door and told them that we had been out Christmas shopping and got them a gift to share…and it was under the tree!” Without knowing the context of the clip, a viewer might assume the little girls’ moment of delight, laughter, and tears was being expressed for a puppy, vacation, or desired toy. Adults understand the metaphor that children are “gifts,” however young children see the world more literally. The idea that the parents went shopping and came home with a baby reduces the complicated adoption process to a mere credit card transaction, likening the young boy as nothing more than a commodity.

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Takepart: How One Best-Selling Author Is Changing the Holidays for Foster Kids

When it comes to childhood holiday traditions, people often think of hanging ornaments on the Christmas tree, lighting the menorah, or listening to seasonal tunes. But for some 415,000 kids living in our foster care system, the holidays in group homes aren’t always filled with merriment.

International best-selling author Ashley Rhodes-Courter is all too familiar with the experience, having spent almost a decade of her life bouncing between 14 different foster homes. Though she was adopted at age 12 by a family she says was perfect for her, the author still recalls what the Christmas season felt like before that time.

“The holidays are a struggle because it brings back these bad memories and makes us wonder what our parents and siblings are doing,” Rhodes-Courter told TakePart.

“After I was adopted, I started thinking about how great the holidays were, but then you think about the kids that were in foster care with you and wonder how they’re doing.” The author later discovered that many of her former foster siblings are behind bars, homeless, teen parents, or in abusive situations.

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