So a cowboy, a bull rider and a rodeo clown walk into a hospital…Wait, don’t stop reading! This isn’t the start of a bad joke; it’s actually the true story of how A.S.H. or the “Amazingly Small Heroes” project began.
When she was just 15, Ashtyn Shaw had to spend a lot of her sophomore year in the Cook Children’s Medical Center where she was receiving treatment for Hodgkin lymphoma. A hospital experience the now 18 year-old nonchalantly describes as being, “so boring”.
But one day in the hospital, her boredom was broken by a gang of rootin’ tootin’ cowboys who burst into the room to cheer up the recovering children. As a major country music and rodeo fan, Ashtyn was hooked but also inspired.
However, the idea for the A.S.H. Project didn’t come to her while her she was surrounded by bull fighters and rodeo clowns. It was actually a little later, or at least that’s what Ashtyn’s mother tells her anyway.
“I actually came up with the idea when I was on so much medication that I don’t even remember coming up with it,” Ashtyn says with a laugh.
But when her mother reminded her of the idea after the effects had worn off, Ashtyn was still on board! With that, she set off to creating the A.S.H. project, an initiative that sends student volunteers to the hospital dressed-up as princesses and superheroes to cheer up children battling serious illnesses.
What’s really amazing is the speed at which Ashtyn was able to get A.S.H. up and running. To provide some context, Ashtyn was a patient in November 2012 and by July 2013 her A.S.H. Project was visiting that very same hospital.
Along with Ashtyn’s incredible determination, she also had a little good luck along the way. Her search for princess costumes led her to the Wichita Theatre in her hometown of Wichita Falls. Ashtyn was already familiar with the theatre because her younger brother (who Ashtyn tells us is “very dramatic all the time”) is one of their actors.
Not only was the theatre happy to lend out costumes, but after the first A.S.H. event went so well the theatre offered to team up with Ashtyn so she could take advantage of their charitable status.
And just like that, Ashtyn’s parents were now jokingly (but seriously) referring to her as the CEO of the Amazingly Small Heroes project. Did we mention she was only 16 at this point?
“Adults would come up to my parents at events in the hospital and ask who put this all together? Then they would point to me in my princess costume and say, ‘It was Rapunzel’.
Ashtyn’s partnership with the Wichita Theatre was also becoming a great source of volunteers. After all, who better to stay fully in character during a hospital visit than trained actors?
And Ashtyn is adamant that her actors never break character, even when they’re ordering from the Starbucks in the hospital lobby. Which got us wondering, what does a princess order at Starbucks?
“A half-caf non-fat latte, of course,” Ashtyn answers without missing a beat. This princess stuff is serious business.
Now at the ripe old age of 18, Ashtyn pauses for a moment to reflect when we ask what her volunteering experience has given to her.
“It’s such a good feeling when the kids walk in and see us in our costumes. They just look at you like you’re the greatest person on the planet. Even though I might be just thinking of myself as some teenager who just got a ‘B’ in calculus. But they don’t look at you like that. My friends can’t wait to go back for our next event. They all find it so amazing.”
Earlier this year Ashtyn was the recipient of a Foresters scholarship, and right now she’s enjoying her time as a math major at the University of Oklahoma. But Wichita Falls is just a two-hour drive from campus, so Ashtyn is already preparing for the A.S.H. Project’s next enchanted visit to the Cook Children’s Medical Center.
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