A Blaine High School (BHS) junior is inspiring her fellow students by volunteering her time to help preschool teachers, homeless individuals, correctional officers, school administrators and others in Whatcom County and beyond.
Ashlyn Pixley, 16, spent much of the past year volunteering for various causes in the community. Her goal was to exceed a 100-hour volunteering challenge set by HOBY, a nonprofit organization that aims to inspire youth volunteers around the country. Pixley surpassed the goal, logging 136 hours – more than other HOBY volunteers in Washington state, she said.
“Originally, I decided to volunteer to just be able to say that I helped the community,” said Pixley. “After that, I thrived. It’s fun meeting different people and knowing that you’re not doing something for yourself but for the community and future generations.”
Pixley discovered HOBY through a BHS English teacher, Jeff Worthy, who encouraged her to get involved. At first, Pixley was nervous because she didn’t know anything about the organization, which was founded by the American actor and humanitarian Hugh O’Brian in 1958 after he met 1952 Nobel Peace Prize winner Albert Schweitzer in Gabon, Africa.
In June, Pixley attended a HOBY leadership conference at Whitworth University in Spokane. She was the only student from Blaine to attend the five-day conference, which featured group challenges and discussions about how to empower others. At the conference, Pixley’s confidence grew, and she even spoke about how she overcame a chronic pain diagnosis. “I met a lot of great people who I’m still in contact with today,” she said. “It was one of the best experiences I’ve had.”
HOBY gave Pixley a challenge: commit yourself to 100 hours of community service. In order to meet that goal, she first spent 12 hours volunteering at Happy Valley Elementary School in Bellingham, where her aunt is a preschool teacher. In August last year, Pixley helped set up classrooms, move around desks and make pencil boxes for the youngsters to put in their cubby holes.
After taking an online survey that matched her with local volunteer opportunities, Pixley also spent 12 hours in October volunteering for Project Homeless Connect, which provided homeless individuals in Bellingham with resources and supplies. “There was a shower station, a hygiene station, a pet station, a camping station and other resources,” she said. “They would come and tell us what they needed, and we would grab it for them.”
At Christmas time, Pixley decided to do some volunteer work in support of correctional officers at the Whatcom County Jail, where her mother works. Pixley spent 15 hours helping to assemble and distribute gift bags for officers who had to work on Christmas Day. The bags included gift cards from Pure Bliss Desserts, Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches and other pro-law enforcement businesses in Whatcom County.
Also at Christmas time, Pixley spent six hours volunteering with the Shop-with-a-Cop program, which provided $75 to kids from low-income families to spend at Walmart. “We let them shop so that they could enjoy Christmas,” she said.
For the rest of her volunteer hours, which she carefully records in a written notebook and uploads to the HOBY website, Pixley has served as a third-period office teacher assistant in the BHS office. She helps hand out papers, check in students, distribute notes, answer phone calls and perform other office tasks. “Since I don’t get any credit for the class, they count it as community service,” she said.
In addition to her volunteer work, Pixley recently helped save a stranger’s life. In November, Pixley was browsing TikTok, a social media app, when she saw a video of a girl from Canada discussing plans to commit suicide and wishing her mother goodbye. Pixley immediately recalled a presentation that she heard at Blaine Middle School in sixth grade, when a retired police officer with The White Hatter, an internet safety education company, addressed her class.
“He had us save the company’s number in our phones,” she said. “I called the number within 24 hours, and the stranger was actually helped. She admitted that she was going to commit suicide.” Because of her quick thinking and her decision to intervene, Pixley received an award from The White Hatter.
Pixley plans to attend another HOBY conference in June. This time, she won’t be going alone. She will be joined by four other students from Blaine. She helped participate in the selection process by reviewing their applications, essays and peer referrals. “Last time it was just me,” said Pixley. “This year, it’ll be me plus four others.”