SFSC Alumna Finds Passion for Helping Students Through Her Non-Profit
At just 31 years old, South Florida State College (SFSC) graduate and lifelong DeSoto County resident Ashley Coone is the executive director of the DeSoto County Chamber of Commerce, bringing a fresh perspective to the small-town atmosphere.
After graduating from SFSC in 2002 with an Associate in Arts degree, Coone went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in business management from Florida Gulf Coast University and a master’s degree in management and leadership from Webster University.
As executive director, she is a key representative and advocate for business owners and employers in the community. She has the overall responsibility for management of operations, administration, budget, finance/accounting, building and facilities, chamber development and marketing programs, long-term strategic planning, and oversight of all board-directed initiatives.
Before coming to the chamber, Coone worked as a retention coordinator at Florida Gulf Coast University and then served as a constituent service representative in the office of Congressman Connie Mack. She currently serves as the chair, appointed by Governor Rick Scott, of the Early Learning Coalition of Florida’s Heartland. Coone was also a student advocate and mentor for Take Stock in Children (TSIC) at SFSC.
She was recently recognized by her alma mater, Florida Gulf Coast University, as a Soaring Eagle. This award recognizes alumni that are thriving in their careers and giving back to their communities. She credits her education and experience at SFSC for making her well-rounded in various aspects of business a foundation that translates across industries.
“SFSC is where it all started,” Coone said. “SFSC provided small class sizes, affordable housing, and close proximity to my family. I enjoyed the small campus atmosphere and the close relationships I formed with faculty and staff.”
While Coone has a successful career as an executive director, she discovered along the way that a strong passion for helping students in her community was her true calling. Growing up, Coone’s parents fostered children for more than 30 years. This inspired her to start a non-profit where students in her community were given the necessary resources to continue their education and become successful.
“Having multiple siblings come in and out of my life had a huge impact on me,” she said. “It shaped me as a person. My passion and priorities in life are family and helping our youth plan for life after high school.”
In October of 2012, Coone founded Links2Success. The non-profit was launched with a goal to increase the low amount of students that pursue education beyond high school that currently exists in DeSoto County and is available to students in both middle and high school.
The organization empowers youth to achieve higher education by equipping them with the skills, knowledge, and habits they need to gain entry to higher education and successful careers. Ultimately, helping people is what she loves to do since it has been such a huge part of her own personal identity.
“I hope that more of our students will not only graduate from high school and go on to college, but complete college and enter into the professional world as productive members of society,” Coone said. “So many youth in my community have the potential. These students are our future, and I want to help facilitate a strong foundation for their lives.”
As she reflects on the journey to her career, she advises students to take advantage of as many opportunities as possible, whether it’s through mentoring, volunteering, interning, or getting involved in student organizations. She continues to be totally sold on SFSC as the college of choice for students who desire an exceptional education and opportunities that add value to the learning environment.
“I encourage students to explore what is best for them,” Coone said. “I’m pro-education, but realize that four-year degrees aren’t for everyone. As long as students plan for a career or life after high school, they can be successful. My goal is to help youth in the community become more aware of the opportunities right here at home.”