Frenship HS grad went from magazines to mental health

When she was a student at Frenship High School, Ashley Womble thought she would be a newspaper journalist.

Womble, who graduated in 1999 from FHS, went on to the University of North Texas. An instructor there suggested that she should try feature writing and directed her to get an internship at a magazine.

After interning at “D Magazine” in Dallas, her editors there encouraged her to move to New York City to try her hand at larger magazines.

“I was just at the right age where I didn’t have any obligations or any ideas about what my life would be about,” Womble said.

The culture shock upon arriving in New York City was huge, she said, but she said it helped that Dallas was a pit stop on her way there.

When she first moved to New York, she was working at “Marie Claire” magazine. She took two trains to get to her job, but now realizes that it would have been easier to walk since it was just 20 blocks.

She settled into life in the Big Apple, though.

“I love New York. I was always kind of a liberal kid, which was kind of hard in Lubbock. I’m not sure that I fit in, in high school,” she said. “In New York, there’s so many people that no one can fit in, I guess. It’s so exciting, and there’s a million things to do.”

During her career so far, she has worked at several magazines, including “Country Living,” “Cosmopolitan” and “This Old House.” She has also written for and “Austin Monthly.”

It was while she was working for “Cosmo” that she came back to Texas, living in Austin with her younger brother, Jay, who also attended Frenship for a while.

An article she wrote in 2011 for “Austin Monthly” talks about that time in her life, when her brother moved in with her and she witnessed his growing mental illness.

The article discusses how she tried in vain to help him after he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Womble’s article recently won first place in feature writing from the Houston Press Club.

Jay later committed suicide, Womble said, but his struggle changed her life, giving it more meaning and direction.

Instead of the light-hearted writing she did for “Cosmo,” she felt drawn to writing about mental health.

“I wrote about so many topics. I worked for several different magazines,” she said. “I finally realized there was something I wanted to write about.”

Now she is working on a book, but she is also working as the online communications manager for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

“I am in charge of all of our communications. We don’t really do much if it’s not online,” she said. She recently spearheaded a re-design of Lifeline’s website, and is proud of a youth campaign it will launch next week called “You Matter” for youths.

Womble said she also works with social media, including helping Facebook to find ways to deal with people who post suicidal messages.

She said she often thinks back to a time in her senior year at FHS when a few students committed suicide in the area.

“I always think back to how I felt when I was a student at Frenship,” Womble said.

Some students who have a rougher time need to know there is life after high school, she said.

Her favorite teachers at FHS were B.J. Blakely and Kathryn Hamilton, she said.

“She was so hard, I definitely didn’t get an ‘A’ in her class. But she was a great teacher,” Womble said of Hamilton.

As a student, she was co-editor of the FHS Tiger Tales, and also worked on the yearbook. She also worked for the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal’s “A Word in Edgewise” pages.

Womble’s mother, Terry Johnston, said she is proud of her daughter.

“She set her goals back when she was in high school,” Johnston said. “She’s clicking them off, left and right.”

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