Awkward girl now 'super kid' Teen is active in school, church CENTRAL COUNTY--Arnold * Broadneck * Severna Park * Crownsville * Millersville

August 19, 1993|By Angela Winter Ney | Angela Winter Ney,Staff Writer

Just a few years ago, Ashley Gibbs was one of a handful of sixth-graders not invited to an end-of-the-year party. After moving to the community in third grade, Ashley hadn't fitted in well in elementary school. Junior high wasn't much better.

A friend told her: " 'You complain way too much. You complain all the time,' " Ashley recalls.

So she worked on herself. She asked other people how she might change. She tried harder.

Now, people comment on the 17-year-old's positive outlook. Ashley was elected president of Severna Park High School Student Government Association for this year, after a stint as vice president. She recently was chosen as a youth deaconness at Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church. She visits residents of nursing homes and volunteers with Habitat for Humanity.

Says Sue Barnes, SGA adviser: "Ashley's a super kid. She's very poised and sure of herself and has an amazing ability to juggle events. She's in all kinds of activities -- she gets along well with people, dances, is involved in sports, sings. It sounds so trite to say she's well-rounded, but she really is."

Ashley credits her parents and her church friends with helping her change from an awkward, insecure teen-ager into someone with confidence and purpose.

"My mom's really great. I think my parents did a good job of bringing me up," she says.

Other help came from her involvement at Woods church. Though her parents weren't churchgoers, friends invited Ashley during junior high, and she got involved with the youth group. In ninth grade, she was confirmed.

"It's hard to find people you can depend on," she says, "but I found people I could trust at church. Also, you learn how to apply religion to your world."

For example, as a deaconness, one of her tasks is to visit church and community members. Each week, she receives a little card with an assignment of someone to visit.

Ms. Barnes notes, "One thing I've noticed about students I've worked with in SGA who seem to have this bent toward involvement in public services is that they have a real strong family background, and usually a strong church background, too. I think it helps them put the focus on what they can do for others, instead of what can you give them."

Ashley agrees. "One of my pet peeves is that I know people who have so much -- nice families, anything they want they can have -- but they concentrate on what's bad. They complain. Also I don't like it when people make excuses when they do something bad. You're responsible for what you do."

For Ashley, doing good this summer meant traveling with a church team to Trenton, N.J., where she helped build a two-story duplex for needy families. On the eight-day trip, she helped build a wall, measuring and cutting two-by-fours and nailing studs. "My hammering has really improved," she says.

The teen-ager picked up other skills through student government activities. Her first experience was with the Chesapeake Regional Association of Student Councils, called CRASH, which she joined as a sophomore.

Last year, as vice president of the SGA, she and other student government leaders developed a literacy council, through which students learn how to teach reading and then teach other students having difficulty.

"I like things I can affect on a local level," she says.

This year, the SGA hopes to encourage more student events, such as parent-sponsored dances and community service projects, Ashley says. The SGA last Christmas sponsored half a dozen families through the Severna Park Assistance Network, an outreach program by local churches for the needy.

"Ashley and the others just got such a kick out of doing that," says Ms. Barnes. "And SGA kids tend to draw other kids who normally wouldn't be interested into things like soup kitchens. Ashley is a role model I'm very pleased for my 9-year-old daughter to be around."

As she prepares to go back to school, Ashley is matter-of-fact about her success. And she hasn't forgotten the sting of being an adolescent misfit.

"I'm glad for my awkward stage, because it makes me able to relate to more people," she says. "And I learned something from it. Now, I always ask people what I can do to improve, and then I work on it."

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