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Faces: Smith stays active in PR-B community

Ashley Smith can often be found volunteering within her community when she is not taking photos of PR-B sports. Dan Determan / Echo Journal

Ashley Smith is usually not too hard to find. Usually she is working - often on a volunteer basis - to improve the lives of the youth of Pine River-Backus.

First, the Backus native can be seen at nearly every Pine River-Backus girls sporting event, either working the scorer's table or taking pictures of the action.

She began writing sports stories for the Pine River Journal (now the Echo Journal) roughly seven years ago, and shortly thereafter was asked to take photos to complement those articles.

Though she was going to games at the beginning of her tenure to watch her sister compete, she continued to attend games after her sister's graduation, watching an entire generation of athletes climb from youth teams to varsity.

"I've just always liked sports, so I like to go cheer on the kids," Smith said. "Watching them come up through the grades has been really fun. When they have games that are really far up north, you maybe have one set of parents that come, but otherwise it's me and the bus driver and we're the only fans the team has there, so it's nice to be that fan they know will be at the game."

Though she had little interest in photography before she began, it has since become her favorite part of the job. She has even started to explore the activity more, having taken photos at a wedding and planning to take a few senior photos for next year's seniors.

"I'm starting to get more into (photography), but at the same time I don't know if it is really going to be anything more than an expensive hobby," Smith said.

When she is not at Tiger sporting events or working at Scamp Trailers in Backus, Smith spends plenty of time volunteering.

Every Monday afternoon and one Friday a month, she volunteers at The Warehouse in Pine River as part of its after-school program, where students can come spend time after school to participate in various activities.

"A lot of (the reason I volunteer) is to give back to the community," Smith said. "A lot of kids in the area don't usually have a parent at home because the parent or parents have multiple jobs. Especially at The Warehouse, we have a lot of latchkey kids come through, so we can mentor them when their parents are at work until 6 or 7 p.m.

"I want to give back to the community and mentor the next generation, and I hope that I can do anything to make their lives better."

Every Wednesday, she helps with the youth group at Riverview Church. She also teaches Riverview's third- and fourth-grade Sunday school classes, and volunteers with the Pequot Lakes-Pine River Timber Bay group.

Additionally, she has completed 11 mission trips to Honduras, with a 12th trip planned for the spring.

All of this adds up to a schedule with minimal free time - at least during the school year - which is fine with Smith.

"With a lot of the stuff I do, I just really enjoy it," she said. "Yes, I'm busy, but it is not stressful and it doesn't feel like work. I enjoy going to games and cheering the teams on. I enjoy helping at The Warehouse and making kids smile. What's 'work' about it?"

In the summer months, she also helps out at Green Roof Lodge on Woman Lake, which her parents own.

Smith said finding enjoyment in volunteering comes after a volunteer finds something he or she is passionate about, and looking into opportunities once that is established.

"At The Warehouse, we have people that like to feed people, so they come work in the kitchen, but we have people who are really into sports and will come into the gym and shoot hoops with the kids," she said. "Once you find that thing, you can find so many volunteer opportunities in the area ... It's just a matter of finding where you fit in."

Though she has no immediate plans to add any new volunteering options to her schedule, she does hope to increase her volunteering hours, particularly with Timber Bay, and continue to cheer on the Tigers.

"I find the majority of what I do to just be fun. It's stuff I enjoy," Smith said. "It keeps me busy, and has given me some really great relationships, especially with the sports - getting to know the kids.

"It's been great to be a part of it, and I hope to do it for many more years."

Dan Determan

Staff Writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal weekly newspaper.