Ashley Tompkins’ one-year-old daughter, Parker Madison, toddled around the living room offering up her sippy cup and bits of cereal to anyone who wanted to share with her. She climbed eagerly up onto her mother’s lap and began looking through her book, babbling away at each of the pages.
Establishing a close relationship with her daughter is important to Ashley. When she was in high school, her mother was diagnosed with cervical cancer. The treatments her mother endured made her extremely ill, leaving Ashley unable to go to her mother for advice about boys and puberty.
After becoming sexually active at 15, Ashley turned to the Northeast Florida Healthy Start Coalition’s Magnolia Project for their advice and confidentiality. The Magnolia Project is a special federally-funded Healthy Start initiative to improve the health and well-being of women during their childbearing years (15-44 years old).
“They help you to be conscious of your own health,” Ashley said. “Understanding that something like an infection — like chlamydia, it can make you sterile — is so important.”
Ashley continued to get regular check-ups from the Project while attending the University of Florida in Gainesville. She would drive 70 miles to the Jacksonville clinic every three months. She’d make the trip because she felt a special connection to the women who worked in the clinic.
“They beat it through my head to get your healthy exams,” she said. “I wish my mom had known. By the time they caught my mom’s cancer, it had spread.”
Ashley’s mom died when she was 21.
The pain of losing her mother and the inspiration she received from the women she met through the Magnolia Project led her to complete a health science education degree from UF. After graduation, Ashley completed a term of service with AmeriCorps at the Magnolia Project where she switched roles from client to advocate.
In 2008 Ashley came on as staff after completing her AmeriCorps term. Ashley counseled other women as they went through their pregnancies. When she became pregnant herself, it was a source of great joy to her and her husband, Marcus. She was able to put in place the lessons she has learned from the Magnolia Project.
“The Magnolia Project is so inspiring, it gives women the information they need on how to take care of yourself as a woman,” Ashley said. “Because the information is specific to a woman’s health, they are able to focus on prenatal care for babies, pregnancy care and help women to do it in a healthy way, so that their babies grow up healthy.”
Ashley worked at the Project until August 2012. She left to focus on getting her nursing degree and spend more time with Parker Madison. She wants to be there for her daughter, to give her the guidance that she received from the Magnolia Project.