Former Patient Begins Yearlong Foreign Assignment after Graduating College
Ashley Stone, 23, of Lawrenceville, Ga., is out of her element these days – and she loves it.
Ashley is in Galicia, Spain, beginning a yearlong assignment teaching English, through a Spanish Ministry of Education program. The overseas adventure is the culmination of a horizon-broadening senior year at the University of Georgia. There, the recent Magna Cum Laude graduate got involved with a Bible study group that focused on reaching out to international students. Ashley also pushed herself physically, taking a backpacking and camping class that featured hiking and canoeing trips.
“A few years ago, I would have been too afraid to do all of these things,” Ashley said. “But I’m a lot less fearful now. This is my life. We all die some at some point. I want to try all the things I really want to do.”
She says her life was “easy and comfortable” up until two years ago, when she sustained an acquired brain injury in a car accident. As part of Ashley’s recovery, she spent two months at Shepherd Center. She says creative outlets spurred her breakthroughs. A nurse gave her a hand-held, dry-erase board, and Ashley drew picture after picture, gaining confidence as her mind begin to work in concert again with the rest of her body.
She also met a fellow patient who sang and played the guitar, as Ashley did. “My motor skills were so off then, I couldn’t play guitar. But I could sing,” she said. “His vocal cords were so damaged he couldn’t sing. But he could play guitar!” The duo even performed publicly at the Peach Corps’ Spring Fling at Shepherd Center.
Her creativity continues to bloom. A Spanish major and horticulture minor, Ashley plans to merge her interests in a single pursuit: agroforestry. The field involves finding ways to grow crops in forested land; it’s a source of optimism in communities on the Amazon River, for instance, where slash-and-burn agriculture contributes to deforestation.
“It shows a lot of promise, and it’s a bold idea,” Ashley said. “I like that. Helping nature and helping people are two of my favorite things.”
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neuromuscular conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 743 inpatients, 277 day program patients and more than 7,161 outpatients each year in more than 46,000 visits.