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USAO alumna brings holiday cheer to veterans with The Art of Encourgement


Headshot of Ashley Fuhr

USAO alumna brings holiday cheer to veterans with The Art of Encourgement

 

As a young girl, Ashley Fuhr dreamed of helping people. While the jobs she envisioned were ever-changing, her mission never varied. Growing up with her father in the Air Force, Ashley says she bleeds red, white and blue. Fuhr knew she was meant to be an encourager and found her true passion in the non-profit world. With her passion driving her and her USAO education giving her the necessary skills, Fuhr started The Art of Encouragement (TAOE).

In 2008, after hearing that veterans at the Clinton, Okla., veteran’s nursing home were not excited about the upcoming holidays, Fuhr knew she had to take action. Quickly realizing she was a broke college student, she knew sending gifts was an unreasonable ambition; however, sending Christmas cards was something she could manage. Fuhr and several friends spent days pouring heartfelt messages into cards. The group managed to send roughly 450 cards to two different facilities in Oklahoma.

“Little did I know some of those who helped write the cards would be ready to send more cards the following year,” said Fuhr. “I obliged, and now I am the ringleader for hundreds of grateful Americans who do the same each Christmas.”

Ten years and 11 Christmases later, Fuhr has enlisted the help of volunteers around the world and plans to send another 20,000 handwritten messages to veterans across the United States this season. The Art of Encouragement has touched countless lives through their cards, encouragement, packages and handshakes since 2008. To date, they have distributed over 103,000 cards.

“It’s amazing how a simple gesture can change the course of someone’s life,” said Fuhr.

Another aspect of TAOE is “Airport Outreach,” where volunteers travel to DFW on Christmas Eve or the Saturday before Christmas to hand out cards to men and women in uniform and thank them for their service. These are some of the only face-to-face interactions the organization has, since most of their cards are mailed to treatment centers and nursing homes for veterans.

Airport Outreach got started when Ashley’s father was stationed in Hawaii. Fuhr was flying to visit her parents for Christmas and decided to take a few cards with her to hand out to men and women in uniform. “You would have thought I had handed them a hundred-dollar bill or something by the look on their faces. They were so surprised to have someone stop, shake their hand, and thank them for their service,” said Fuhr. She found it baffling and heartbreaking, so she never stopped and has since made a tradition out of it.

TAOE is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization and holds fundraisers all year long to cover postage costs. Luckily, many stores offer cards at a discount or for free after the holidays have passed.

In addition to TAOE, Ashley is happily married to the love of her life, Russell. They have a five year old son, Lucas. When not working at Crossings Community Church, TAOE, or chasing her son, she loves to read and collects books signed by the author.

Fuhr credits her nontraditional career path as being a natural outgrowth of her belief that you should be yourself, and that, no matter where you come from or where you go, there is a place for you in the world. “USAO takes pride in helping every student discover who they are and what or where they were meant to be,” said Fuhr. “We all have the opportunity to change the world for the better, if only are bold enough to pursue it. Embrace yourself. Be the best you can be.”