Wherever Andrea Ash goes in the nonprofit world, her goal is to help build or rebuild programs to ensure sustainability.
“Libraries are, as we know them, a thing of the past. It’s like not your grandpa’s library, so people think, ‘Why would I use the library?’” the 49-year-old said.
With the rise of technology, libraries have had to rethink their position in communities. Today, a public library focuses on offering programs and has essentially become a community-gathering space.
“It fills gaps and areas that can’t be filled either by other nonprofits or education or things like that,” Ash said. “So (libraries) come in and they offer all these opportunities for interaction for families, both in English and Spanish in Fort Worth.”
Ash’s experience in the nonprofit sector goes back 25 years. A native of Dearborn, Michigan, she started as an intern at the United Way in her hometown.
“I really loved making an impact,” she said.
Following the completion of her undergraduate degree at the University of Michigan-Dearborn in 1997, she moved to Chicago where she eventually pursued a master’s degree in public service administration at DePaul University. From there, her passion grew and she ended up fundraising for everything from higher education institutions, the American Red Cross and the YMCA down to startups.
During her time in Michigan, she also met her husband, Ally. They spent 20 years together. Eventually, they had two kids while living in Chicago. Their love story came to an end in 2014 when Ash’s husband died from cancer.
“I thought my career was done. Nothing else mattered other than getting these kids raised without any more illnesses, and all that kind of stuff,” Ash said. “But then, at the same time, I realized that I have to show them how to have a career and not to give up.”
In 2016, Ash moved to Keller to be closer to family following the death of her husband. She took on a job at the YMCA as vice president for development. Three years later, she received an email about an opening at the Fort Worth Public Library Foundation.
“I wasn’t looking for work. I was totally happy growing where I was,” Ash said, noting her mentors told her to always have a conversation when an opportunity opens up. “The dominoes fell seamlessly. I sort of knew that this was the right move to take this next step.”
Manya Shorr, library director for the city of Fort Worth, describes Ash as a wealth of knowledge and someone who can turn visions into reality.
“It’s very easy to be social and to go out and to meet a lot of people in Fort Worth, but turning them into donors is quite difficult here,” Shorr said. “There are a lot of nonprofits and a lot of competition for those private dollars. What she does so well is she takes my vision for the Fort Worth Public Library, and she turns it into something complimentary that she can use with funders.”
As the foundation’s third CEO, Ash has led her team through the COVID-19 pandemic and the opening of two new libraries — Rise Library in Las Vegas Trail and the Reby Cary Youth Library on East Lancaster — in the past four years.
Shorr attributed the success of the Rise Library partly because of the foundation and Ash’s flexibility to fund the books and furniture for the facility — first in the apartment building that housed it then in the Rise Community Center, where the library is now located.
“If the foundation had said, ‘I’m sorry, that wasn’t part of your annual request,’ or ‘You’ll have to wait until next year to request that,’ I don’t know that we’d be sitting where we are now,” Shorr said. “The ability to be nimble with community needs is such a valuable thing. And Andrea is really good at that.”
In 2021, the foundation raised nearly $500,000. In 2019, $417,000 was raised compared to over $350,000 in 2020.
John McKenzie, past chair and current member of the foundation’s board, described Ash as the missing puzzle piece to lead the nonprofit to continued success even after the COVID-19 downturn.
“She’s done a lot of good, brought a lot of calm into the library foundation,” McKenzie said. “Since then, it’s been awesome. It’s been great. It took the right person, and she turned out to be the right person.”
Ash’s connection to public libraries is personal. Her former husband was an educator and libraries provided a place for her and her kids to play and learn.
“I raised my kids in libraries,” she said. “There are lots of families that can’t afford (these pay-to-play places), so they want to take their kids somewhere to play outside the house to interact, check out a bunch of books without spending money.”
With her two kids off to college soon, Ash, who is now remarried, hopes to start writing again. She began working on two books. One is a biography of her former husband for her kids. The other is about caretaking and what she learned about self-care while tending to her sick husband.
For Ash, it’s all about pushing herself out of her comfort zone to continuously better herself.
“I’m an extremely empathetic leader. I’ve always believed in servant leadership. There’s nothing I wouldn’t ask someone to do that I wouldn’t do,” Ash said. “I think that’s because of what I’ve gone through. And I just kind of see the world in a different spot than before.”
Andrea Ash Biography
Moved to Fort Worth: May 2016
Family: Daughter, Ava Ash, 18; son, Aiden Ash, 16; husband of one year, Carey Stinson. She had been a widow since 2014.
Work experience: Nearly 25 years in fundraising at various nonprofits and higher education institutions.
First job: Paper route — she thinks she was about 12 years old
Advice for someone learning to be a leader: “Never stop learning, be open to rethinking, and get comfortable with vulnerability.”
Best advice ever received: “We can all do hard things” and “learn to toot your own horn.”
At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.