Back for Moore

Tuesday, March 17, 2015
Waterbury, CT

Although nearly 15 years and a college degree separates them, Ashley Moore still sees herself in the fifth-grade students she mentors at Children's Community School in Waterbury.

Moore, 24, said she loved her time at the private elementary school for economically disadvantaged youths and always knew she would come back to volunteer. She graduated from Pennsylvania State University with a degree in broadcast journalism in 2013 and started working with CCS students this past September.

Moore, who will be honored at the school's annual fundraising dinner on March 24, works with third- and fifth-graders who participate in an enrichment program.

The program is for students who have finished their work in the classroom and need to be challenged, explained Roseanne Greaney, CCS principal. Moore visits the school every Wednesday for two hours and leads students through journalism exercises. Last week, 10-year-old Lionel Legare interviewed Moore and wrote a story about what she wants to be when she grows up.

Moore's aspirations — personal and professional success, with intentions to support charitable causes — aren't so different from the students'.

"Miss Ashley wants to be a successful business woman," Lionel wrote. "I asked her if she would donate some money to charity and she said, 'yes.' ... Also she said she would want her MBA. She wants to wear a suit every day to work."

When it came time for Moore to interview Lionel, she gently challenged him to think about his future.

"If you want to play basketball, what team? How about a college team to start off with?" she asked him. "And you can't play basketball forever; what do you see yourself doing when you get to that age when you have to retire?"

She then instructed the three students to write up a story using the five "Ws" (who, what, where, when and why) and their imaginations. "I'm really looking forward to reading your stories," Moore said, as she leaned toward 10-year-old Alexus Lowe, resting her cheek on her hand.

Moore was born and raised in Waterbury. Her late grandmother, Muriel Moore, was the first director of the Head Start program at New Opportunities of Waterbury.

"Muriel loved children and the Waterbury community. She did all that she could to lift people out of poverty and she really worked with the parents so they could work with their own children," said James H. Gatling, president and chief executive officer of New Opportunities. "She was the director, but if the classroom was short a teacher, she'd dive in. Or if the aide wasn't there, she'd ride on the bus with the kids if needed."

After Muriel Moore died suddenly in 1997, a new NOW building on North Main Street was named the Muriel Moore Child Development Center. The center is now a day care and preschool for about 220 children and has a few Head Start classrooms.

"When Ashley was a little girl, she was at the center all of the time. Muriel was not only a big influence on her, but she influenced a lot of young ladies in the city," Gatling said.

Moore was 6 when her grandmother died. "My grandmother was a big part of my life. I remember going to a lot of functions with her and how she was a prominent figure in the community," she said.

Moore's parents were teenagers when they had her.

"I was raised by my mom, but my dad was always in my life," said Moore, who also has four younger brothers. "When you grow up with a single mom, you have your hard times. My mom worked various jobs and we moved around in Waterbury. I wasn't dirt poor and always had a roof over my head and food on the table. But I know how I grew up and I don't want that for myself. It's not that it was horrible, I just want better."

After she graduated from CCS, Moore attended St. Joseph's, a Catholic school in Waterbury, before it closed. She then lived with her father for a few years in Rhode Island, where he had moved to study culinary arts at Johnson & Wales University. She returned to Waterbury for ninth grade and graduated from Sacred Heart High School.

Moore was accepted into Penn State and was grateful her grandfather paid for the majority of her education. She majored in broadcast journalism with a minor in sociology. She said she considered pursuing a TV news career for a "hot second," before she realized she wasn't comfortable in front of the camera.

"Plus, a producer wanted me to cut my hair, that most stations prefer women with conservative looks," said Moore, as she grabbed a ponytail of straight, black hair that hits the middle of her back.

She stuck with the major because she thought it would be useful in public relations and corporate communications. "I want to be a specialist. I want to do public relations and grant writing, but focus on one main subject," she said.

She graduated from Penn State in 2013 and struggled to find a job for several months, eventually picking up work as a client support coordinator at Family Options, a Waterbury-based nonprofit that works with people with developmental disabilities. Moore lives with her grandfather in Waterbury and keeps up a long-distance relationship with her college boyfriend, who is in Pennsylvania.

Moore said she is thrilled to be back at CCS.

"I remember being in their shoes," said Moore, adding with a laugh, "but I don't remember asking as many questions as they do. Everyone here means a lot to me. CCS was like a family. You never felt like a stranger and the teachers had my back. And I never felt like I came from a low-income family."

Moore, who speaks in a quiet but purposeful way, said she always knew she would come back to CCS to volunteer.

"When I was there, there was a mentoring program I did and an after-school program and I just wanted to give back since I got a lot of help from them," Moore said. "It makes me feel good to work with the kids, especially the older ones who will be sent off to new schools next year."

She reached out to the school last year and was then invited to speak at the fifth-grade graduation.

Roseanne Greaney, CCS principal, taught Moore in the fifth grade.

"She was a very bright girl. She loved to read and always had her nose in a book," she said. "She is just a lovely person. She is quiet, always kind and a nice young lady. She was a joy to have in the classroom and it's nice to have her back here now."

She was also a creative thinker, said Greaney, remembering one time when Moore presented an idea to the principal.

"She really wanted to do a dress-down day," she said. "So she said, if we do a challenge, where all the fifth-grade students read 100 books between now and May, can we have one? Back then, students had to wear uniforms every day. She got them to do it and they had their day before the end of the year."

After Moore reconnected with the staff at CCS and started volunteering for the enrichment program, they decided to present her with the alumni award at the school's annual dinner.

"Ashley's such a sweetheart and the kids just love her," said Lynn Curless, CCS' director of development. "It's important for them to have examples, to have role models who know what it's like to struggle. Some of them may be struggling at home, and school can mean so much more to them."

Moore, who said has never received an award before, was surprised to hear she would be honored.

"I couldn't believe it, but it's nice to be acknowledged," she said.


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